With the growth of the Alt-Right and the Trumpist movement in the US, the Left has grappled with how to understand and define fascism in the 21st century context. The conditions, players, and tactics are fundamentally different than its first manifestations, and so many antiquated studies have left inarticulate descriptions or inadequate culprits as roadmaps for understanding fascism today. Instead, these twenty-five statements are a proposal for how to understand the essential core of fascism–what binds it together as a modern impulse despite its different manifestations across cultures and time.
Fascism in the 21st century has direct continuity to the insurgent movements that tore apart Europe, culminating in the Second World War. The methods, tactics, and strategies have changed, but the potential of the genocidal-racialist machine remains, and the ideologies are linked through history.
Fascism does not necessitate a specific type of statecraft (or a state…
All revolutions start as the basic refusal of an oppressed person to follow along with the rules of their own subservience. The autonomous Marxist tradition breaks from many understanding of economics and history to say that it is what it calls “Working Class Self-Activity” that brings about crisis. In 2007-8 we saw an economic collapse not just because of the nefarious actors on Wall Street, but because an entire working class decided to refuse to go along with the destruction of real wages and living standards. Through de-industrialization, attacks on labor unions, and the depletion of the social safety net through neoliberalism, the actual wealth of the collective working class was set ablaze. Debt soared, and workers began to, en masse, take out loans they couldn’t pay back, buy houses they couldn’t afford, and run up credit cards they didn’t care to pay off. They refused to play by the rules of the system that was forcing them into economic and social retreat.
That principle has echoed through history. The crisis of the Civil War came after decades of increasing slave revolts. The similar principle can be seen in peasant revolts across the world, the story of the labor movement and its insurgent actors, and the student uprisings starting in the 1960s.
Kevin Van Meter dives deep into this phenomenon, which he calls “everyday resistance.” This is the kind of resistance that happens no matter if someone is attuned to revolutionary class politics or not. It is the kind of resistance that comes as an act of survival. Stealing from work. Clocking in your friend who is late. Creating mutual aid networks to care for kids. Fighting back against abusive husbands. These are all acts of resistance, and they are, as Van Meter asserts, the foundation of all radical and revolutionary politics.
The question here is how to mobilize this everyday resistance into a fully formed mass movement, and how antifascism and the resistance to Trumpism can build on the instinct towards survival.
The below talk was given at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.
The history and theory of antifascist resistance were forged both out of the integral battle against fascist forces, as well as the intersections of radical left politics that wanted to go beyond acting simply as a station of resistance. The rise of the Alt Right, Donald Trump, and identitarianism and right populism throughout the West has made this more relevant than anyone would have guessed only a few years ago.
Within that, two authors have written books that dive deep into how to understand the rise of fascism in the 21st century, and the growing mass antifascist movement. Historian Mark Bray wrote Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook analyzing the history, strategy, and theory of ‘militant antifascism,’ a movement that sees direct resistance as necessary. Journalist Shane Burley just released Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It breaking down the key ideas, history, and tactics of American fascists, and how mass antifascism is rising to stop it.
Both authors came together in Portland, Oregon at the historic Powell’s City of Books to discuss the books, fascism in the age of Trump, and what can be done to stop white nationalism.
The front-runner candidate for Alabama Senate, Republican Roy Moore, called The Washington Post “fake news” after the newspaper published a thorough investigation reporting on sexual encounters between Moore and multiple teenage girls, one as young as 14. Moore’s attacks on this highly-reputable newspaper are part of a recent broader pattern of prominent public figures using the label of “fake news” to denounce quality investigative journalism that reveals corruption and abuse of power. Such attacks pose an urgent and systemic danger to our democracy, as they encourage corruption and abuse of power by undermining credible media reporting on such behavior.
As a high-quality, well-respected venue, The Washington Post would not publish such a controversial story without a thorough investigation. The article was based on multiple interviews with over 30 people who knew Moore at the time the sexual encounters happened, between 1977 and 1982. The journalists were careful to paint a balanced story, including some negative facts about the women who accused Moore, such as divorces and bankruptcies.
Perhaps most telling of the high quality of reporting and credibility of the newspaper is the fact that a number of prominent Republican leaders are calling on Moore to withdraw from the race. Immediately after The Post publishes its story, Republican Senator John McCaincalled for Moore to step aside immediately, and Montana Senator Steve Daines withdrew his endorsement, as did Utah Senator Mike Lee. After a fifth woman stepped forward to accuse Moore independently of The Post’s story, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell statedthat Moore “should step aside,” and so did Speaker of the House Paul Ryan.
On the other hand, Republicans well-known for making false accusations of mainstream media outlets being “fake news” defended Moore and supported his attack on The Post. For example, former Donald Trump adviser and head of Breitbart Stephen Bannon accused the The Post of being “purely part of the apparatus of the Democratic Party” for conducting its thorough investigation. Prominent Virginia Republican Corey Stewart also refused to criticize Moore and instead attacked the newspaper. A number of Fox News commentators,such as Gregg Jarrett, also attacked The Post.
Unfortunately, these attacks on quality investigative reporting represent part of a broader trend of conservative politicians across the country adopting the tactic of condemning media as “fake news” whenever there are stories unfavorable to them. As an example, Republican Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin tweeted that the reporter Tom Loftus of the largest newspaper in Kentucky, The Courier-Journal, is “a truly sick man” for “sneaking around” Bevin’s manor. Loftus at the time was working on a story about how Bevin faced an ethics complaint over an accusation of bribery for purchasing this manor for about a million dollars below market price from a local investor, Neil Ramsey. Apparently, shortly before getting a million-dollar discount on this manor, Bevin appointed Ramsey to the Kentucky Retirement Board, which oversees $16 billion in investments.
Republican Governor of New Jersey Chris Christie used a similar approach when caught abusing his power. He ordered a number of state-run beaches in New Jersey closed on June 30, yet he used a closed state beach in Island Beach State Park for himself and his family on July 2. Reporters for New Jersey’s largest newspaper, The Star-Ledger, secretly photographed him and his family using the beach. When asked about whether he was on the beach that day, Christie denied it. When confronted with photographic proof, Christie did not acknowledge and apologizing for his lies and his abuse of power in using a closed public beach for the benefit of himself and his family. He instead attacked The Star-Ledger for its reporting.
Without the attacks on the media, the investigations of Christie and Bevin would have simply revealed the sordid affairs of corruption and abuse of power. Our democracy would have worked correctly with voters appropriately getting the important information from credible sources, the largest newspapers in Kentucky and New Jersey. With these accusations, Bevin and Christie distract attention from the corruption and abuse of power, and instead present themselves as fighters against supposed media bias.
In doing so, Moore, Bevin, Christie and many others are tapping the anti-media bias of the Republican base inflamed by Trump’s attacks on the media. He has expressed pride over his branding of high-quality venues like “CBS, and NBC, and ABC, and CNN” as “fake news.” We are now reaping the whirlwind of politicians caught engaged in immoral, abusive, and corrupt behavior using Trump’s anti-media rhetoric to protect themselves and continue engaging in such activities.
Now, it doesn’t mean that Democrats will not try similar tactics. For example, the prominent film director Harvey Weinstein, a well-known and high-profile fundraiser for and influencerin the Democratic Party, accused The New York Times of publishing fake news when they revealed his sexual harassment. However, neither the Democratic base nor prominent Democrats bought this accusation, and Weinstein was quickly ousted from his leading roles.
By contrast, Bevin’s popularity in the polls was climbing in Kentucky, a conservative state, at the same time that he was making his accusations. Moore has continued to be staunchly supported by the Alabama Republican Party and base, despite the accusations and the withdrawal of support from many mainstream Republicans. Only in New Jersey, a liberal-leaning state, did voters express discontent over Christie’s behavior.
However, all of us – regardless of our party affiliation – will be greatly harmed if politicians are able to get away with corruption, immorality, and abuse of power through labeling of credible media sources as fake news. This tactic is posing an existential and systemic threat to our democracy, and we must do everything possible toprotect quality journalism and overall promote truthful behavior.
P.S. Want to promote truth and fight lies? Take the Pro-Truth Pledge at ProTruthPledge.org, get your friends to take it, and call on your elected representatives to do so.
Now that words like Antifa are well known, a lot of media attention has been placed on anti-fascist organizers and writers. In an attempt to capture some of this material, we have created a large list of podcasts that cover antifascist issues, both in the form of reports, interviews, discussions, and talks. This is not a fixed list, we will be building on it and adding to it as we go on. Please comment with your favorite podcast, or email us some that should be added!
With today being Samhain (Halloween), we thought we would share this now classic essay/zine on the radical history of this holiday and tradition. We have reposted the version found at Mask Magazine, including their photo selection, and have also included a link to the zine version below.
By Bradly Stroot
Origins of the Halloween Spirit
Though widely recognized across North America, the origins of Halloween are poorly understood by many of its celebrants, likely due to their dark, unsavory, and disorderly nature. Its calendar date and etymology are undeniably Christian (from “All Hallows’ Evening,” the night before All Saints Day on November 1st), but the spirit that animates this “Halloween machine” is widely thought to originate from the pagan New Year celebrations of the Keltoi people (or Celts) of Ireland.
The Keltoi, whose name is likely derived from kel-, the Indo-European prefix for the “hidden,” were a diverse constellation of Celtic-speaking tribes that spread across much of Europe and the British Isles between the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages, even occupying Rome for a period of time around 400 BCE. Because of these hidden people’s refusal to commit their oral history and scholarship to written records, much of the most spectacular accounts of these “primitive” pagans and their “bloodthirsty” human sacrifice have been written by their imperial enemies like Julius Caesar and thus should be considered suspect at best.
What is known almost for certain, however, is that many Keltoi of the British Isles believed in an afterlife called Tir na tSamhraidh, or the “Land of Summer.” The doors to this Other world were only opened once a year on Samhain (pronounced SOW-in), the period between the two nights of October 31 and November 1. According to Nicholas Rogers, the author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night,
“Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead. It was quintessentially ‘an old pastoral and agricultural festival […] It was also a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad, spilling out from the sidh, the ancient mounds or barrows of the countryside. To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. […] In Celtic lore, it marked the boundary between summer and winter, light and darkness. […] It represented a time out of time, a brief interval ‘when the normal order of the universe in suspended’ and ‘charged with a peculiar preternatural energy.’”
These liminal interludes, as Barry Cunliffe calls them in The Celts, were particularly dangerous because “they were times when anything could happen and it was only by careful adherence to ritual and propitiation that a precarious order could be maintained.” Lisa Morton, another Halloween scholar and the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, crucially adds that this was the only time of the year with a relative abundance of food and alcohol which contributed to Samhain’s festive and mischievous atmosphere. She also adds that, in addition to Beltane on May 1st, it was one of the two most important days in the Keltoi’s often frightening heroic folk tales, like that of,
“the Formorians, a race of demonic giants who have conquered Ireland after a great battle, demand a yearly tax of two-thirds of the subdued survivors’ corn, milk, and children, to be paid each year on Samhain. The Tuatha de Danann, a race of godlike, benevolent ancestors chronicled in Celtic mythology, battle against the Fomorians for years, but it takes the Morrigan, a mother god, and the hero Angus Og to finally drive the monsters from Ireland – on Samhain, of course.”
In these multiple accounts of Samhain, we can find themes that will come to define Halloween and follow it through its long history – particularly those of liminality, excess, celebration, mischief, darkness, fire, demons, and, perhaps most important to this essay, rebellion. When I obsessively began researching Detroit’s Devil’s Night a month ago, it was not immediately clear what its connection with this larger tradition would be, but as a began to work backward I began to uncover a genealogy that I couldn’t ignore. From the anti-Christian heresy of the medieval British Isles to the widespread arson of 1980s Detroit, we will see as this spirit of Halloween will continue to intersect with several notable subversive moments throughout its long life, constantly re-inventing itself to evade the forces of law and order.
The Witch Hammer, c. 700-1590 CE
Though Samhain provided Halloween with these raw, disorderly materials, it actually gave the holiday very little in terms of concrete practices or symbolism, excepting bonfires. These traditions, including the name of Halloween, came later in the Medieval period with the violent imposition of Christianity and its holy days, All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day.Originally celebrated on May 13 as a remembrance of Christian martyrs who had died at the hands of pagans, Lemuria (as it was previously known) was moved to November 1st by the Pope and rebranded as a more palatable, positive celebration of “all the saints.” Later, the early Church added All Souls’ Day on November 2, conveniently bookending the celebration with an opportunity to pray for the souls of the deceased that were trapped in Purgatory. According to Morton, however, “it seems more likely that the gloomy, ghostly new celebration was added to cement the transformation of Samhain from pagan to Christian holiday.”
Three centuries later, this gloomy and ghostly nature of All Souls’ Day transformed from an exceptional, temporary celebration to the daily reality of most Europeans as the Black Death began to spread throughout the western hemisphere. Beginning in 1346 and peaking around 1350, the plague killed as much as 60 percent of Europe’s population and left the surviving population with an unavoidable preoccupation with death. This, coupled with the simultaneous spread of the printing press, led to the mass circulation of Danse Macabre imagery and a generalized perception of Death as a personified subject, which one can still see in modern celebrations of Halloween. Though the figure of Death was originally portrayed as an animated skeleton, the opportunity was quickly seized by the Church and early capitalists to re-purpose this body of enmity in order to target a rebellious subject whom they had both long considered a threat but were now finally strong enough to destroy: the witch.
According to Arthur Evans’ recently republished 1978 book, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,
“Despite its contempt for magic, the early church did not organize a full-scale attack against magicians and witches because it was not yet strong enough. The Christianity of the early middle ages was largely an affair of the King and the upper class of warlords. The rest of society remained pagan. In addition, early medieval Christians were hampered by a general breakdown of centralized authority in both church and state. Anarchy favored paganism.”
However, as Evans continues,
“By the early thirteenth century, […] the church was much better organized and ready to act. Its immediate target was heresy: the numerous and widespread attempts to combine traditional Christianity with elements of the old religion. To deal with this, the church launched crusades and started the Holy Inquisition. […] Now it began to look at the historical sources of heresy – the surviving old religion that modern historians view as ‘folklore,’ ‘peasant fantasy,’ and ‘strange fertility rites.’ Feeling its privilege, power, and world view threatened by these sources, the fifteenth-century ruling class fantasized that Satan was conspiring to overthrow the power of Christ’s church on earth.
With this consolidation of sovereign power and the figurative marriage of Satan and witches began what came to be known as The Great Witch-Hunt. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici traces the lineage of this mass genocide beyond just the Christian elite’s fear of paganism but to a whole world of generalized peasant revolts and the powerful, undomesticated women who likely organized them. Though this population was likely quite heterogeneous and their activities today may be likened to those of midwives, abortionists, sex workers, and popular healers among others, their enemies were able to collapse their commonalities into the identity of the witch, which could then be surgically targeted for removal.
According to Evans, the early Church “turned homosexuality into heresy” and began to collapse the two identities so that to call someone a heretic was to call them a homosexual, and vice versa. And “because of the methods of the Inquisition, […] great numbers of Lesbians and Gay men must have lost their lives.” We can also assume that the many individuals who today might have self-identified as transgender were likely also targeted for extermination. Besides the story of Joan of Arc: Transvestite and Heretic, there is unfortunately very little other research into this history and, therefore, my only reference point for this period will be Federici’s figure of the witch-as-woman.
The authorities obsessed over that these witches largely lived alone, relied on public assistance, were sexually “promiscuous,” and encouraged non-procreative sex (by means of contraception and abortions). Because these activities interfered with male supremacy, heteronormativity, population growth, compulsory labor, domestication, and order – in a word, civilization – the witch started being painted as a threat to life itself. According to Federici, “Witches were accused of conspiring to destroy the generative power of humans and animals, of procuring abortions, and of belonging to an infanticidal sect devoted to killing children and offering them to the devil.”
But, according to Federici, these accusations did not spontaneously generate from the witches’ own neighbors overnight. Instead, a highly-organized campaign of indoctrination was introduced from above and spread from to village to village traveling public officials. All this was only possible with the mass generation of propaganda using the most advanced technology of the day – the printing press. Of particular importance to re-imagining these rebellious women as demon-worshipping baby killers were the widely circulated copies of the Malleus Maleficarum and the evocative images created from the engravings of Hans Baldung Grien. In his most famous work, Witches’ Sabbath, one can see precursors to images of witches we still can find on Hallmark cards today – deformed bodies gathering around a bubbling caldron with their animal familiars (later portrayed as black cats), and flying through the air to their subversive meetings with the devil.
Of special significance to the history of Halloween is this last component – the mass gathering of witches at the Sabbath, or Sabbat. Though widely exaggerated by its enemies, some historians have speculated that the Sabbat was an actual nocturnal gathering of thousands where peasants plotted popular revolts against ruling social enclosures.
Given the potentially subversive nature of these massive gatherings, it should be of no surprise then that the “witches” who attended became a target of extermination to the forces of order. Curiously, according to Morton, this is about the same period when a term closely resembling “Halloween” first begins to appear in the English language.
“The choice of All Hallows’ as a major holiday for witches and devils was no doubt coerced from the accused with a political agenda in mind. […] A spectacular witch trial took place during the reign of the Protestant king James I: in 1590, dozens of Scots were accused of having attempted to prevent James from reaching his queen-to-be, Anne of Denmark, by gathering on Halloween night and then riding the sea in sieves while creating storms by tossing live cats tied to human body parts in the water. After the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials, as they were called, Halloween was forever to be firmly associated with witches, cats, cauldrons, brooms, and the Devil.”
Mischievous Nights c. 1600-1900 CE
After this brutal erasure of an entire population and the undomesticated form of life that they represented, one can see a marked change in the culture surrounding the celebration of Halloween, particularly in its embrace of romance, parlor games, and tempered mischief in place of unbridled revolt. According to Rogers, one popular tradition of this era was a public choral performance that encouraged marriage and procreation with refrains celebrating “the wise virgins awaiting the coming of the bridegroom.” These public affirmations of marriage also announced the beginning of the seasons of Christmas and misrule, a temporary period of permitted mischief wherein urban leaders were ritually usurped from power in mock coups by impersonated sheriffs and mayors.
Simultaneously in the countryside, according to a sixteenth century account written by Philip Stubbs, large groups of drunken revelers would parade the churchyards with their horses, singing and dancing “with such a confused noise that no man can heare his own voice,” and demand contributions from their neighbors in order to continue their “Heathenrie, Devilrie, and Drunkennesse.” According to David J. Skal, the author of Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, it is also within this era that the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern develops, complete with a Christian folk etymology of harmless mischief:
“Jack was a perennial trickster of folktales, who offended not only God but also the devil with his many pranks and transgressions. Upon his death, he was denied entrance into both heaven and hell, though the devil grudgingly tossed him a fiery coal, which Jack caught in a hollowed turnip and which would light his night-walk on earth until Judgement Day. Jack’s perpetual prank is decoying of hapless travelers into the murky mire.”
In this new era of “civilized” Christianity, previous bloody wars between pagans and early Christians were replaced by relatively minor inter-religious skirmishes between Protestants and Catholics – that is, until November 5, 1605. Successfully recognized by its simple injunction to “Remember, remember the fifth of November!”, this was the day that Guy Fawkes, a Catholic malcontent, was caught placing thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a vault beneath the protestant House of Lords, later known as the Gunpowder Plot.
Fawkes was soon publicly hanged as a Catholic traitor and the date of his failed attack was chosen by the Parliament as “a holiday forever in thankfulness to our God for deliverance and detestation for the Papists.” Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night (as it came to be dually known) co-existed peacefully for about 40 years until, in 1647, Parliament banned the celebration of all festivals excepting the anti-Catholic celebration. It was then, due to their relative proximity of one another, that November 5 began to take on many of the sinister and mischievous elements of Halloween. Young people would spend weeks preparing for the night by going house-to-house dressed in rags and demanding firewood or money for the massive bonfire roasts of Pope effigies that would come to define the night, a tradition that some historians consider as the origin of trick-or-treat, which will be discussed later. According to Rogers, if no firewood or money was given, it was “considered quite lawful to appropriate any old wood” from these households.
It also around this same time, according to Rogers, that the oldest recorded use of “Mischief Night” is noted by a headmaster to describe his school’s theatre performance that ended in “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.” Though originally celebrated on May 1, it eventually found it’s home on in Great Britain on November 4, the night before Bonfire Night, and later in the US on October 30. According to Rogers, it was during this transitional time that Halloween itself began to reappear in the British Isles as a festival distinct from Bonfire Night while still retaining some its most disorderly practices such the targeted destruction of private property, particularly by young, working class men in Scotland and Ireland.
“Mimicking the malignant spirits who were widely believed to be abroad on Halloween, gangs of youths blocked up chimneys, rampaged cabbage patches, battered doors, unhinged gates, and unstabled horses. In nineteenth-century Cromarty, revelers even sought out lone women whom they could haze as a witch. […] ‘If an individual happened to be disliked in the place,’ observed one Scot in 1911, ‘he was sure to suffer dreadfully on these occasions. He doors would be broken, and frequently not a cabbage left standing in the garden.’ Such was Halloween reputation as a night of festive retribution that in some parts of Scotland the imperatives of community justice prevailed over private property, to a point that the Kirk-session found it impossible to enforce law and order.”
These accounts of masculine mob attacks to deliver “community justice” to “unpopular” neighbors and “lone women” are not included as an endorsement for their obviously proto-fascist and misogynistic nature; instead, these moments illustrate how, by means of the witch-hunts and other violent forms of domestication, women had been excluded from the sphere of rebellion and continued to be a target of attack. It is also important not to overlook these moments’ qualities of retribution and ungovernability that will better situate the widespread vandalism of Irish-American immigrant youth and Detroit’s prolific teenage arsonists.
Black Halloween, 1845-1945 CE
Much like the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, the potato blight of 1845 dramatically impacted the course of Halloween’s evolution as it spread across Ireland, killing both the country’s staple food crop and over one million Irish peasants from the resulting starvation. Over the course of the next seven years, one million more Irish would leave their homes, many sailing to North America where they soon outnumbered all other immigrant groups combined. It is not surprising then that this is also the context in which that Halloween celebrations and revelry, long disdained by earlier Puritan settlers, begin to appear in the United States. As Lesley Pratt Bannatyne writes in her book Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, “Wherever the Irish went, […] Halloween followed along.”
In their new homes across North America, Irish immigrant youth continued to experiment, innovate, and spread new forms of devilry during the Halloween season, often creatively adapting to the idiosyncrasies of each environment. In some Midwestern towns, this took the form of removing farmers’ gates to free their animals, while on the East Coast, this took the form of weaponizing the relatively abundant supply of cabbages. Lamenting that “gangs of hoodlums throng[ing] the streets” had replaced the “kindly old customs” with “the spirit of rowdyism,” William Shepard Walsh, a nineteenth-century historian details that:
“Mischievous boys push the pith from the stalk, fill the cavity with tow which they set on fire, and then through the keyholes of houses of folk who have given them offence blow darts of flame a yard in length. […] If on Halloween a farmer’s or crofter’s kail-yard still contains ungathered cabbages, the boy and girls of the neighborhood descend upon it en masse, and the entire crop is harvested in five minutes’ time and thumped against the owner’s doors, which rattle as though pounded by a thunderous tempest.”
In keeping with Halloween’s long tradition of liminality, Tad Tuleja posits in his essay Trick or Treat: Pretexts and Contexts that these attacks on rural households:
“may be seen as an attack on domestic borders. The majority of popular pranks were ‘threshhold tricks’ that assaulted, if only temporarily, ordered space. […] Buggies, which provided cohesion to far-flung rural communities were ‘dysfunctionalized’ by being placed on barn roofs. Even the popular custom of tipping over outhouses served metonymically as an attack on the house-as-home.”
Though many of these mischievous deeds against rural neighbors were treated with a wide berth of tolerance by the authorities of the day, the tactics of urban immigrant youth soon sharpened and escalated to the alarm (and beyond the control) of fledgling police forces, taking on a character resembling something closer to asymmetric urban warfare. After the collapse of the American stock market on October 24th, 1929 (or Black Tuesday, as it came to be known), the next few years saw Halloween mobs specifically targeting symbols of luxury and the infrastructure of the metropolis, with a notable peak in 1933 (uncoincidentally at the height of America’s Great Depression) that came to be known as Black Halloween.
According to multiple accounts by Lisa Morton, Nicholas Rogers, and David Skal, this period was marked by youth gangs ripping down street signs, sawing down telephone poles, opening fire hydrants, disabling streetlights, barricading streets with stolen gates and refuse, dragging tree stumps onto railroad tracks, removing manhole covers, tearing up the boards of wooden sidewalks, smashing storefront windows, holding shopkeepers hostage, unhooking poles from the tops of streetcars, spreading grease on trolley car tracks, putting empty barrels over church steeples, attacking the police, and burning “almost anything they could set afire.” Rogers adds that as the celebration of Halloween started to spread westward, so did these flames. In 1908, anonymous vandals in Belton, Texas burned several freight cars, houses, and 1000 bales of cotton which in total cost the city upwards of $6 million in today’s money, when adjusted for inflation.
Many of these attacks were focused around immobilizing the movement of commerce through the metropolis but specifically, as Rogers observes, “the new symbol of prosperity, the automobile, became the object of destruction. Revelers soaped windows, deflated tires, and at busy intersections unceremoniously ‘bounced’ cars, or rocked them from the back to the discomfort of the passengers.” Skal also notes the class antagonism to be found within these accounts, adding that,
“one report took special notice that a car overturned by a ‘mass attack’ of hoodlums was a ‘sedan of expensive make.’ The stucco of America’s social contract was likewise severely chipped by the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, and in a small way, the customs of Halloween pranking reflected more generalized anxieties about civil unrest.”
Skal goes on to write, in a notable account of multiracial rebellion, that
“on Halloween 1934, the pranks of masked children parading through the streets of Harlem rapidly escalated from harmless flour and ask pelting to rock throwing to automobile vandalism. The police estimated that four hundred youngsters, both black and white, were involved in the various melees, which culminated with a car being heisted and rolled down a fifty-foot embankment in Riverside Park, where its tires were slashed.”
Though it would be pleasant to imagine that these sorts of multiracial conspiracies were common in this period, it should not be surprising that not only was this rare, but actually antithetical to many of Roger’s accounts of non-white participation in these mobs. In fact, three years earlier on Halloween night of 1931, a violent street battle developed between 400 black and white adults on the same streets of Harlem. As urban youth began to materially sabotage the fragile economy, white mob attacks began to develop into larger race riots, and widespread looting overtook the Halloween celebration of the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, it was not to be long before the forces of order would have to once again intervene to restore order to the holiday.
The Taming of Halloween, c. 1945–1960
After three decades of annual insurgency by tireless immigrant youth, it became obvious to authorities that the rebellious spirit of Halloween had to be severed from the holiday once as for all. As Skal writes, “although Halloween never even registered in the national debate, the many local controversies surrounding the holiday echoed much larger political themes about anarchy, order, and wealth distribution.” He continues, citing the accidental death of a young girl (after her dress caught fire from a Jack-o’-Lantern) as another source of public unease regarding Halloween, which,
“to many observers, seemed nothing but an invitation and excuse for social disaster. Fear of a seething underclass was a strong subtext of other reform movements of the early 1930’s; film censorship campaigns, for example, got especially worked up about the Halloweenish content of horror and crime movies, each genre anarchic in it own way. Such entertainments were widely viewed as demoralizing threats to public order, October 31 all year long.”
This particular passage is striking because it likens to the desperate counter-revolutionary concessions of the Roosevelt’s New Deal with the concerted efforts to “civilize” Halloween by police, schools, politicians, churches, and civil groups. While this certainly took on forms of updated strategies from previous centuries – erasure in the form of film censorship, romance as costume balls, parlor games as church lock-ins, and so on – it also presented a newly available option in the post-Depression era: consumption. Rogers explains that “by making Halloween consumer-oriented and infantile, civic and industrial promoters hoped to eliminate its anarchic features. By making it neighborly and familial, they strove to re-appropriate public space from the unorthodox and ruffian and restore social order to the night of 31 October.”
Though there is evidence that Halloween rebels were being bought off with candy as early as 1920, it is not until after the Halloween unrest of the mid-1930’s and post-WW2 production boom that we begin to see trick-or-treat being explicitly promoted as a tangible solution to restore order to the reviled holiday.
The precise origins of the tradition itself are disputed by some historians, but many agree that it partially arose from Depression-era “house-to-house parties” that some neighbors would co-operatively host on Halloween to save money. Morton notes that one of the first national mentions of the term “trick-or-treat” can be found in a 1939 article entitled A Victim of the Window Soaping Brigage?, which specifically names the practice as “a method of subverting rowdy pranking.”
“Whatever its specific sources, inspirations, or influences,” writes Skal, trick-of-treating “became widely known and adopted as a distinct property protection strategy during the late Depression.” However, he continues,
“it is the postwar years that are generally regarded as the glorious heyday of trick-or-treating. Like the consumer economy, Halloween itself grew by leaps and bounds. Major candy companies like Curtiss and Brach, no longer constrained by sugar rationing, launched national advertising campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. […] The begging ritual was modeled for millions of youngsters in the early fifties by Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie in Disney’s animated cartoon ‘Trick or Treat,’ accompanied by a catchy, reinforcing song of the same title.”
In addition to promoting trick-or-treat as a subtle alternative, Rogers also cites this specific Donald Duck cartoon as a propaganda piece critical for “the taming of Halloween,” explaining that “rather than experience real-life shenanigans, children could find them in a Walt Disney cartoon.” By the late 1950’s the enmity that had come to define October 31st had been almost completely supplanted with a fabricated ethic of consumption, whether in the form of candy or experiences. This “generation by models of a real without origin or reality,” as Jean Baudrillard conceived of a hyperreality, was apparently so effective that one police sergeant in Los Angeles publicly expressed his confusion about the disappearance of teenage rebels after an oddly peaceful Halloween in 1959.
Of course, these measures were not applied uniformly across the entire continent, and in some places the destruction previously associated with Halloween were simply displaced to the day before, on October 30th. As Rogers recorded of an older man’s prouds remarks of his boyhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, “there was only mischief. The adult world could not buy us off with candy or shiny pennies. They didn’t even try.” In these small pockets of lingering mischief, particularly in the newly developed suburbs of the period, the vandalism took on a decidedly less class-conscious tone, reverting to a previous form of pranks that targeted “unpopular” or stingy neighbors by smashing their pumpkins or stealing their gate. And because of their relative isolation to one another, many of the areas developed hyper-localized terms for their own sports, like Vermont’s Cabbage Night, Montreal’s Mat Night, upstate New York’s Gate Night, New Jersey’s Mischief Night, and Detroit’s infamous Devil’s Night.
This map from Joshua Katz, NC State University, visualizes where people call the night before Halloween “mischief night.”
The Demonization of Halloween, c. 1967-Present
On July 23rd, 1967, after the police raided a party for two returning Vietnam GIs at an illegal speakeasy on the Near West Side of Detroit, crowds made up mostly of black residents soon gathered outside and began throwing bottles and stones in retaliation. The police were forced to retreat and the remaining crowd quickly seized the opportunity to pillage a nearby clothing store. The incident quickly widened into full-scale looting throughout the entire neighborhood. Sidney Fine, in his book Violence in the Model City, recorded accounts from witnesses that described this moment as possessing a “carnival atmosphere” of multiracial looting, in which the police were totally outnumbered and were forced to watch this “gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of buildings” from a careful distance. By the next afternoon, the first fire had been set at a nearly grocery store and a small mob blocked a firetruck from putting out the flames. According to historian Herb Colling, the local media initially refused to report on the unrest for fear of it spreading to other parts of the city, but the unavoidable smoke of a burning Detroit soon began to fill the city’s skyline.
Over the next 24 hours, the fires and looting spread across the entire city targeting both black and white-owned businesses, notably resulting in 38 handguns and 2,498 rifles being appropriated by the rebels. In response, President Johnson was forced to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 that could authorize the use federal troops to put down an insurrection against the U.S. Government. Beginning at 1:30am on July 25th, over 8000 Michigan Army National Guardsman and 4700 U.S. Army paratroopers descended upon the city to violently put down the uprising. In the following three days, countless horrors of brutality, sexual assault, and assassination were visited upon those who continued to fight against the forces of order.
By July 28th, after the last fire has been set, the troops began to slowly withdraw from the city and authorities began to survey the damage. All told, the five-day period between July 23-28 resulted in 2509 stores being looted or burned, 7231 arrests, 1189 injuries, and 43 deaths, 33 of whom were black residents. Unlike the 1943 Detroit race riot, however, observers noted a high participation of white residents in looting stores, setting fires, and sniping cops which raised questions about whether the uprising could be simply categorized as a ‘race riot.’ The Great Rebellion, as it came to be known instead, set off a wave of unrest that would continue to spread to over two dozen cities and return to Detroit the following year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is following this period of social upheaval and counterinsurgency that one finds the development of a diffuse anxiety within the white population over “inner city issues,” and their subsequent mass exodus to the suburban peripheries, later known as white flight. In these shiny new refugee camps for the white middle class, an alienating fear of the Other lingered and would soon prove to be a death knell for trick-or-treat, one of their children’s last remaining sources of autonomy and comradery outside the family unit. Much in the way that authorities were forced to suppress the mischief they initially promoted in place of unbridled revolt, they now found themselves losing control over the unrestrained throngs of begging children that they created to replace the uncontrollable vandals before them. As Morton argues:
“Given trick or treat’s almost universal suburban popularity, its emphasis on representation of outsiders, and the way it empowered its participants, it was perhaps inevitable that trick or treat was about to experience a backlash. Adults, it seemed, were unwilling to grant their children that power after all. In 1964, a New York housewife named Helen Pfeil was upset at the number of trick or treaters whom she thought were too old to be demanding candy and handed them packages of dog biscuits, poisonous ant buttons, and steel wool. Within three years, the urban legend of children being given apples with hidden razor blades surfaced, and parents began to worry about Halloween.”
Though only two deaths (both of which were later attributed to family members) and a small number of injuries were reported over two decades of “Halloween sadism,” the media was quick to portray the holiday as rife with poison, satanic cults, and stranger danger. As one 1975 Newsweek article leading up to Halloween claimed,
“If this year’s Halloween follows form, a few children will return home with something more than just an upset tummy: in recent years, several children have died and hundreds have narrowly escaped injury from razor blades, sewing needles and shards of glass purposefully put into their goodies by adults.”
Civic groups and churches again rushed to this opportunity for a decisive social enclosure, that is, of removing youth from the street once and for all. Across the continent, thousands of “alternatives to trick-or-treating” were suddenly being hosted at shopping malls, museums, zoos, schools, spook houses, and community centers while some hospitals continued to reinforce the paranoia of Halloween sadism by offering to x-ray the die-hard trick-or-treaters’ candy for dangerous metal objects.
These “tales of Halloween sadism,” Rogers eloquently argues,
“were measured against the vision of a stable, congenital decade of trick-or-treating in the 1950’s. This was a decade of Cold War politics and Red scares. Yet beyond the zone of leftist agitation, it was also a decade of relative social peace, of continuing baby boom, of consumer affluence and suburban development. The 1960’s and 1970’s, however, posed new challenges to the social and political fabric of the United States. This was the era of civil rights agitation, of urban ghetto riots, of student and antiwar protest, of youth countercultures, of feminism and gay liberation, of Watergate. In the South, African-Americans defeated Jim Crow, but in the North they faced de facto resegregation as whites fled to the suburbs in the wake of rioting in Watts, Newark, and Detroit.”
Within five years of The Great Rebellion, the composition of Detroit’s population had completely changed, producing a majority black inner city ringed by a hostile periphery of white suburbs. “In the aftermath of the riot,” As Ze’ev Chafets explains in his once controversial 1990 book Devil’s Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit, “Detroit became the national capital of disingenuous surprise. People suddenly discovered what should have been obvious – that beyond the glittering downtown, the leafy neighborhoods, the whirring computers, there was another city: poor, black, and angry” that “seethes with the resentments of postcolonial Africa.” This comparison was clearly not lost on those who would soon be tasked with recycling counterinsurgency measures developed against anti-colonial uprisings to be used against a new form of annual black insurgency – that of Devil’s Night.
Although 1983 is widely recognized as the official beginning of Devil’s Night because of its dramatic increase in dumpster fires, there is evidence to suggest that there was an already low-level insurgency associated with Halloween dating back to at least 1979 and, conceivably, to 1967 itself. It was only in 1984, probably due to a combination of the widespread media hype of the 1983 arsons and the World Series victory by the Detroit Tigers on October 31st, that there was a marked increase in building fires. With over 297 fires on October 30th alone, 1984’s Halloween season set the high water mark for destruction with “the worst fire scenes I’ve seen since the riots of 1967,” according to a former Detroit Fire Department chief.
This last statement should also not be overlooked, because within it is a glimpse of authorities’ conceptual framework for viewing Devil’s Night – that is, not as an isolated incident, but as an aftershock of The Great Rebellion that rivaled its destruction and, therefore, should be eligible for the same levels of counterinsurgency. But to do would require more than just a single comparison; it would require resorting to racist and supernatural tropes to target an opaque and population that had long been mystified the white population. Much in the same way that the witch was manufactured to target a heterogeneous population with the figure of a supernatural, life-stealing Other, the figure of the Devil had also been revived to literally demonize the insurgent black youth of Detroit. According to Carole Nagengast’s Violence, Terror, and the Crisis of the State, “the goal of state violence is not to inflict pain; it is the social project of creating punishable categories of people.”
Though many residents and politicians speculated about the circumstances that produced the widespread arson of 1984, David Skal notes that the influential Detroit Free Press newspaper noticeably avoided any sociological analysis in the months after, instead favoring a “law-and-order approach to Halloween Eve arson and crime, including gun control, aggressive prosecution, and more jail cells.” According to the authors of an enlightening research paper entitled Preventing Halloween Arson in an Urban Setting, it was the following that Mayor Coleman Young then created a “Devil’s Night Task Force,” tasked with goals of “reduced arson, raised community awareness, and increased involvement in the fight against arson” over the next decade. Each spring, appointees from the mayor’s office, Detroit Neighborhood City Halls, city departments (including public health, fire, police, youth, public lighting, law, recreation, information technology, planning, among others), community organizations, churches, public schools, and the private sector would convene to begin creating strategies based on insights gleaned from previous years.
With these in hand, fire and police officials from each neighborhood would collaborate with neighborhood snitches and influential clergy to create “decentralized action plans” to enact a larger eight point, city-wide strategy: Deployment of Public Safety Personnel, by means of mobilizing all available police, firefighters, and helicopters; The Elimination of Arson Targets by means of towing abandoned cars, removing tires from dumping sites, and demolishing thousands of vacant homes and buildings; Volunteer Training by means of offered orientations to Adopt-A-House volunteers who wanted to guard abandoned buildings or Neighborhood Patrols who wanted to seek out arsonists on foot; Media and Communications by means of an aggressive PR campaign to convey “the dangers of arson”; Activities for Children and Teenagers by means of church and city-sponsored movie marathons, dances, carnivals, etc.; Youth Curfew in the form of a 6pm curfew for those under 18, whose violators would face expedited processing at temporary nighttime courtrooms; and Prohibition on the Sale of Fuel by means of criminalizing the sale of dispensing of gasoline into portable containers.
In each of these eight headlines, we can find almost perfectly mirrored strategies depicted in Kristian Williams’ essay The Other Side of COIN, many of which he directly cited from U.S. Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency and British brigadier Frank Kitson’s strategies against anti-colonial movements in Kenya, Cypress, and Northern Ireland. Of particular significance to many of these strategies is the goal of “monopolizing the use of force” and establish legitimacy in doing so, which the Army field manual asserts as “the main objective.” One can particularly see this in the conflicting strategy of guarding and demolishing abandoned homes, a clearly desperately attempt to re-establish control over a territory that had subverted its monopoly on destruction by self-immolating. As part of maintaining its fragile legitimacy, however, the city couldn’t simply call in the National Guard again; instead it had to source its army from the remaining loyal segments of the city’s population to do its bidding. This “Halloween anti-arson intervention,” when viewed through Williams’ simple equation reveals its obvious and undeniable nature: Community Policing + Militarization = Counterinsurgency.
Between 1985-1996, largely by means of these counterinsurgency strategies and anti-gang initiatives, the city of Detroit was able to considerably reduce Halloween-time arson within the city. Though it is tempting to conclude that this may have been the moment when the rebellious spirit of Halloween was finally killed, to do so would deny the almost constant low-intensity insurgency that remained and would later spread to other cities like Camden and Cincinnati. In 1994, after the new mayor of Detroit publicly declared the death of Devil’s Night and mobilized a significantly smaller number of citizen patrols, the numbers of arsons dramatically rose, forcing him to mobilize an army of 30,000 “Angel’s Night” volunteers the following October. Given this constant obligation to douse its flames, perhaps we should not speak of the death of Halloween, but instead, its temporary imprisonment.
But if the history presented here is any indication, moments of disorder are not only unpredictable but evasive by their very nature of disrupting of linear time and ordered space. As the rare moments of social peace between upheavals become ever shorter and the fires of Detroit blends into Camden and Ferguson’s into Baltimore, it’s possible to conceive of the spirit of Halloween returning not as a discrete moment in October, but, in the words of one old revolutionary, “a holiday without beginning or end.”
After a series of platform removals and canceled appearances, Spencer and his ilk has found that publicly run facilities were much more friendly to him than private ones. As white nationalist institutions like American Renaissance(AmRen) had found out, private hotels and venues were especially vulnerable to public pressure, especially when it meant mass community boycotts and pickets. In 2010 and 2011, AmRen was canceled after the One People’s Project and other anti-fascist organizations created campaigns to have their hotels pulled. Jared Taylor, the founder of the white nationalist conference, finally rested on Montgomery Bell State Park in Tennessee that was resistant to canceling. While protests continued, organizers have been since unable to get the management to sever Taylor’s contract.
The same has largely been true for Spencer, who relies on the Ronald Reagan building in Washington D.C. for his National Policy Institute conferences. Spencer then decided to focus on state funded universities since he believes that they will be more likely to host him. After his appearance at Auburn University was canceled amid organized pressure, he sued to force his way on campus, essentially proving his point true.
Now he has again won his ability to appear on campus at the University of Florida – Gainesville, even though a coalition of student and community groups created a massive protest that did not allow him free reign to speak as he had wished.
Now Spencer intends on continuing the vision outlined in his “Danger Zone Tour” where he will continue to appear on campuses. We have collected a list of the intended universities, where students or community members from the areas are trying to bring him there to aid in organizing Alt Right student contingents.
Ohio State University
Right now this event has been canceled by the administration after student pressure, yet, as he did at Auburn, he is suing to appear.
University of Cincinnati
As it stands it looks like the Board of Trustees is going to allow Richard Spencer to speak there, saying that the university should be a “marketplace of ideas.”
Penn State University
The university president Eric Barron has officially shut this down citing safety concerns, but a student, Cameron Padgett, has now officially sued the school to allow it.
Michigan State University
This is another state school that has officially declined to allow Spencer onto campus and who he has decided to sue.
Spencer’s lawsuits are being done largely by Kyle Bristow, the white nationalist attorney who has spent years in the more vulgar wing of the supremacist movement and who is using far-right money to force campuses to host Spencer. In many cases, the university itself is left with the bill of hundreds of thousands of dollars of security costs, which come out of the already taxed bank accounts of students.
Each of these schools is a fantastic spot to begin organizing, pressuring the administration to not back down and, if he does come to campus, to shut down the events amid massive organized pressure. Organizations like No Nazis UF, the Campus Antifascist Network, and various antifa projects are set up to create this model of resistance.
The rise of the Alt Right, the growth of “free speech” hard right confrontations, the increased militia presence, and the Trumpian populist revolution, have all put the idea of fascism sweeping America and Europe on people’s minds. At the same time, a massive antifascist wave, both of explicit Antifa organizations and broad-based community groups, has skyrocketed, making the clash between the far-right and antifascists an almost daily occurrence. As a part of that equation, a number of reporters, scholars, and organizers have begun researching and writing about this, trying to get at the heart of what causes the rise of fascist movement and how counter-organizing can be successful.
We have collected some recent titles below with a look at what they cover and our thoughts on how useful they can be. This is only a small sample of what is out there, and self-consciously Western-centric given the situation, but these are a good starting point for arming yourself with knowledge to make counter-organizing more fruitful.
JournalistShane Burley digs in deep on the Alt Right, American white nationalism, and how the various fascist movement work, how they evolved, and what their future is. Since he began researching and writing about the Alt Right early on, he provides deep insights into the nature of the far-right and both their weaknesses and strengths. The second half of the book looks at the myriad of forms of resistance, looking at Antifa organizations, mass-movement antifascism, rural struggles, inter-religious organizing, community defense, college activism, and a whole range of options. This is a broad look at understanding how fascism works in America, and the different tools that can be employed in effective resistance.
Historian Mark Bray has put his background in European history to analyze the growth of militant anti-fascism and he chronicles its history back to the interwar growth of European fascism. He then breaks down the theoretical and tactical lessons, looks at how they have been applied in different countries, and creates a pragmatic guide for how Antifa organizations can effectively confront fascists in the streets. A guide that is specific to particular types of militant antifascism and is wonderfully written with dense information from antifascists.
You might find it odd that we are recommending a book by a Republican political science professor, but Hawley’s work since Right-Wing Critics of American Conservatism has been some of the most insightful on the far-right available. With Making Sense of the Alt-Right, he again digs in deep on the ideological background the Alt Right, how it evolved, and where it is going. His work is clear and concise, even though his politics may be the inverse of our own. His work is something that should continue to be put into use for better understanding of these movements, especially from someone who has deeply researched American conservatism.
Alt-America: The Rise of the Radical Right in the Age of Trump
David, a writer for the Southern Poverty Law Center based in the Pacific Northwest, has been covering the hard right for years. In this book he chronicles the development of the hard right in the 2000s, focusing heavily on the culture of talk radio, patriot militias, the Tea Party, and Fox News. Part of his analysis of the fascist right is hit and miss, but there is a good narrative and history of the edges of the GOP.
Alexander Reid Ross’s book is one of the best contemporary books on the history and ideologies of fascism. Focusing heavily on the areas that fascism pulls from the radical left, it looks at dissident strains of Third Positionism, and how the rhetoric and methods of the left are often used for fascist ends. This is a great precursor volume to Fascism Today, and is incredible for connecting the history in the U.S. to that of Europe and Eurasia.
Kill All Normies: Online Culture Wars from 4Chan and Tumblr to Trump and the Alt right
Nagle’s book received a massive amount of media attention, but the slim volume mainly analyzes the culture of online forums like 4Chan and 8Chan and how white nationalists employed its iconoclastic behavior for fascist politics. Her own politics are dubious in some places, especially the blame she places on the left and queer activists, but her observations and research about the nature of right-wing web forums has been invaluable. In reality, this analyzes only a small piece of the puzzle, but is a great look at how the trolling culture evolved to dominate the far-right.
Looking at Clara Zetkin’s presentation to the 1923 International Workingmans Association meeting on fascism, it uses that Marxist analysis to argue for a “united front” approach to fascism. While some of this orthodox Marxist approach to understanding fascism, especially describing it as the “reactionary wing of finance capital,” is not something we agree with (Fascism Today and Against the Fascist Creep especially take issue with this approach), this is a volume to be excited about as it is a useful piece of the history of antifascism.
Long-time scholar of the far-right Matt Lyons, known for co-authoring Right Wing Populism in America with Chip Berlet and for blogging at Three-Way Fight, leads this volume with a long essay outlining the details of the Alt Right’s rise and ideology. His main essay is followed by several others that also analyze the Alt Right, including the incredible anti-fascist website It’s Going Down and the editor of the anti-fascist publisher Kerblebedeb. A real must-have right now for dealing with the Alt Right specifically.
We are also looking forward to several other books that, while we know little about the titles themselves, we are expecting something great. Matt Lyons (who provides the forward to Fascism Today) will have a new book on the far-right coming out from Kersblebedeb next year, and Harrison Fluss and Sam Miller from Jacobin will also have a book on the Alt Right. There is likely to be a slew of other volumes to be released, and we will add to this list as time goes on. Check out an older list of interesting volumes that all deserve a read as well.
The convergence in Charlottesville was planned weeks in advance, with organizations from the crisp collars of the National Policy Institute to the blackshirts of the National Socialist Movement joining forces. After their more mainstream counterparts in the Alt Light, the sphere of Trumpist conservatives that overlap with the Alt Right, betrayed them, the Alt Right wanted a chance to stand on their own. The Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 12th was their chance to bring together everyone to the right of the Alt Light. This was finally an event to see how well white nationalists could fair on their own without the allyship of more mainstream conservatives. Though the Alt Right used the issue of Confederate statue removal as the impetus, the rally was instead a show of strength.
Their “coming out party” turned out to be the moment where they pulled the trigger of collective suicide, letting their own implicit violence become explicit and self-destructive. In the end there were dozens injured and a protester murdered by an associate of Vanguard America, a participating organization in their demonstration. In the weeks that followed, the Alt Right began one of the quickest implosions in the history of political movements, as the country, and their own organizing tools, turned on them, ripping at their foundations and leaving them vulnerable to expulsion.
The Alt Right could not be possible in the earlier era of print publications and physical distribution, it just would not be able to respond to issues quickly and refine talking points through perpetual message revisioning. The world of the Alt Right is founded on social media and web publishing: blogs, podcasts, and Tweets. The fact that the Alt Right uses the same web hosting platforms that major media outlets do is how they gain equal cultural access, and their increased profile has still not impeded their access.
That is, of course, until their behavior, and the opposition, hit a point of critical rupture. In the days after Charlottesville, the Daily Stormer, the ironic-themed neo-Nazi website run by Alt Right blogger Andrew Anglin, was the first to lose their platform. While most of the Alt Right was, at least publically, sympathizing with the family of the murdered protester Heather Heyer, Anglin refused to take the high road. Instead, he published an article celebrating her death, calling her a “fat slut” and saying that the real travesty was the damaged Dodge Challenger that took her life. This rhetoric is standard for Anglin, who labels the Daily Stormer as “pro-Genocide” and gained popularity through his density of racial slurs and commemoration of racist violence. First, the “hacktivist” group Anonymous took over the website, though he wrestled back control quickly. The domain name server company Cloudflare decided to pull the Daily Stormer from its platform, citing a violation to the Terms of Service. “The tipping point for us making this decision was that the team behind the Daily Stormer made the claim that we were secretly supporters of their ideology,” said Cloudflare CEO Matthew Prince in a statement.
While Anglin was working with other companies to re-establish hosting, GoDaddy, who had been running their domain name, canceled Anglin’s account. Google Domains and Tucows refused to help, leaving Anglin with few options. Anglin eventually placed it on a foreign server and to have it only available on the “Darkweb,” meaning it can only be viewed through the controversial Tor browser. The site has re-emerged in various places but is now isolated and marginalized.
The Right Stuff, the popular Alt Right blog that hosts the podcasts The Daily Shoah and Fash the Nation, also got booted from its hosting. Since then the site has been touch and go, stuttering on and offline, a serious problem since they recently switched to a pay-subscription system.
Despite the incredible shunning faced by the Alt Right in the wake of Charlottesville, some of their leaders continue to live in denial. Amid the backlash, cofounder of AltRight.com and editor-in-Chief of Arktos, Jason Reza Jorjani, claimed that his resignation from the alt-right was unrelated to the “great victory at Charlottesville.” With comrades losing jobs, expelled from the internet, and facing legal reprisals, Jorjani released a cryptic statement about reviewing “exotic technology” that a new Iranian political force called the United Front may use in the near future to create a “coming post-Islamic… archeo-futurist Iran.” Recently, Jorjani released a follow-up statement explaining that he left the Alt Right Corporation because his grand geopolitical schemes, which he alleges had high-level backing in the White House including Steve Bannon, went unsupported by Spencer and others. AltRight.com has since been a hub decrying the “censorship” of the left, with Richard Spencer putting out pleas for financial support. Jorjani has now faced campaigns to have him removed from his lecturer position at the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and has tried to say that he was tricking the Alt Right and did not really believe their ideas. This came after the Hope Not Hate hidden camera video surfaced that showed him talking about migrants being put into concentration camps and venerating Hitler. (They also doxxed the image of Counter-Currents publishing editor Greg Johnson)
Since the mid-1990s, Stormfront has been the center of white nationalism, linking up the insurrectionary groups like KKK formations and neo-Nazi gangs into a web-forum that was a catch-all for extreme racism. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, over the last ten years, Stormfront has been linked to almost 100 acts of white supremacist violence, from bombings to shootings at Jewish community centers. While Stormfront tends to have a different demographic than the Alt Right, more Blue Collar and Nazi-centric, this was still an organizing center for Unite the Right.
In one of the most pronounced consequences of the events in Charlottesville was that Network Solutions, the hosting company for Stormfront, finally took it offline. With more than 300,000 members, this was the largest white nationalist forum internationally, this was a major hit to neo-Nazi networking. Don Black, the founder of Stormfront and former KKK leader, says he is speaking to attorneys to try and get the site back online. The sudden drop of the hosting came without warning, leaving him with few options to temper the fallout.
Hitting Them in the Wallet
One major tactic for antifascists has been attempting to convince funding sources to scrub white nationalists from their sites. The shocking images of fascists in Charlottesville suddenly brought the rationale for this grueling and often frustrating work into sharp relief. Apple cut off ApplePay for sites that pedal white nationalist merchandise, with CEO Tim Cook insisting, “It’s a moral issue – an affront to America. We must all stand against it.”
GoFundMe cut off a number of white nationalist campaigns. Adding insult to injury, a spokesperson admitted that the campaigns “did not raise any money” anyway. Similarly, Kickstarter re-enforced guidelines against hate speech and PayPal set into place a ban on white nationalists. Further, Discover Financial Corporation terminated merchant agreements with the Alt Right, declaring, “The intolerant and racist views of hate groups are inconsistent with our beliefs and practices.” Some speculate that Discover’s move will put pressure on companies like Visa and MasterCard. This came only a couple of weeks after Patreon pulled the plug on a number of accounts, including Alt Light leader Lauren Southern after she publicly supported the blocking of refugee ships.
Social Media Shutdown
“The events in Charlottesville are yet another disturbing example of the many forms that racism and hatred manifest. Prejudice, however, does not always march in the street.” With these words, Twitter banned a number of far-right accounts last year and earlier this year, including Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, Ricky Vaughan, Pax Dickinson, Richard Spencer, and John Rivers. After Charlottesville, Twitter banned The Daily Stormer.
After the alt-right used the Discord comment service to plan the Charlottesville rally, the company shuttered all alt-right websites. Mail Chimp followed suit by banning AltRight.com and other figures, and SoundCloud dropped a number of alt-right podcasts. Though it is notoriously difficult to prevent the alt-right from creating new sock puppet accounts, the striking of alt-right media platforms shows that companies now connect their speech to the murderous actions of their followers.
As the family of Heather Heyer was mourning her death, cradled by a nationwide community who joined in revering her sacrifice, two people injured in the attack decided to hold the Alt Right ideologues that had radicalized her killer responsible. A lawsuit was filed by sisters Micah and Tadrint Washington in the Circuit Court of Charlottesville naming 28 far-right defendants. This includes former KKK leader David Duke, the Daily Shoah host Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, Matthew Heimbach of the Traditionalist Workers Party, and Richard Spencer.
While figures like Peinovich have declared that this lawsuit is totally baseless, there is a history of these types of suits effectively stifling far-right movements. In 1981, the SPLC took on the United Klans of America after Nineteen-year-old Michael Donald was kidnapped and murdered by UKA members, eventually winning the suit and taking all the assets of the organization. Similarly, after the 1988 murder of Ethiopian immigrant Mulugeta Seraw in Portland by members of Eastside White Pride, the SPLC lawsuit identified Tom Metzger and White Aryan Resistance as responsible for radicalizing the gang to violence. The same model could be used in this case, showing that figures like Peinovich had set up a climate of violence, using revolutionary rhetoric that encouraged James Alex Fields to murder.
While much of the Alt Right treated this as meritless, information continuing to stream into social media shows the case is turning against them. The anti-fascist media outfit Unicorn Riot has released over 1,000 media images of chat rooms, along with audio recordings, that show the white nationalist contingent openly preparing for violence. The conversations were hosted on a private server controlled by Jason Kessler and Alt Right activist Eli Mosley, with many participants arguing for placing screws in poles and attacking protesters with shields. The proposition here is that the organizers prepared the event for terroristic violence, and that’s exactly what happened.
This perception of the Alt Right as the instigators of violence is only exacerbated by the recent video released by a member of the Virginia Civil Liberties union that clearly shows a member of the white nationalist contingent openly shooting at a crowd of black protesters with a handgun. Police later arrested the man, Richard Wilson Preston, but only after the video was released, and the video itself clearly shows them refusing to intervene on the act of targeted violence.
Alt Right Leaders Fall
No Alt Right figure got more attention out of Charlottesville than Christopher Cantwell, the anarcho-capitalist turned white nationalist who decided to perform in front of Vice New Tonight cameras. Cantwell runs a blog and podcast, mixing his virulent meritocratic viciousness with a vulgar hatred of non-whites and Jews, as well as a willingness to openly talk about murdering police and opponents. Shortly after the murders and street fights, Cantwell was told that Charlottesville police were issuing a warrant for his arrest for “illegal use of gases and injury by caustic agent or explosive.” Cantwell then put out a video where he sobs into the camera, talking about how scared he was and repudiating the violence he loudly celebrated just days before.
In the hours after this, things did not get much better for Cantwell. The dating website OKCupid, after pressure from anti-fascists, identified and banned his account, and Tindr quickly followed suit. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter all did in kind, veritably severing the public persona he has crafted for years. Between his embarrassing performances and his inability to solicit donations, there is little left for Cantwell to continue his mission of stoking racial revolution. Cantwell eventually surrendered to the police, and is now being held in Albemarle County Regional Jail awaiting an October 12 court date.
Johnny “Monoxide” Ramondetta, a prime figure at Unite the Right, did not fare much better afterward. Returning to work in the San Francisco bay area as an IBEW Local 6 electrician at Rosendin Electric, Ramondetta saw that his worksite was covered with flyers identifying him as an active white nationalist and with quotes from his various appearances on The Right Stuff podcasts. As Ramondetta’s co-workers began to ask him if he was a racist, the foreman pulled him into his office and offered him a “layoff.” They admitted they had known about his behavior for several weeks and were waiting for it to become public, and passed him a contract that would disallow him to apply for unemployment. He continues to be a union electrician, however, which means he can be hired onto another union job, a problem that many activists are arguing the union should take a stand on. At the same time his regular podcast, The Paranormies, was banned on SoundCloud, along with a host of other Alt Right shows.
Nathan Damigo, the founder of Identity Europa, returned to school at California University at Stanislaus in Turlock, California, to find that a campaign to have him removed from campus in effect. A demonstration took place at the welcoming address of President Ellen Junn intended to usher in freshmen.
The Alt Right’s pan-European attempts to recruit across the pond have also been hit, especially in AltRight.com’s Nordic counterpart. After this participation in the Unite the Right rally, Christoffer Dulny, the Editor of Nordic.AltRight.com, was notified that his ESTA status was changed to “travel not authorized.” This means he is “effectively banned from entering the United States,” a fate likewise doled out to AltRight.com and Arktos Media co-founder Daniel Frieberg.
The prime organizer of the Charlottesville rally, Jason Kessler, has disappeared from public view entirely, and his organization, Unity and Security for America, looks to be heading to a lightning end. The Facebook page, Twitter account, and website have all been taken down; potentially by his own doing after receiving the kind of public backlash he never could have anticipated on the morning of August 12th. The death threats that Kessler says he received could have been inspired by his own comments, including saying that “[Heather] Heyer was a fat, disgusting Communist.” Richard Spencer, Baked Alaska, and James Allsup publicly disassociated with Kessler after that, yet they have not made public statements about Andrew Anglin or The Right Stuff who made similar comments.
Although founder of the “western chauvinist” Proud Boys, Gavin McInnes, identifies with the Alt Light, the participation of numerous leading Proud Boys in Unite the Right left the group with an inescapable stigma. Organizer Jason Kessler is a Proud Boy, as are the Unite the Right featured speakers and leaders of the “Order of Alt Knights,” Kyle “Based Stickman” Chapman and Augustus Sol Invictus. Since McInnes has found a large audience as a commentator for The Rebel right-wing media site, his attempts to distance himself from the Charlottesville rally fell flat when fellow Rebel contributor Faith Goldy provided favorable on-the-ground coverage of Unite the Right. After conservatives criticized the site, co-founder Brain Lilley resigned and two other commentators followed suit. McInnes’s anti-Semitism had caused contributing conservatives to flee The Rebel before, but after Charlottesville, McInnes, himself, abandoned the site the same day they fired Goldy. As Norwegian Cruise Lines cancelled an upcoming Rebel cruise, editor-in-chief Ezra Levant admitted that he is being blackmailed by a former contributor over accusations of misusing contributions.
The Rest of the Participants
Even more than the Alt Right’s leadership, the fallout from the Charlottesville events showed the Alt Right’s members that inclusion in the movement can lead to major consequences. With the heavy media coverage of the event, participants were widely photographed. This lead to a huge influx of identifications as anti-racist activists revealed who they were, leading to a string of firings and personal troubles. Named Alt Righters like Cole White and Ryan Roy lost their jobs. Peter Teft, whose angry remarks about so-called “white genocide” went viral, found himself disowned by his family.
In the small town of Honeoye Falls, New York, Unite the Right participant and alleged associate of the Daily StormerJarrod Kuhn faced a campaign against him upon his return. Eastside Antifascists did a flyering around the village, identifying who he was and what he had done. “There is a long history of white supremacist violence in the US. People have a right to know who their neighbor is and take steps to protect themselves,” said Peter Berkman, organizer with the group. “You don’t get to be a weekend Nazi. You don’t get to participate in deadly neo-Nazi riots and then quietly return to your community like nothing happened.” Kuhn has had his family and friends contacted, and with his new notoriety he is likely unable to remain in his home town. “I’m 21 years old and my life is over in this area,” said Kuhn.
The violence itself was incredibly broad and constant during Charlottesville, with the far-right contingent singling out and attacking protesters. Six white men were photographed beating a black man named DeAndre Harris in a parking garage during the confrontation, flailing metal poles at him as he crawled on the ground. Three of those men were charged with assaulting the man, including Richard W. Preston, who has been identified as an Imperial Wizard in the Confederate White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan out of northern Maryland.
Despite the ostracizing of Alt Righters throughout the US, Donald Trump’s response to their violent rally has been tepid at best. First blaming “violence from many sides,” Trump came out two days later to denounce the KKK. However, he returned to the podium soon after to again claim that the “Alt Left” shares responsibility for the day’s tragic outcomes. Since then, he has offered impassioned support for the Alt Right’s campaign to keep the Confederate monuments in place, calling the movement to take them down “foolish.” As twice as many US Americans disapprove of Trump’s reaction than approve, key politicians from the GOP like Marco Rubio spoke out against him. Others, such as House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker Paul Ryan, Senator Jeff Flake of Arizona, Senator Rob Portman of Ohio and Representative Steve Scalise of Louisiana used the opportunity to voice opposition to white supremacy. Given their marginalization, Trump’s apparent support has been celebrated by the Alt Right, which in turn has further alienated Trump from the GOP. As some 10 percent fewer Republicans “strongly support” Trump than did in July, Steve Bannon’s firing signaled attempts to win back moderates and independents while maintaining Alt Right support.
The mass attack on Alt Right’s online platforms has the ability to render them completely invisible. As Richard Spencer lamented months back when he was first shut down on Twitter along with another Alt Right figures like Ricky Vaughn, if you can’t find them on Amazon, Google, or social media, do they even exist? They have acknowledged one complicated truth of the modern communication paradigm: a few companies control the access to speech for the vast majority. This creates an easy channel for activists hoping to limit the ability of far right groups to organize, but this also provides ominous signals for the left as well. Nonetheless, the Alt Right’s attempts to create counter-platforms for donations and social media are negligible since what has given them success is that regular people use services like Twitter and Patreon, not Gab and Hatreon.
The weekend after Charlottesville, more rightwing organizers converged on Boston for another “free speech” rally in the model begun by Lauren Southern in Berkeley. The fifty participants were met by a counter-insurgency of an estimated 40,000 protesters, who forced the early cancellation of the right-wing rally and took to the streets against the rise of insurrectionary white supremacy. Across the country, rallies, vigils, and demonstrations were raging, all in solidarity with the victims of Charlottesville and showing a united front against the rise of the Alt Right. After Boston’s response, the anti-Muslim group Act for America canceled their upcoming string of 67 rallies planned across 36 states. Act for America had been responsible for the recent “March Against Sharia” events where Alt Right groups were heavily represented. Another rally staged by Joey Gibson in the Bay Area attracted even fewer far-right demonstrators and thousands of counter-protesters, followed by dual follow-up rallies in Portland, Oregon, and Vancouver, Washington, during which the far-right’s numbers were again miniscule in comparison to counter-protesters. To cap it off, following Gibson’s rally in Vancouver, a far-right activist sped his car through a group of protesters once again showing the inevitable murderous violence of their side.
The cultural tide shifted away from the Alt Right, birthed out of their own hubris, the belief that the Trump-voting public was actually ready for open and unashamed white nationalism. As John Morgan, the former head of the Alt Right friendly publisher Arktos, said on Counter-Currents Radio, a white nationalist publisher who also got booted from funding platforms after Charlottesville, the Alt Right had spent its short life trying to unseat the specters haunting the public’s image of fascism. “What [The Alt Right] originally stood for when we all started doing this stuff the better part of a decade ago, it was to overcome what we now call ‘Cuckservatism’… and it was also to overcome things like the legacy of the Klan in America and National Socialism,” points out Morgan. “And basically Unite the Right has put us back in that mode, where everybody associates us with those things.”
Spencer decided to embrace the hatred most of the country now feels for him by returning to Charlottesville for an impromptu torchlight march, even though the maker of Tiki Torches has denounced him. After his recent appearance at the University of Florida, where a massive organized resistance mocked him and disallowed his speech, his followers opened fire on protesters. Disqus, the comment conversation plug-in for website, began dropping Alt Right websites like The Right Stuff as well.
The weeks after Unite the Right has shown anything but unity as people like Jason Kessler mock the victims, causing disassociation by figures like Richard Spencer and James Allsup. The rest of the country is turning even more thoroughly against them, they are losing their platforms, and their organizations are disintegrating. This provides opportunities for the left that must use this energy and the reality of the right’s violence to further build a mass movement that will overwhelm the right’s meager abilities. As the Alt Right realizes that it will not be able to plan mass rallies, however, they increasingly endorse “lone wolf” violence as the counterpart to their more attempts at respectability. For this reason, antifascist action remains critical on the grassroots level, not only to respond to larger rallies but to prevent fascist groups from gaining momentum toward violent acts that may leave countless people dead.
It is important that fascism is openly being named and opposed in the present context. Yet the mechanisms of fascist flourishing and spread in current period require some further understanding. And on levels that are not often considered (beyond the visible manifestations of explicit fascist creeps mobilizing). There is too a soft ground of support and sustenance for the more overt manifestations of fascism.
French psychoanalyst Felix Guattari presented an article in 1973, when few were thinking actively about a present fascism entitled “Everybody Wants to be a Fascist.” Guattari recognized in 1973 that fascism was still very much “a real political problem” and not merely a pure theoretical matter (154). In any event as Guattari asks: “Besides, isn’t it a good idea to discuss it freely while we still can” (1973, 154). And we need to talk about it in ways that go beyond the standard or typical features to understand how fascism survives, reproduces, and recurs.
This was an early discussion of micropolitics and fascism. No one should feel that it is all over and the good guys won. For Guattari: “Through all kinds of means—in particular, movies and television—we are led to believe that Nazism was just a bad moment we had to go through, a sort of historical error, but also a beautiful page in history for the good heroes” (Guattari 1973, 166).
Elements of fascism leap transhistorically across generations. They proliferate in other forms. They adapt to new conditions. They move intergenerationally. There are different types of fascism. Italian, Spanish, German, etc., but there are also continuing threads. Fascism is not renewable like a complete artifact. Fascism is in constant evolution.
Guattari takes neither a historical nor sociological approach. He seeks a micropolitical examination of the molecule of fascism. Fascism is dangerous and molecular. This can be massified but not as a totalitarian organism.
Guattari makes a provocative move in his analysis. He suggests that fascism is an internal part of desire. It is immanent in desire, not something that comes from without, for Guattari. It emerges at a microphysical scale. It is not located in individuals but in sets of relationships. Whenever there is desire there is a microfascist potential.
We need to address the in/visibility of fascism that is (and has been) everywhere operative in the present. The Trump campaign was a lightening rod for tendencies that have been long in play. As Guattari warned at that time, we do indeed need to talk about fascism while we still can. And we need to talk about it more fully.
Micropolitics and Macropolitics of Desire
In works of Felix Guattari and his colleague Gilles Deleuze, desire is the key economic concept. Desire is both political and psychological as well as financial. The “eco” in economy draws from the original Greek for household or habitat, or milieu in Deleuze and Guattari. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire is productive. Desire involves and structures a specific milieu. Desire acts within social context, the situation. Guattari notes a distinction between desire and pleasure. While one might speak of a revolutionary desire, it would appear odd to refer to a revolutionary pleasure.
For Guattari, fascism is, in fact, a key theme for understanding the issue of desire in the realm of the social. In Guattari’s view, you cannot put pleasure in the same sentence with revolution (1973, 154-155). You cannot talk of a “pleasure of revolution” but can readily speak of a “desire for revolution” or a “revolutionary desire” (1973, 155). The reason Guattari gives is that the meaning of pleasure is connected to, inseparable from, an “individuation of subjectivity” (1973, 155). On the other hand, desire is not intrinsically linked to this individuation.
There is a macropolitics of desire, which acts on larger social groupings. At the same time there is a micropolitics of desire. Guattari emphasizes the micropolitical. His goal is “to put in place new theoretical and practical machines, capable of sweeping away the old stratifications, and of establishing the conditions of a new exercise of desire” (156).
Guattari goes beyond the association of psychoanalysis with the small scale (the person and family) and politics only with large social groupings. Rather there is a politics that addresses itself to the individual’s desire and a desire that manifests itself in a wider social field (1973, 155). For Guattari, this politics has two forms: “either a macropolitics aiming at both individual and social problems, or a micropolitics aiming at the same domains (the individual, the family, party problems, state problems, etc.)” (1973, 155-156).
Macropolitics has been given the dominant emphasis. But politics works at micropolitical levels as well. In his terms, molar and molecular. Not a dichotomy. Not dialectical.
The self is a multiplicity of “desiring machines.” How they operate and what they produce are as crucial as what they are. In Crain’s words: “One’s sense of personal identity is itself a product of desire related to a broader social structure” (2013, 3). As Crain suggests, one does not simply desire an iPhone, one desires being seen as someone with an iPhone.
Desire produces not only objects, but rules. What you want structures your behavior (Crain 2013, 3). The desire for an iPhone produces new desires—taking pictures of trivia, posting them to Facebook or Instagram. Checking repeatedly for likes and follows. These new desires form habits. And these habits form rules governing our actions (Crain 2013, 3).
How do these minute habits and rules relate to your political actions? For Deleuze and Guattari, there is no fundamental difference. Except that one affects others (Crain 2013, 3). This is the notion of micropolitics. The habits and rules speak to desire investing itself in the world (Crain 2013, 3).
Macropolitics draws from “small interpersonal dealings with one another” (Crain 2013, 3). If the macropolitical structure becomes repressive how is it drawing from and organizing desire (Crain 2013, 3)? And why would “we” (specific people in a specific context) desire fascism? This gets to the heart of the growth of fascism, in a particular desiring form of the so-called “Alt Right,” for example, and the rise of Trump.
For Deleuze and Guattari, fascism only emerges because it is wanted, desired. Micropolitics is a sense that others should follow the rules that our own habits have produced. The desire is for others to follow your rules. This is the imposition of desire on others.
Written large you get Trump and “Make America Great Again”—make others follow your rules of an America that you desire (in a context where you perceive the existing rules not working in your favor and where others express diverse views, habits, or rules).
One might ask about the molar level and identity. White supremacy and the figures of Steve Bannon, Richard Spencer, and David Duke. The Authoritarian Personality (of Theodor Adorno and Frankfurt School fame) speaks of the winning loser who is obsequious to those above while being brutal to those below. White rage and hatred of Obama is directed at the Affordable Care Act which hurts mostly the poor (overwhelmingly poor whites).
State fascism always seeks homogeneity (even in a context of diverse microfascisms) (Crain 2013, 4). Fascism seeks to impose an order on the chaos of desire. It is ultimately suicidal. Homogeneity is only realized in death (Crain 2013, 4).
In pursuit of his labors, Guattari develops a typology of fascism. Guattari identifies three approaches that have been undertaken. Of the three approaches, the first two maintain the distinction between small and large social groupings for Guattari. Only the third attempts to move beyond this distinction (1973, 156).
First is “sociological analytical formalist thought.” This seeks to identify and classify “species.” It seeks common elements while distinguishing differences. The first re/produces sociological types. These focus on national, historical types of fascism. Italian, German, etc. Each has specific phenomena that mark it.
Sociological. On one hand this approach minimizes differences to pull out a common feature. In this way it will distinguish three types of fascism—Italian, German, and Spanish. On the other hand, the approach will magnify differences to construct species, as between fascism and Western democracies (1973, 156). Guattari finds little of interest in this approach.
Second is a “synthetic dualist neo-Marxist thought.” This puts forward a collective representation of the desire of the masses expressed through the party and ultimately the state. The second, Marxist approach, distinguishes revolutionary desires of the masses and the Marxist categories imposed on them. This “massifies” mass desires.
There is a dualism. A code wielding political class and a passive mass of followers. This is viewed in relation to the power of the state. What type of state does it produce?
The dualist neo-Marxist approach encounters another gap then. This is between the reality of the masses’ desires and the supposed representation of those desires.
The Marxist system poses itself as the collective representation of the masses’ desires, rather than failing to recognize the creativity and desire of the masses as occurs in sociological thought. Sociology reduces social objects to things. It is reifying. While Marxism recognizes the existence of revolutionary desires, in contrast to the sociological, it imposes mediations on them—Marxist theory and the representation of the party (Guattari 1973, 157).
The differences that flow through the desires of the masses become “massified”—turned into standard formulations viewed as necessary for class and party unity (Guattari 1973, 157). There is a dualism between representation and reality, between the party leaders and the masses. Bureaucratic practices flow from this. The oppositions revolve around a third party—the state.
Third is “political analysis” in a “connection of a multiplicity of molecular desires which would catalyze challenges on a large scale” (156-159). Political analysis speaks to a “univocal multiplicity” rather than the mass (159). Micro-groupings offer challenges and there is no necessary unitary content. For Guattari, the “unification of struggles is antagonistic to the multiplicity of desires only when it is totalizing, that is, when it is treated by the totalitarian machine of a representative party” (159).
Desire creates itself when saying is doing (1973, 160). When saying is doing, as Guattari puts it, the division of labor between the specialists (in saying and in doing) ends (1973, 160).
Guattari is not interested in representing the masses and interpreting their struggles. You do need some political analysis though. Guattari seeks a conception of desire that does not have an object or a center. It does not distance as in representation or interpretation. Mediation must be bypassed.
This is done in the third approach, political analysis. for Guattari, this political analysis “refuses to maintain the disjunction between large social groupings and individual problems, family problems, academic problems, professional problems, etc.” (1973, 158). It does not reduce struggles to alternatives of classes or camps (Guattari 1973, 158). Theoretical and practical truth are not the domain of the party.
A micropolitics of desire, in this way, would not present itself as representing the masses and interpreting their struggles (Guattari 1973, 158). In Guattari’s perspective:
“It would no longer seek support from a transcendent object in order to provide itself with security. It would no longer center itself on a unique object—the power of the State, which could only be conquered by a representative party acting in lieu of and instead of the masses—but rather, it would center on a multiplicity of objectives, within the immediate reach of the most diverse social groupings.” (1973, 158)
Challenges are catalysed on a larger scale by “a multiplicity of molecular desires” (Guattari 1973, 159). There is a “univocal multiplicity of desires” rather than an “ideal unity” representing and mediating multiple interests (Guattari 1973, 159). What Guattari suggests has relevance for thinking about contestational risings, of resistance among diverse forces. In his words:
“This multiplicity of desiring machines is not made of standardized and regulated systems which can be disciplined and hierarchized in relation to a unique objective. It is stratified according to different social groupings, to classes formed by age groups, sexes, geographic and professional localizations, ethnic origins, erotic practices, etc. Thus, it does not realize a totalizing unity. It is the univocity of the masses’ desire, and not their regrouping according to standardized objectives, which lays the foundation for the unity of their struggle.” (1973, 159)
The threat to the multiplicity of desires comes when the unification of struggles is totalizing. As when dealt with by the totalitarian form for the representative party (Guattari 1973, 159). Desire always wants to go “off the track.” It wants not to “play by the rules.”
By Guattari’s own claim he seeks not reductivist comparisons but to complexify the models in terms of fascism, for example. In his words, “[T]here are all kinds of fascisms” (as all kinds of bourgeois democracies, for example) (Guattari 1973, 161).
The groupings break up once one considers “the relative status of, for example, the industrial machine, the banking machine, the military machine, the politico-police machine, the techno-structures of the State, the Church, etc.” (Guattari 1973, 161). So, as Sinclair Lewis famously said—” “When fascism comes to America it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
The Nazi party changed. Himmler’s SS was not Rohm’s SA. They operated in specific domains. And, as Wilhelm Reich suggests, they each bore a specific relationship to the revolutionary desires of the masses.
Yet, simplifications should not interfere with grasping “the genealogy and the permanence of certain fascist machineries” (Guattari 1973, 162). This is the same fascism that operates under different forms. And which, for Guattari, can continue to operate in families and in schools.
Totalitarian systems produce formulas for the collective seizure of desire (Guattari 1973, 163). These depend too on productive forces and the relations of production. At the same time, and despite his contributions, Guattari drifts into totalitarian analysis (a la Arendt) and shares some of the limitations of that approach.
Guattari stresses that what fascism set in motion continues to proliferate in contemporary social space (1973, 163). Today’s productive forces unleash a whirlwind of desires. Guattari looks at the continuity of the fascist machine in different forms. For Guattari, it is important to confront totalitarian machines in their micropolitical aspect. Otherwise “you find yourself a prisoner of generalities and totalizing programs, and representative instances regain their power” (164).
In Guattari’s view: “Molecular analysis is the will to a molecular power, to a theory and practice which refuse to dispossess the masses of their potential for desire” (164-165). In Western capitalism the totalitarian machine lives in “structures capable of adapting desire to the profit economy” (171). Western capitalism is subversive in this way of molecularization. It gets “under the skin” (we simply have to have the newest newness).
Thus, the bureaucratic systems must “miniaturize their repressive machines” (Guattari 1973, 164). We could see this today in debates over micro-aggressions or in the minutia of memes.
Desire gets away from encoding. It avoids containment. There is no dichotomy between saying and doing. There is a process of connectivity. Machines.
Disobedience, disruption, resistance to demands of stakeholders. Micropolitics of desire: Refuse any formula to slip by at whatever scale. Fascism in family, political structure, etc.
There is a capacity of fascism to spread throughout the social body. Memes. IRC. The meme machine and the circulation of memes is able to coalesce desire in particular ways. In the present period the oddest portions of the Internet become politically important. The memeification of Pepe. “Pepe for President.” Pepe the frog says “It feels good, man.”
4chan was launched in 2003. 4chan is hyper-err-production. It decenters the individual as both source and lack. In 4chan anonymity is a goal. It is keeping individuation at bay. No one wants celebrities or personal benefit in that space. The anonymity of social dislocation, unfamiliarity, market forces.
The aim is to release intense flashes of desire and intention. It is delirious and incoherent. Trump rolls the joy of winning and the despair of losing into one. He is the loser who won.
The fascist party is organized like a police force. In this it compartmentalizes the masses in a way a straightforward military dictatorship cannot (Guattari 1973, 165). A military dictatorship does not draw on libidinal energies in the manner a fascist dictatorship does.
In response to the question of why German capital did not simply turn to military dictatorship after 1918 or 1929 (“Why Hitler rather than General von Schleicher?”) Guattari turns to libertarian socialist Daniel Guerin in suggesting that big capital did not want to “deprive itself of this incomparable, irreplaceable means of penetrating into all the cells of society, the organization of the fascist masses” (1973, 165).
For Guattari, the coming together of four libidinal series in the figure of Hitler crystallized a mutation of a “new desiring mechanism in the masses” (1973, 165). First was a “plebeian style.” This gave him a handle on the people. Second, a “veteran-of-war style.” This allowed him to somewhat neutralize the military elements and gain some of their confidence. Third, and most relevant for the Trumpist figure, “a shopkeeper’s opportunism.” Guattari expands on this: “a spinal flexibility, a slackness, which enables him to negotiate with the magnates of industry and finance, all the while letting them think that they could easily control and manipulate him” (1973, 166). Finally, and crucially, “a racist delirium.” This was “a mad, paranoiac energy which put him in tune with the collective death instinct released from the charnel houses of the First World War” (Guattari 1973, 166).
We should have little question of this in relation to Trump after Charlottesville, his response to it (“on many sides,” alt Left,” etc.), and his pardon, a short week after, of the sadistic Sheriff Arpaio.
Hitler tried to forge a compromise among different machines of power that sought their own autonomy—the military, police, and economic machines (Guattari 1973, 167). Trump, like the early fascist regimes, will provide some economic solutions to current issues. A phony boost to the economy or markets, a dip in unemployment, a public works program (of Brownshirt infrastructure as I have already discussed elsewhere). And these will be compared favorably by the administration to the feeble efforts of Obama.
Note the similarities of Trump’s language in this regard with the language used by Guattari to describe fascist rhetoric—“The socialists and communists had a bad program, bad leaders, a bad organization, bad alliances” (1973, 168). One might add to this, in Trumpist style: “Sad.”
And remember, a section of the bourgeoisie only rejected fascism because it stirred too powerful forces of desire in the masses and was too unstable. Global capital could only consider the elimination of fascism in the presence of other means to control class struggles (including Stalinism) (Guattari 1973, 167). The United States could ally with Stalin because his form of containing mass turmoil was more stable than that offered by Nazism.
Lessons for the Left and Desire
There is a very real (non-metaphorical) social war that is being waged in the United States. It goes by names like neoliberalism and involves cuts to Medicare and the Affordable Care Act, the increase in military spending, the tightening of borders, growing detention and deportations, cuts to education spending, increases in incarceration, etc. Historically fascism responds to political and economic crisis. The crisis of 2007 and 2008 was an economic crisis. It gave rise to some resistance in the form eventually of Occupy Wall Street.
The Left today is extremely divided amongst itself presently, unlike the lesser divisions that marked much of the 1930s. The rallying cry of a more united Left in Spain was “Let Madrid be the tomb of fascism.”
Guattari reminds us that at the very beginning the Leftist organizations in Italy and Germany had been liquidated. This is always the aim of early fascism. It is the aim of the alt-Right and the anti-antifa today.
Still, as Guattari suggests, we need to ask why these organizations collapsed like houses of cards. His answer is that these organizations never offered the masses a real alternative, one that could tap their energies of desire (or even direct it away from the fascist draw) (1973, 168. Guattari follows Wilhelm Reich in suggesting this.
Wilhelm Reich notes too how an element can change into its opposite under certain conditions. So the anti-capitalist rebellions of the mass of German people, in acute contradiction to the objective functions of fascism, became interwoven with that function and transformed for a period into its own opposite—a reinforcement of German capital and its rule (1972, 29-30). Social democratic support of capital as a defense against fascism.
Mechanistic communism as in the Comintern, overlooked the revolutionary tendencies of the fascist mass movement, where revolutionary and reactionary tendencies were temporarily combined in fascism (Reich 1972, 30). The Comintern could not turn the revolutionary tendencies to its own advantage.
Desire. The micropolitics of desire sparked by the anti-capitalist rebellions, flowed into the revolutionary tendencies within fascism. Especially as the Leftist movements faltered. This is not to say, as some contemporary liberals might, that the Left caused fascism. Rather it is a reminder to the Left to finish the job.
Reich notes, commenting in the 1930s, that:
“In Germany there were, at the end, some thirty million anticapitalist workers, more than enough in number to make a social revolution; yet it was precisely with the help of the staunchest anticapitalist mentality that fascism came into power. Does an anticapitalist mentality qualify as class consciousness, or is it just the beginning of class consciousness, just a precondition for the birth of class consciousness? What is class consciousness anyway?” (1972, 285-286)
Reich points out the challenge of desire for socialists. The average worker in Germany, he says, was not interested in Soviet Five Year Plans or their economic achievements except inasmuch as they present increased satisfaction of the needs of workers (1972, 293). Reich describes the thoughts of the workers as follows: “If socialism isn’t going to mean anything but sacrifice, self-denial, poverty and privation for us, then we don’t care whether such misery is called socialism or capitalism. Let socialist economy prove its excellence by satisfying our needs and keeping pace with their growth” (1972, 293).
Even as sections of the masses acted against their own interests in lifting Hitler to power (Reich 1972, 283). As Reich says:
“While we [communists] presented the masses with superb historical analysis and economic treatises on the contradictions of imperialism, Hitler stirred the deepest roots of their emotional being. As Marx would have put it, we left the praxis of the subjective factor to the idealists; we acted like mechanistic, economistic materialists.” (1972, 284)
In different terms, for Guattari:
“By reterritorializing their desire onto a leader, a people, and a race, the masses abolished, by means of a phantasm of catastrophe, a reality which they detested and which the revolutionaries were either unwilling or unable to encroach upon. For the masses, virility, blood, vital space, and death took the place of a socialism that had too much respect for the dominant meanings.” (1973, 168)
And in this is a lesson (an old one) for today. The Left must not be afraid to go beyond the traditional terrain of politics. It must seek more than reformist liberal democracy or politics as usual. And it must make its uprisings all the way, not part way. Lest it dig its own grave.
“It can be said of fascism that it is all-powerful and, at the same time, ridiculously weak. And whether it is the former or the latter depends on the capacity of collective arrangements, subject-groups, to connect the social libido, on every level, with the whole range of revolutionary chains of desire.” (1973, 171)
This again echoes the insights provided by Wilhelm Reich in the 1930s. We might think of this in terms of the collapse of the alt-Right, and its confidence in its desires, after Charlottesville. And we might reflect on this before becoming too confident it will not recover and regroup.
Capitalist machines tap the working class potentials for desire. In Guattari’s words: “These machines infiltrate the ranks of the workers, their families, their couples, their childhood; they install themselves at the very heart of the workers’ subjectivity and vision of the world.” (1973, 169). Guattari makes a point, easy to overlook, that industrial capitalism decodes all realities. This liberates greater waves of desire. We might think of this in terms of the desires in trolling, fake news, sarcasm, and nihilism expressed today and which rise along with, as part of Trumpism. Capitalism always needs to search for new formulas for totalitarianism to control struggles of desire (of migrants, of racialized people, of prisoners, etc.).
Political practice is at an impasse. A social totality is locked in inertia. Despite the best intentions of those involved. There is a surplus of information and a lack of action. The Right personalizes national ills. The Left does not personalize. Rather it looks at structural forms. The Right looks for and focuses on particular groups that can be vilified.
Fascism is the charismatic leader with a cult following and religious fervor. It is the regular refusal of all philosophical positions. This is so throughout its various incarnations. On deception Reich suggests:
“A worker trained in the class struggle is not often deceived, but many, very many, have been ideologically softened up. Only a minority are trained. The majority, thanks to the free trade unions, have never known a strike. There is hardly a “dangerous worker” left in the factories. And so the average worker may have a correct sense of what is happening, but he is without leadership and is forced to fall back on the hope that Hitler means well, after all, and that “he’s doing something for us workers.” He accepts the pittance without realizing that he is really the master and nobody has any presents to give him.” (1972, 311)
The fears of anonymous society give rise to a desire to submerge oneself—maintain anonymity—in the figure of the leader—who is known and even famous. The leader carries one’s desires forward for them in a way that takes the heat—so you can remain anonymous and not have to be accountable. Even if they are wrong or get hammered they are respected because they have put themselves out there and taken the heat—for you.
Modern society is marked by docile, passive interchangeability. Anywhere, anyone. This is not revolutionary anonymity. It is rather an anonymity to blandness. The mask of democracy and interchangeability of voting or polls.
The black bloc is a visceral response to the phony transparency of liberal democracy. Also the use of minimal violence to expose much deeper and extreme violence. It rests on masking. That is both its strength and its weakness. Transparency gets you clobbered.
Modern citizens are too comfortable, but not comfortable. They are isolated, detached, fragmented, lonely, exposed. This relates to their susceptibility to social phobias. As Reich puts it: “Such a man is psychically so deformed that simply being told he is a “fully valid member of society” will make him feel better, especially if he is given some kind of uniform to wear” (1972, 310). He wants an impossible comfort.
Trumpism and the end of comfort. Fear based politics related to climate change. First impacts of climate change. Reflected in fear of the refugee. Fear of the “outside invasion.” Which will only increase as the climate crisis increases.
Affect. Trump projects symbolic disarray that only the symbolic leader can address. Support for Trump is acknowledgement that the bet will never be placed. Giving your money and knowing it will not be placed. You will be ripped off. The more it goes off the rails the more it works and the more people join. Trump does not hold together well—and that is a big part of his appeal. The euphoria of empty promises. Finding solace in distress. Alterity and alternative facts. For Guattari, the more it breaks down, the better it works. Unlike totalitarianism it liberates the desires o the masses for their own death. It is an escape that is suicidal.
Crain, Caemeron. 2013. “Microfascism.” The Mantle
Guattari, Felix. 2009 . “Everybody Wants to be a Fascist.” In Chaosophy: Texts and Interviews 1972-1977. New York: Semiotext(e), 154-175
Reich, Wilhelm. 1973. Sex-Pol: Essays, 1929-1934. New York: Vintage Books.