Jan 22, 2018

On Lesser and Greater Evils (guest post by Rebecca Hill)

"Rather than seeking among our opponents for strategic allies, it would be much better to seek a principled alliance across the left to create a strong center of gravity from which to fight both the center and the right."

[Editor's note: Three Way Fight is pleased to publish the following article by Rebecca Hill, which appears here for the first time and offers a helpful analysis of the current political situation facing leftists in the U.S. The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of Three Way Fight.]

"Don't normalize it" and "Don't be hysterical": These are the two alternating commands that we on the left see in our social media feeds every day. Each side, catching sight of the other, then spends the rest of the day castigating the other side for moral idiocy or hysterical stupidity. Trying to be neither a moral idiot nor a hysterical reactionary, I want to take a historical look at this debate about how to respond to Trumpism. I don't mean the recent history of the 2016 presidential campaign, nor the more distant history of Nazism in the 1930s. Instead, I trace much of the American left's strategic conflict over responding to Trumpism to the first era of post 9/11 mobilization. Even then, the American left had become so fragmented that we relied almost entirely on strategic alliances with other political forces that we might acknowledge as "lesser evils" but which we perceived as more powerful than closer potential allies. Rather than pushing the left to the front of American politics, this history of strategic alliances has made it more difficult for different parts of the left to talk to each other to build an actual left strategy, as each side now believes that the other is allied with the side that is not the lesser, but the greater evil. Here's how I think it happened.

Myopic focus on the Democratic Party
Most of us on the left are familiar with one narrative of the bad consequences of strategic alliances with the lesser evil. The story of the failure of the Democratic Party to represent the aims of the left is one that most of us could recite in our sleep. Instructed by years of experience, many on the left perceive the Democratic Party to be much like Charles Schulz's Lucy, offering to hold the football for Charlie Brown's running kick. That is, at one point on the way to political maturity, many of us may have been excited about the left argument for backing a particular Democratic Party candidate, only to find ourselves flat on our backs when those people pursued terrible policy agendas once elected. Long term consequences of such alliances for the left have been devastating, funneling emerging social movements into campaigns to elect politicians who betray left agendas. Even worse, despite arguing that a left movement will push these candidates to go further left, the broader left orbit of progressives generally refuse to seriously challenge Democratic Party politicians out of fear that any protest against Democrats will aid the Republican Party.

As I see it today, those leftists who argue that the Trump-Russia investigation as simply a Democratic Party strategy to avoid taking responsibility for their loss of the election to Trump is flawed by a myopic emphasis on these past experiences. Keeping the story of the 2016 primaries at the center of the field of vision, they don't see the significant disruptions in US centers of power forged by the simultaneous growth in domestic white-supremacist populism and the international effort by Russia to create a Eurasian power-bloc against NATO. The implication of the argument is that the political center is currently more dangerous than the far right. The assumption is that the far right is small and the center-right predictable.

However, the radical conservative movements that led to the Trump presidency have opened up a fault line within the Republican Party that casual observers on the left rarely care to parse. Even as we on the left warn our progressive friends not to overstate differences among right wing factions to the extent that they shout "Welcome to the Resistance!" to each mainstream GOP activist who breaks momentarily with Trump, we should understand where and how such breaks occur, and what they may mean in the long term for US politics. Just as overstating petty ideological or rhetorical differences can obscure a larger policy consensus, it is also important not to lump everyone on the right together. We chide those on the right who fail to understand differences between socialism and liberalism, and find it ludicrous when liberals refer to critics of the Democratic Party as the "alt-left." Similarly, we should understand the differences between the Never-Trump Republicans, the alt-right, "alt-light" and others within the Trumpist movement today.

Paleocons and libertarians versus the mainstream
George Hawley, who as a conservative is keenly aware of differences between mainstream conservatives and the far right, argues in his two books on the subject (Right Critics of American Conservatism and Making Sense of the Alt-Right) that the “Never-Trump Republicans” of today are heirs to a long effort at gate-keeping within the GOP. Hawley argues that neoconservatives have long been the dominant voice in mainstream conservative opinion. He defines the neocons broadly as hawkish in contrast with the isolationist conservatives of the 1930s, and sees them as more accepting of egalitarianism than the pre-World War II conservative movement. While Hawley understates the importance of racism in the party's mainstream as well as overstating the extent to which the GOP has marginalized the extremists in the party rather than themselves moving further right, his discussion of how neoconservatives have sought to exile paleoconservatives and libertarians from the conservative mainstream is informative. (For an account of how the effort to keep the far right within the GOP voting base has pushed conspiratorial ideology into the party rather than out of it, see Edward H. Miller, Nut Country: Right Wing Dallas and the Birth of the Southern Strategy and Dionne, et al., One Nation After Trump.)

Anti-Federal Reserve slogan draws Occupy
activists toward rightist conspiracy theories
Hawley describes David Frum's attack on anti-war Republicans in the National Review in 2003 over intervention in Iraq as a key moment in the neocons' current position. At that time, some activists and thinkers on the left advocated strategic alliances with these exiled paleoconservative and libertarians because of their opposition to US intervention, regardless of disagreements on many other issues. The most obvious example of this lesser-evil alliance appeared at CounterPunch, which still regularly publishes pieces by both paleocons and libertarians. Beyond CounterPunch, other left media outlets promoted the website Antiwar.com, run by the Pat Buchanan and Murray Rothbard supporter Justin Raimondo. Thus, despite seeming to have become entirely marginal relative to the rest of the GOP, paleoconservative arguments remained at the center of American popular discussion through the anti-War and the anti-Patriot Act Movements. Ron Paul's two presidential campaigns contributed to this growing libertarian-left fusion. In addition to opposing US intervention and domestic surveillance, Paul's campaigns promoted anti-Federal Reserve conspiracy discourse in the wake of the financial crisis, providing a mainstream space for white nationalist organizing, as these groups pushed the narrative of the 2008 collapse from “Wall Street banksters” toward conspiracy theories about “Jewish bankers” and “global elites.” In the Bush era, the mingling of right and left activists in movement spaces became obvious in the growth in the popularity of the "9/11 truth movement," conspiracy theorist huckster Alex Jones, bizarre anti-Federal Reserve documentaries, as well as in smaller ways, as in the emphasis on buying local and the increase of leftists involved in anti-vaccine and anti-GMO activism.

The decline in status of neoconservatives as a result of the debacle of the Iraq war and the associated domestic surveillance program was a crucial element in the growth of the Tea Party movement that gave us first, Sarah Palin, and then Donald Trump. Trump marked himself as different from neoconservative Republicans during the primaries because of his claim to have been against the war in 2003. In the general election, rather than shifting to the center as predicted, he relied on Steve Bannon’s populist attack on Hillary Clinton’s ties to Goldman Sachs, and today, continues to appeal to conspiracy theories about the "deep state" to dismiss stories of Russian hacking of the Clinton Campaign/DNC. (Journalist Joshua Green has made a point both online and in print of how important Bannon’s Clinton Cash was to the characterization of Hillary Clinton as “Crooked Hillary.”) The Democrats' attempts to appeal to what they perceive as widespread patriotic support for the "intelligence community" against Trump only plays into the fusion of libertarianism, paleoconservatism and some strands of the left.

Activists who later helped to found Three Way Fight warned of the dangers of any temporary alliances with economic nationalists during the “Battle of Seattle” in the 1999 Anti-Globalization movement in My Enemy's Enemy and Confronting Fascism. Today, the danger of fusing left and right populism appears much stronger because of the added international dimension as well as the new media environment.

Now, those who ignored this worry and allied with paleocons and libertarians describe the Never-Trumpers to be acting entirely in bad faith. In doing so, they ignore what Hawley explains has been a long-term transformation in the boundaries of acceptable conservative discourse, as neocons rejected overt racism and exiled the conspiratorial right from respectability. In this way, the neoconservatives can be understood as serving a similar centrist function in silencing and coopting right wing opponents just as the neoliberals of the Democratic Party have marginalized the left. In the meantime, courting those remnants to the right of the neocons has not led to any left victories, and from the perspective of larger dynamics, has added the voice of the left to the far right's argument that the Democratic center is in fact the greater, rather than the lesser evil. Slavoj Zizek took this logic furthest when he argued that Sanders supporters should seek to organize Bannon supporters for a joint fight against global capitalism.

Three political currents forming
What seems to be happening as a fall-out of a vastly unpopular war, increased anxiety about state powers of surveillance, the Great Recession, and the opening up of media through the internet is a crisis shaking both parties' centers of power. We can currently see in formation three separate political orientations: a broadly centrist interventionist neoliberalism created by the fusion of neoconservatives located at the National Review with the Clinton/Obama position represented by the New Republic; a right-wing economic nationalist and hard-racist position similar to the position of Buchanan which seemed to be coalescing at Breitbart; and a fragmented left that fails to create a meaningful power bloc because of sectarian conflict, branches of which will continue to advocate strategic alliances with the center or the anti-interventionist right depending on who they think represents the bigger immediate threat. (Following the Mercers' loyalty to Trump and ouster of Bannon from Breitbart it's not clear where the new center of the paleo-right will be. Also, where the alt-right will end up in the framework is not clear to me at this point, but they continue to build the base for the broader Breitbart "alt-light" wing, despite their own declared opposition to many of the particulars of alt-light politics.)

There is no current central representative of left opinion, but representative centers of gravity are the DSA/Bernie activists; Black Lives Matter, and the Women's March, though all these groups may at times accuse the others of being in alliance with one of the other two power blocs. The failure of the left to organize across cultural and sectarian boundaries within the US was exemplified in the contribution by some well-placed left media figures to articles about campus activists in 2015 that fueled a national moral panic about free speech on college campuses. These attacks on intolerant campus leftists ultimately fed Trump's support -- even as figures on the alt-right were playing up the same campus conflicts.

Leftists minimizing the far right threat
What appears currently to be the most dangerous formation on the left is the long-term result of what was initially described as a temporary strategic, issue-specific alliance between the anti-war left with libertarians and paleoconservatives, who have in the last several years been actively courted by the Russian state, as conservative journalist James Kirchik has chronicled. The recent investigations by CounterPunch of the personas “Alice Donovan” and “Sophie Mangal,” whose attack pieces on the Syrian opposition and praise for Bashar Al-Assad were published by both left- and right-leaning media outlets, indicates the extent to which the left is vulnerable to the same courtship when it fits their existing biases. CounterPunch had the decency to admit that they had been played by a foreign intelligence service. Those on the left who continue to dismiss all mention of Russian intelligence efforts in the US, whether they target left media or elections as "McCarthyism," fail to understand the ideological connections of international right-wing populist movements. It is not a “made up” story that alt-right activists chanted “Russia is our Friend” in a recent Charlottesviille march, or that Eurasianist ideologue Aleksander Dugin is often featured on Richard Spencer's website, or that Pat Buchanan has claimed Putin for the paleoconservative cause.

Assange offers job to ex-Google engineer who claims
gender gap in IT reflects innate biological differences
If the far right loves Putin for his authoritarianism, "traditionalism" and nationalism, some on the left continue to follow Russian media because they like the criticism of US intervention and buy uncritically the description of all the regime's opponents as fascists or the product of CIA manipulation. In a few notable cases, leftists have spoken about the Russian government offers of material support to struggling left organizations, as Micah White did in the Guardian. The most extreme exemplar of left-right fusion connected to the influence of Russia in US left politics is the current public support for Vladimir Putin by former Workers World Party activist Caleb Maupin, who has praised Putin on Sputnik as similar to both Abraham Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt. But the more widely known figure supported by left-right alliance is Julian Assange, whose supporters on the left continue to overlook his overt statements of racism and sexism on social media because of their alliance with his position relative to the US security state.

While the Democratic Party is certainly largely responsible for the current situation, this exclusive focus on the wrongdoing of the DNC by some on the left minimizes the meaningful threat of the populist and white-nationalist right within the conservative movement, including longer term GOP projects of racial gerrymandering and voter suppression. This particular part of the left is much too sanguine about the hegemony of the multicultural neoliberal order. The contradictory nature of this position is apparent in the treatment of near-wins by Corbyn or Sanders as harbingers of neoliberalism's near death, in combination with the surprise with which this faction has greeted Brexit, Trump's election, and each sickening right-wing turn, such as the seating of large numbers of right-wing parties in European parliaments. No matter how often they come, right-wing populist victories are treated as "aberrations" and "flukes" that will be corrected and controlled by the centrist power bloc.  Meanwhile, we are to believe, the real danger to the left comes from the writing of Black progressive Ta-Nehisi Coates.

The mistaken theory has been that the centrist power bloc would never compromise with the Trump-Bannon side of the right wing, largely based on an understanding of the US deep state as inherently neoliberal, and by a mapping of European party dynamics from the 1930s onto the US in the 2010s. Despite the continuing evidence that their predictions have been entirely mistaken, these left opinion makers continue to deny that Trumpism represents a serious break in hegemonic influence of the political center, even as they anticipate its imminent overthrow by the Sanders/DSA current. However, elements of the security establishment in the US are themselves divided and partisan, and it is not at all clear that these forces are universally neoliberal. Indeed, it is common for some anti-interventionist media to feature ex-intelligence operatives or intellectuals whose opposition to US intervention was or is currently based in paleoconservatism.

It's also worth noting that the behavior of US political parties is different from those in 1930s Europe precisely because of the all-or-nothing stakes of the US election system. As a result, we have in the US neoconservative Republicans who may be horrified by Trumpean rhetoric, and yet continue to make compromises for the sake of the party's long-term survival, which they believe is seriously threatened by the demographic changes in the US. Among the dynamics that these critics of anti-Trumpist resistance fail to understand is the entryist strategy of the white nationalist right into youth groups through College Republican and libertarian organizations, a strategy that may have long-term impact on both the current structure of universities, and the center of political gravity within the GOP itself. The left understands that the parties are themselves powerful institutions with massive material assets. Keeping control of the electoral apparatus and retaining political bases in their support has become a desperate struggle that will lead to all manner of moral compromise and self-justification by neoconservatives with Trumpism, as we have already seen with the recent tax bill. Even Steve Bannon’s recent fall from grace was about personal disloyalty to Trump and failure to deliver electoral results, rather than a moral repudiation of his putrid ideology.

Left against right and center
Toward an alliance of leftists against center and right
The liberal welcoming of neoconservatives to the "resistance" against Trump is of course also short-sighted, and will likely result in the continuing rightward slide of the center. The most feared outcome of the current tactics of the #Resistance for the left is that, just as with the opposition to the Iraq War, engaging with the current mass resistance to Trump will produce more of the same: the sidelining of genuine left opposition as "wanting a free pony," while continuing to cede all populist ground to the right. This dynamic has ever been the danger of popular fronts. However, as I hope I have explained above, the anti-anti-Trump position comes with equally problematic entanglements.

Rather than continuing to play this game, we on the left would do well to think about how our own divisions continue to push us into alliances with what we perceive as less evil but stronger forces from the center (for progressives focused on domestic inequality) or the isolationist/Russophilic right (for the anti-interventionists). Rather than seeking among our opponents for strategic allies, it would be much better to think in the long term, seeking a principled alliance across the left to create a strong center of gravity from which to fight both the center and the right.

Works cited:
Photo credits:

1. Million Mask March, Boise Idaho, 5 November 2013. Photo by User:Bastolio (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
2. Screenshot of Julian Assange tweet,
3. Banner by Carolina Anti-Racists protesting Charlottesville "Unite the Right" rally, 12 August 2017. Photo by Anthony Crider [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

Jan 5, 2018

Review: Making Sense of the Alt-Right by George Hawley

H-Net has published my review of political scientist George Hawley’s book Making Sense of the Alt-Right. On the plus side, the book is carefully researched and offers a good account of the alt-right’s development, hostility to conservatism, distinctive online tactics, and relationship with the Trump presidential campaign. On the minus side, it offers little new information or analysis, neglects crucial features of the alt-right (such as its gender politics and its relationship with the European New Right), and takes gratuitous and ill-informed swipes at antifa.

Here are a couple of excerpts from the review:
"Hawley’s examination of the Alt-Right’s relationship with mainstream conservatism is one of the book’s particular strengths. As he emphasizes, the Alt-Right is not just a racist version of conservatism but rather rejects the conservative movement’s main premises, 'the so-called three-legged stool of moral traditionalism, economic liberty, and strong national defense' (p. 4). This attack on conservatism grows out of the Alt-Right’s rejection of classical Enlightenment principles, such as liberty and equality, and also many Alt-Rightists’ hostility to politicized Christianity. Hawley argues that while many conservatives are bitterly opposed to the Alt-Right they are unlikely to defeat it, because of their own movement’s current weakness, the rise of numerous right-wing websites beyond conservatives’ control, and the fact that Alt-Rightists are not interested in 'a seat at the conservative table'; they simply want to destroy it (p. 113)."

*                    *                    *

"Hawley’s portrait of the Alt-Right is well researched and carefully argued. However, almost all of what he presents has been well covered before by news organs or antifascist researchers. Hawley’s book gives this analysis the imprimatur of a professional academic and the benefit of fresh interviews with a number of Alt-Right activists, such as Richard Spencer, Greg Johnson, Jared Taylor, and Lawrence Murray. Yet I had hoped Hawley would do more to put the Alt-Right in a broader political context. For example, the movement’s profound debt to the ENR [European New Right] and engagement with ENR figures—Alain de Benoist, Guillaume Faye, and Aleksandr Dugin—deserves much more attention than it receives. I also wish that Hawley had probed more deeply into some of the issues he touches on only in passing, for example, the pivotal role that anti-Jewish scapegoating plays in white nationalist ideology, the Alt-Right’s discussions of foreign policy, or its debates around homosexuality or abortion. Exploration of these topics would have given a fuller picture of the movement’s inner dynamics, political philosophies, and interplay with other far-right currents."

Dec 18, 2017

Fascism Today Conversation Part 1: Interview with author Shane Burley

Cover of book Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It
In this post I interview Shane Burley about his new book, Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It, to which I was honored to write the foreword. Publisher AK Press describes the book this way:
Fascism Today looks at the changing world of the far right in Donald Trump’s America. Examining the modern fascist movement’s various strains, Shane Burley has written an accessible primer about what its adherents believe, how they organize, and what future they have in the United States. The ascension of Trump has introduced a whole new vocabulary into our political lexicon—white nationalism, race realism, Identitarianism, and a slew of others. Burley breaks it all down. From the tech-savvy trolls of the alt-right to esoteric Aryan mystics, from full-fledged Nazis to well-groomed neofascists like Richard Spencer, he shows how these racists and authoritarians have reinvented themselves in order to recruit new members and grow.

“Just as importantly, Fascism Today shows how they can be fought and beaten. It highlights groups that have successfully opposed these twisted forces and outlines the elements needed to build powerful mass movements to confront the institutionalization of fascist ideas, protect marginalized communities, and ultimately stop the fascist threat.”
Lyons: Fascism Today packs in a lot of detail about a lot of different political organizations and scenes and individuals. How did you go about doing the research for this book and how long did it take you?

Burley: I would have to say it took me seven years, but that is not when formal research began. Instead, this was me trying to grasp a change that was happening. Back in 2010, there was a flurry of far-right activity happening in Upstate New York, where I was living. At this point the insurgent right-wing movement close to the GOP was the Tea Party, using weaponized Americana to push for aggressive libertarian economics and traditionalist conservatism similar to the evangelical “Moral Majority.” At the same time, there was a dissident movement growing on the edges of paleoconservatism, libertarianism, and other fragments of those to the right of the seemingly “orthodox” Neoconservative Republican Party.

“I frame fascism in my book on two axes: the belief in human inequality and the violent and mythological drive towards essential identity.”

In 2011, David Irving, the famous Holocaust Denier, had an appearance nearby, and I was trying to understand the change that was taking place inside the radical right. What I found was something more culturally and ideologically concise than we have had for years. I stumbled upon a podcast called Vanguard Radio with a young and well spoken guy interviewing Merlin Miller, a former filmmaker who had become the presidential candidate for the American Third Position Party (now the American Freedom Party). The interviewer was Richard Spencer, and Vanguard Radio was the podcast for the now-defunct AlternativeRight.com.

It would be reductionist to just say that these were just “suit and tie fascists.” We have had that dynamic for years, with David Duke sprucing up the fourth-era KKK in the 1970s or American Renaissance trying to give scientific racialism an academic veneer. But this was more profound than that. Instead of simply trying to feign academia, they were really trying to create a coherent fascist ideology, to argue openly against human equality, democracy, and most of the founding post-Enlightenment ideas that even conservatives accepted. While most traditional American far-rightists focused heavily on double-speak and conspiracism (they did this as well), Spencer, and his group of misfits at AlternativeRight.com, openly advocated for a difference of underlying values. It was this focus on values, what they identified as meta-politics, is what defined the Alternative Right, and they drew on a whole fascist intellectual tradition called the European New Right that we, until that point, did not have a corollary for in the U.S.

So it was at that point that I began reading the website regularly and, more importantly, listening to the podcast because it was through that conversational style that you could get the clearest statements of ideas, hear them develop over time, and begin to track their progress, organizing, and strategies. So over the years I kept up with that weekly touchstone, adding in a growing repertoire of white nationalist and Alt Right podcasts, including Counter-Currents Radio, The Daily Shoah, Fash the Nation, Start the World, Tribal Theocrat, Red Ice Radio, and others. The way they have created their own media has made it easy to monitor and track, and that is where my understanding of the Alt Right actually came from.

So it took several years of monitoring before a very clear picture of who they were, where they were going, and what threat they presented formed. By that point we were hitting 2015 and they were entering the larger culture through their tactical alliance with the troll culture found on Twitter, Reddit, and the “Chans,” and I began writing it about it at that point. By the time I got to the formal outlining of Fascism Today, I already had done years of research, so at that point it was about cataloguing, arranging, fact checking, and writing. Since I am continuing to focus on this, I am continuing to keep up the research, so that I am trying to use that background to keep on top of their trends and make the information useful.

Lyons: The term fascism gets used in a lot of different ways, and even just on the left, people have a lot of different ways of defining it or not defining it. I think it’s valid to talk about fascism without having a pithy one-sentence definition, but it is important to have some clarity about what we mean. And that requires a kind of balancing act. On the one hand, you need to articulate a concept of fascism that’s flexible enough to cover the diversity within far right politics and the fact that far right politics is dynamic and has changed enormously over the past century. On the other hand, you need the concept to be specific enough to be analytically useful, or else “fascism” just becomes an epithet without any real content. How do you approach this issue, and how do you frame the concept of fascism?

Burley: The problem with the term fascist is its heavy misuse, both as an epithet and from sincere mistakes. There are the mistakes of orthodox Marxism to frame fascism in terms of class compositions, one that misses ideological and cultural factors and the way that it morphs over time. There is also the problem of framing fascism only inside the geopolitics of interwar Europe, which essentially frames its defining features in politics that will not be repeated and necessarily makes fascism a threat of the past.

I side somewhat more slightly with scholar Roger Griffin and what is often called the “new consensus” that fascism, at least ideologically, makes up a form of what Griffin termed “palingenetic ultranationalism,” a nationalism born of myth and rebirth. I go ahead and frame fascism in my book on two axes: the belief in human inequality and the violent and mythological drive towards essential identity. This defines fascism as a belief in fixed identities that are unchosen and that human beings are unequal and society needs to remain stratified. I think this is a broad categorization that covers most occurrences of fascism, both in a revolutionary movement that takes state power and for an insurgent minority movement, but it is certainly not the whole picture. It takes further examination and comparison, but it is a starting point and a foundation for seeing how these movements form from a meta-political base, the space of idea that comes before politics.

When we look at the Alt Right in the U.S. or identitarianism in Europe, we see a battle for identity as an essential and fixed category, a traditionalism based on a mythic past, a violence rooted in warrior fetishism, and the fundamental belief in the need for social stratification based on a perceived natural hierarchy of human inequality. Without that, you do not have a fully formed fascist movement, but you may still have the kernels of fascism that some call proto-fascist.

What this sort of definition does is show how the seeds of fascism are often set across radical movements, even on the left. When the left uses essentializing narratives about race or gender, when the battle for greater equality is abandoned, or tradition and mythological origins are romanticized beyond cause, this creates the potential for what Alexander Reid Ross calls the “fascist creep.”

“Mass movement antifascism is not proposing to abandon militant antifascism. Instead it is actually just to build on what is there, find new ways of engaging the public and finding new platforms for resistance.”

Lyons: On Page 247 of Fascism Today you comment that “fascism has always fed on weaknesses of the left…” Please discuss.

Burley: There is one thing that antifascist author Spencer Sunshine told me that has always stuck with me. “Fascism is itself a critique on the left.” What I interpret this to mean is that fascism itself acts as a critique of the flaws in how the left presents itself, the weaknesses and flaws in organizing and argument. In a way, fascists often force the left to, as Saul Alinsky said, to “play by their own rules.”

The American left goes through many phases and takes on many competing, and often contradictory, modes of thought in an attempt to constantly reinvent a liberatory politic. In doing this, ideas are often appropriated and built that stray from its foundational principles, all in an effort to target specific areas of systemic and interpersonal oppression.

A very clear example of this is found in anti-imperialist politics. In many areas of the left, alliances have been made with despotic regimes, racial nationalists, and far-right actors who, while also opposing American military hegemony, have political ideas that would make us shudder. In the support of Palestinian liberation, this has meant even allying with open anti-Semites, who place Jews at the center of a cabalistic world conspiracy and who throw doubt on the Holocaust. In an effort to center the role of international finance in global destruction, many have made these same allegiances, using anti-Semitic caricatures and conspiracy theories in an effort to drive a populist anger against the bankers.

Another example of this has been in recent conversations about cultural appropriation. It has been a feature of Western colonialism to appropriate sacred items from colonized people and to use them in non-sacred ways for centuries, and today is no exception. Yet, in some of the myriad of blogs and conversations about cultural appropriation, the language and logic of ethnic cultural ownership has been used, which necessarily frames cultures and religions as having an essential nature belonging to a particular ethnic group. This cements a narrative that these cultural practices are part and parcel of ethnic groups, using the same logic that the European New Right does that culture is the manifestation of the spiritual and bio-psychological qualities of a particular “people.” To challenge these sorts of creeping narratives the left does not have to abandon those areas of struggle, but instead to clarify terms and strategies. You can oppose the careless appropriation of cultural artifacts without laying down nationalist arguments to do it. The same is true of issues like imperialism, gentrification, and international solidarity. Clarity in ideas and organizing provide this, and understanding the underlying ideological assumptions of fascism can help to develop this clarity and consistency.

Lyons: One of the things that impressed me about Fascism Today is how you talk about antifascism as a multifaceted movement, and about the need to create space for a range of antifascist strategies and political visions. I think this is related to one of the themes that’s central to Three Way Fight as a blog and as a political current, the idea that we need to combat fascist and far right political forces, and we also need to combat the established economic, social, and political order that fascism is rooted in but also genuinely at odds with. Please talk about your vision of antifascism as a multifaceted movement and how that relates to the three-way fight approach.

Burley: One of the things I describe in Fascism Today is what has been coined “mass movement antifascism,” which really just means an approach to antifascism that finds a place for the mass of people. Fascism itself is a mass politic, one that could not have existed in an era before mass participation in politics. If it is growing at a quick speed, beyond just insurgent violence threatened by neo-Nazi skinheads or the KKK, then antifascists can see a need for a mass response.

What this can mean is that the conception antifascist resistance can be expanded to find a place for everyone who wants to participate. One of the things I did in the second half of the book is to survey different approaches to antifascism, choices made on an axis of interest, access, location, skill set, and other dynamics. How do you approach the rightward creep in rural areas? How about communities that are under threat and want community support and defense systems? What about using existing structures of struggle, like labor unions? What about confronting fascist entryism into cultural institutions that you are already a part of, like a church or religious congregation? All of these areas provide different advantages and will attract different constituencies, and if they are tied together into a coalition whole then you have a large mass antifascist movement that takes on the struggle in multiple venues simultaneously.

What mass movement antifascism is not proposing, however, is to abandon other existing types of antifascist organizations, and certainly not to abandon militant antifascism. Instead it is actually just to build on what is there, add to it and find new ways of engaging the public and finding new platforms for resistance. If antifascists are not able to communicate with and find use of large masses of interested people, then they lose the ability to educate and transform the public along with the struggle. At the same time, a mass movement can achieve what a small cadre cannot.

An example of this was the recent set of antifascist mass actions in the wake of the Charlottesville disaster. In Boston, Alt Right groups were attempting to hold a public rally, including about 150 of their people. They were met by 40,000 opponents, some who were organizing antifascists and some who were community supporters who had never mobilized before. They shut down the event by challenging it through their numbers, and went even further, having a mass public action against fascism and the Trump administration. This has the potential of radicalizing a whole new mass constituency, getting them involved in ongoing projects, yet maintains the same tactical edge that antifascists wanted, namely to confront the fascists directly and disallow them space. What will be important, however, is to create good working relationships between groups, and to make sure that people, no matter what organizational approach they choose, understand why militant antifascism has been taken up and the important history it has had.

The other component of this resistance is to see it as a gateway to larger struggles about the issues that run underneath a fascist insurgency. Most people find Nazism abhorrent, but do they feel the same way about racist police violence or systemic inequality? Antifascism is a point of rupture in their feelings of normalcy, and this can be an opportunity to create entry into the larger work of dismantling white supremacy and hierarchical foundations. Fascism is the violent inequality of society moving from the implicit to the explicit, and it will continue to return unless that implicit element is addressed and demolished.

In a follow-up post, Shane Burley will interview Matthew N. Lyons.

Nov 13, 2017

The Alt-Right: History, Ideology, and the Future of a Fascist Movement (podcast)


Eric Draitser interviewed me for an episode of his Stop Imperialism podcast series on Patreon. The full podcast (almost two hours) is available to Patreon subscribers, while the first half is available for free. Here's Eric's description of the discussion:
This time on the podcast Eric welcomes author and researcher Matthew Lyons to the show to discuss the "Alt-Right," and how it relates to our politics today and in the future. The conversation begins with a discussion of what the alt-right is, and where it came from both intellectually, and in terms of its online evolution. From there, Eric and Matthew discuss everything from the terminology to the alt-right's discourse on women, culture, biology, race, politics, religion, and so much more.

The second half of the show explores the role of Donald Trump in mainstreaming the alt-right, and its relationship to international forces ranging from #Putin's Russia to active and nascent fascist movements throughout Europe. Eric and Matthew explore how the alt-right could potentially develop in the future, and what that means for #antifascists, and society generally. This in depth conversation goes down every rabbit hole, and explores myriad aspects of this complex and dangerous movement called the alt-right. Don't miss it!

Aug 20, 2017

Fascist anti-capitalism?

Henry Ford, industrialist and antisemite.
Jason Wilson of The Guardian has a good article about the role of socialism and anti-capitalism in fascist ideology. I am quoted along with antifascist authors Alexander Reid Ross and Shane Burley. Here's an excerpt:
[Lyons] talks of “a long tradition in Nazism and other parts of the far right of drawing a distinction between finance capital and industrial capital”, with the former, identified with Jews, being seen as “parasitic”.
                                        *                    *                    *

“Jewish finance” is consistently nominated as the principal enemy of these groups. Lyons explains that this distinction is an antisemitic variant on the ideology of “producerism”, which is common across the populist right and privileges the makers of tangible things over those engaged in more abstract pursuits. “They define industrial capitalists as ‘good’ capitalists, or even as workers,” he says, adding that this was how the noted antisemite Henry Ford described his role at the head of a giant auto manufacturer.
The question of fascism's relationship with capitalism is complex. This is a major topic of the book Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement, and I encourage those interested to check out the essays in that book by Don Hamerquist and J. Sakai. Both of those essays are available here. The following passage from my essay "Two Ways of Looking at Fascism" summarizes some of Hamerquist and Sakai's points on the topic:
In different ways, both Hamerquist and Sakai argue that fascism’s radical approach shapes its relationship with capitalism.... [Sakai] describes fascism as “anti-bourgeois but not anti-capitalist.” Under fascist regimes, “capitalism is restabilized but the bourgeoisie pays the price of temporarily no longer ruling the capitalist State.”... Today’s fascism “is opposed to the big imperialist bourgeoisie… to the transnational corporations and banks, and their world-spanning ‘multicultural’ bourgeois culture. Fascism really wants to bring down the World Bank, WTO and NATO, and even America the Superpower. As in destroy.”

Sakai argues that fascism radically reshapes the capitalist social order to create an economy of “heightened parasitism”: “a lumpen-capitalist economy more focused on criminality, war, looting and enslavement.” He describes how Hitler’s regime elevated millions of German workers into a new parasitic class of soldiers, policemen, and bureaucrats and replaced them with a new proletariat of foreign and slave laborers, retirees, and women. This process “created an Aryan society that had never existed before” -– giving Nazi racial categories a concrete, social reality that was qualitatively new (but which paralleled the color-line divisions of U.S. society).

Sakai’s discussion belies claims that Hitler’s regime had little or no impact on the socioeconomic order. We should remember, however, that this discussion does not apply to Italian Fascism, which lacked Nazism’s overarching racialist imperative and never consolidated the same degree of control over the state. Its effect on the socioeconomic order was far more limited.

Hamerquist takes fascist anti-capitalism more seriously than Sakai does. He notes that current-day fascist movements encompass various positions on how to relate to the capitalist class, from opportunists who want to cut a deal, to pro-capitalist revolutionaries who want to pressure big business into accepting fascist rule, to some third positionists who want to overthrow the economic ruling class entirely. It is unclear how serious a challenge to capitalist economic power any fascists would mount in practice. Where it has been tested, fascist anti-capitalism has meant opposition to “bourgeois values,” specific policies, or a “parasitic” wing of capital (such as Jewish bankers) -– not the capitalist system. On the other hand, as Hamerquist warns, it would be dangerous for leftists to dismiss the prospect of a militantly anti-capitalist fascism simply because it doesn’t fit our preconceptions.

Hamerquist’s concept of fascist anti-capitalism rests partly on his analysis (following German left communist Alfred Sohn-Rethel) that German Nazism foreshadowed “a new ‘transcapitalist’ exploitative social order.” In particular, Hamerquist argues, German fascism’s genocidal labor policy broke with capitalist principles. Not just labor power, but workers themselves were “consumed in the process of production just like raw materials and fixed capital,” thus obliterating “the distinctively capitalist difference between labor and other factors of production.” True, “normal” capitalist development involves genocide “against pre-capitalist populations and against the social formations that obstruct the creation of a modern working class.” But by contrast, “the German policy was the genocidal obliteration of already developed sections of the European working classes” –- i.e., the importation of colonial-style mass killing into Europe’s industrial heartland.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Nazism was in the process of overthrowing the capitalist system. The labor policies Hamerquist describes did not call into question the economic power of big business, and arguably could not be sustained for more than a brief period. But the very fact that they were not sustainable may be part of the point. As Hamerquist reminds us, Marx warned that the contradictions of capitalism might end, not in socialist revolution, but in “barbarism,” “the common ruin of the contending classes.” Fascist revolution could be one version of this scenario.
Photo credit: Jeffrey White Studios, Inc. - Time Magazine (public domain), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Aug 7, 2017

An Alt Right Update - Six Months After "Ctrl-Alt-Delete"

"An Alt Right Update," published by Political Research Associates, is my attempt to summarize how the Alt Right’s political situation has changed since Donald Trump took office on January 20th, when the report "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" first appeared. I focus on five major developments:
1. Trump’s election has encouraged supremacist violence by vigilantes and local police.

2. Despite Trump’s volatility, in policy terms his administration has largely been coopted by conventional conservatism.

3. The Alt Right has largely abandoned its support for Trump.

4. Alt Rightists have taken to the streets alongside other right-wing forces.

5. Alt Rightists and their allies have been turning toward physical violence and creating a street-fighting presence.
From the conclusion:
"Despite its disenchantment with the Trump administration, the Alt Right appears to be simultaneously building a real capacity for organized physical violence and strengthening its grassroots connections with other rightist currents, including Trump supporters.... This type of activism is a direct physical threat to both oppressed communities and the Left, and can fuel authoritarian and supremacist tendencies within the state at all levels....

"At the same time, we shouldn’t exaggerate either the unity or the competence of this new wave of militant right-wing forces. Rightists are just as vulnerable as leftists to infighting, personality conflicts, and sectarian ideological squabbles.... So far, thankfully, their movement has failed to produce a skilled, charismatic leader who can unify them and provide strategic direction.... And even a strong leader wouldn’t necessarily overcome the basic political differences separating Alt Rightists from their conservative fellow travelers. In the long run, if the Alt Right wants to coalesce with system-loyal rightists, it either has to win more people to its dream of right-wing revolution, or abandon it."
Read more

The report "Ctrl-Alt-Delete" is also the lead essay in the book Ctrl-Alt-Delete: An Antifascist Report on the Alternative Right (Montreal: Kersplebedeb Publishing, 2017).

Photo credit: Mark Dixon, via Flickr Commons (CC BY 2.0).

May 2, 2017

How the alt-right is reshaping patriarchal politics

I have a new opinion piece in The Guardian under the title "The alt-right hates women as much as it hates people of color." The article's main focus is the contrast between the alt-right's version of patriarchal politics and the Christian right's version. Here's an excerpt:
...the alt-right is reshaping patriarchal politics. Its version of male supremacy is not just more explicit or aggressive – it’s strikingly different from the version that’s been dominant among US rightists for decades.

Consider abortion. Some alt-rightists, unsurprisingly, argue that abortion is simply immoral and should be banned. Yet many others in the movement disagree – and for reasons that have nothing to do with respecting women’s autonomy or privacy. These alt-rightists support legal abortion because, they claim, it’s disproportionately used by black and Latina women and, secondarily, because they see it as a way to weed out “defective” white babies. In other words, they support abortion as a form of eugenics. Both sides of this internal alt-right debate agree that women have no business controlling their own bodies. As Greg Johnson of the alt-right website Counter-Currents put it, “in a White Nationalist society … some abortions should be forbidden, others should be mandatory, but under no circumstances should they simply be a matter of a woman’s choice”.

As far as I can tell, the only outsiders who have responded to this discussion are Christian rightists. For decades they’ve used the “black genocide” canard in an effort to smear abortion rights proponents as racist; now they have some actual racists to go after. But alt-rightists aren’t the least bit intimidated.
Note: The article draft I submitted included links to web-archived versions of alt-right and Christian right source articles (web-archived so you could see the content but it wouldn't boost traffic on their sites). The Guardian editors removed these links, because they didn't want to send readers to that kind of content, even in archived form. In the passage excerpted above, I've put the links back in.