As we are writing this the death toll of the “Campfire” wildfire in California is at 68 with well over 600 missing. Working-class communities like Chico, California and Paradise have been heavily hit, with many families losing absolutely everything. While charities are trying to help out, NGOs have huge limitations, and direct action inside of communities is necessary to bring them together for survival.
Right now the North Valley Mutual Aid network has formed of community members working together to support each other, using direct action strategies that does not just rely on the large charitable organizations. This project has been organized, in part, by members of the AK Press collective, who are based in Chico. This is a project of community members working together, solving the issues, and providing much needed support.
The far-right formation Patriot Prayer, and its base of Proud Boys, are again descending on Portland to try and antagonize the community. This time led by Alt Light internet personality Haley Adams, they are holding a #HimToo event in Downtown Portland on November 17th. Created in response to the growing #MeToo movement to confront unchecked sexual assault, and highlighted by the blatant misogyny of the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination hearings, Adams created the #HimToo event to give men “a day to speak about how they feel, what they have gone through,” raising the specter that false rape allegations are ruining the lives of men, which neglects the fact that false reporting is almost complete non-existent.
In response an organized coalition has created a number of events intended to compliment each other, raise the voices of affected people, and then confront the far-right directly.
Not everyone is able to share their story. Some survivors choose to stay silent for their safety, others are silenced by those around them. Some survivors refuse to be silent.
The alt-right is trying to silence survivors, erase trans identities, control the bodies of women and people of color, and criminalize families and individuals seeking safety. WE ARE ALL SURVIVORS. As Audre Lorde said, “there is no such thing as a single issue struggle”. People are suffering multiple attacks because they belong to more than one targeted group. We are stronger when we stand together and lift up all of our voices.
Join us November 17th, as one strong, fierce, community coming together to amplify the voices of survivors who break the silence and share their stories. Stand in solidarity with survivors as we show the country that we will not back down, we will not shut up, and we will not be erased!
Survivor stories will then be shared, some anonymously. The Portland Democratic Socialists of America will be having a pre-rally at 11:30 and marching over to join the Pop Mob rally.
They have produced a video to promote the event, breaking down the boundaries between survivors and showing that all will be welcome:
Rose City Antifa will also be organizing people in support of the survivor rally, focusing on the lies perpetuated by Patriot Prayer and their supporters about the #MeToo movement and casting doubt on survivors.
Patriot Prayer are holding a rally that will again bring misogyny to the streets of our city. We as a city have to stand up and reject their attempt to cast doubt on the sexual violence that women and others experience in our society. This so called ‘himtoo’ rally is another attempt by this crew of misogynists to come into our city and attack our community.
This rally by Patriot Prayer attempts to cast men as victims of false accusations of sexual assault. Not only is this untrue, it attempts to form a backlash to survivors so that their stories and allegations can be discounted. Patriot Prayer is attempting to create a world where men can abuse and assault people with impunity.
As a community we must stand against this attempt by Haley Adams and Patriot Prayer, a group rife with misogynists and domestic abusers, to turn back the clock on how sexual assault is treated in our society. Join us in pushing this misogyny out of our city.
The #HimToo rally banks up against the survivor rally in the same location, Terry Shrunk Plaza. The survivor rally will begin at 12pm, and Patriot Prayer officially starts at 2pm, yet antifascists, feminists, and community members will continue past that point to show that the far-right’s anti-feminism has no place in Portland.
Join the rally and the protest of Patriot Prayer on Saturday, November 17th, and let’s build a vibrant feminist antifascist movement. We believe survivors, and we will stand with you!
“It will be seen that, as used, the word ‘Fascism’ is almost entirely meaningless…I have heard it applied to farmers, shopkeepers, Social Credit, corporal punishment, fox-hunting, bull-fighting, the 1922 Committee, the 1941 Committee, Kipling, Gandhi, Chiang Kai-Shek, homosexuality, Priestley’s broadcasts, Youth Hostels, astrology, women, dogs and I do not know what else……
Why, then, cannot we have a clear and generally accepted definition it? Alas! we shall not get one — not yet, anyway. To say why would take too long, but basically it is because it is impossible to define Fascism satisfactorily without making admissions which neither the Fascists themselves, nor the Conservatives, nor Socialists of any colour, are willing to make.”
–George Orwell, “What is Fascism?”
Those of us who criticize civilization, industrial capitalism, and the delusion of the Modern invariably encounter accusations that our critiques somehow link us to Nazism or fascism. Because we are not Nazis nor fascists, and perhaps because we mistake the mauvaise foi of our critics as honest confusion, we too often accept a mysterious sense and moral duty to respond. But is it not strange that we automatically accept our interlocutor’s premise that the rejection of civilization, industrialism, and modernity implies Nazism or fascism? Worse, is it not strange we feel obligated to provide a defense to such a false accusation?
Most us of who accede to the demands of our accusers that we must differentiate ourselves from those odious ideologies find ourselves drowning in the morass of contemporary political discourse. No amount of evidence is enough, no amount of repeated statements that we hate fascism ever suffices. Such a situation is akin to the anti-capitalist asked their opinions about gulags or Stalin, or the gay person forced to assure people that they don’t rape children. As in those situations, the critic who stands in opposition to modern, industrial, capitalist civilization—with its regimes of authority, its hierarchies of divided race and labor, its vapid and alienating aesthetic, and all the forms of its civic religion worshiping progress and destructive technology—is somehow to be held account for abhorrent political constellations to which none of us ascribe.
To fail to answer to is to be deemed guilty. Yet worse: to give answer is to assume the premise of the accuser and the moral authority to deem what is and is not an acceptable critique. Let this essay be our final answer.
We are neither fascists nor Nazis. But now that we have said this, we must now go further, because the question itself is wrong in its false constellation of fascism as anti-civilizationist, anti-modernist, or anti-industrial. The truth is quite the opposite. Except by the most inverted of logics, neither the 20th century Nazis and fascists, nor their 21st century counterparts, can possibly be seen as anything but fanatic devotees of the Modern, evangelists of industrialization, and fundamentalist defenders of civilization.
Consider the National Socialists. For all their deployment of romantic aesthetics and traditionalist rhetoric, Nazism was both essentially industrialist and modernist. The management logic of the early English industrialists, Fordism, and the “scientific management” of Taylorism found their full consummation in the pristine efficiency of the concentration camp: facilities in which humans were classified, examined, methodically tortured, “scientifically” vivisected, and then killed. Further, the transformation of the German population’s labor power towards the production of war machines—as well as the organization of German society and economic activity along avowedly Fordist lines—was explicitly industrialist and modern.
Nor were the Nazis anti-civilizationist by any means. Hitler’s fantasy of a Neuordnung Europas (“New European Order”) was a detailed plan to save civilization from what the Nazis saw as the barbaric, degenerate, inferior races by bringing all of Europe under their own enlightened civil order.
Neither can the organization of Italian and Spanish society under the fascism of Mussolini and Franco be painted as anti-modern, anti-industrialist, or anti-civilization. While neither reached the same levels of Fordist industrial efficiency that German society under the Nazis attained, industrial efficiency was a core aspect of fascist propaganda. “At least Mussolini made the trains run on time,” regardless of the fact it was unlikely true, is hardly a mantra that would appeal to someone who hates trains or the Modern religion of time-management. And as regards Spain, General Franco is even now still praised as a “modernizer,” and it was his industrialist economic policies which kept supposedly “anti-fascist” states such as the US on neutral terms with his regime.
No really-existing fascism has arisen within humanity that was not industrialist. This then begs an obvious question–why do those of us who oppose industrialization find ourselves being accused of being fascist? As George Orwell noted in his short essay, “What Is Fascism,” to get at a real definition of fascism would require even admissions others (including fascists) are not eager to make. That is, the answer is not a comfortable one for our critics, because fascism is hardly the only modern political ideology for which industrial production is a core, foundational value.
Take for example the majority of “Leftist” political ideologies born from European industrial civilization. The Authoritarian Communism of the USSR and China, which morphed later into State-Capitalism in both places, similarly organized the labor power of the people over which those ideologies ruled into wide-scale industrial production. In both iterations, rural populations which had lived in relatively static technological states for thousands of years were industrialized within mere decades, all in the name of making them more “modern.”
But lest we lay blame only at the feet of Marx, many anarchists too embraced the logic of industrialism. One need consider one of Kropotkin’s many glowing paens regarding the conquest of nature by machine, reproduced later in Bookchinite worship of technology:
With the introduction of machinery into economy, wings are given to liberty. The machine is the symbol of human liberty, the sign of our domination over nature, the attribute of our power, the expression of our right, the emblem of our personality.
While the actually-existing iterations of both Fascism and Authoritarian Communism organized the societies over which they ruled along industrialized principles, and many anarchist tendencies likewise fantasize about such arrangements, none of these political systems can claim to have birthed industrialism. That honor instead goes to the ideological system which founded Modernity and still dominates the world: Liberal Democratic Capitalism.
Industrialism started in England in the early 18th century with the birth and quick spread of textile mills, midwifed by the imperative of modernization articulated by Adam Smith, Thomas Hobbes, and other Enlightenment philosophers. These philosophers were not merely the ideological architects of industralisation, however—they also formulated the “modern” and its civilizational structure itself. Nation-states ruled by representative government, individual rights granted by sovereign charter, enclosure, displacement, and private ownership of land, divisions of people through artificial racial categories, and the juridical, bureaucratic, administrative, and penal institutions required to implement and sustain this modern, “civilized” order: all this arose from the very same ideology which ushered in industrialised capitalism into the history of humanity.
Even Karl Marx in the Communist Manifesto recognized the oppressive, authoritarian nature of this modernizing, “civilizing” drive:
The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilisation. The cheap prices of commodities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians’ intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilisation into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image.
That all the aspects of what even Marx recognised as “civilization” arose from the very same classes which created industrialised capitalism is no accident. Civilization, Modernity, and Industrialization are all part of the same delusion, a forced imposition of mechanistic logic upon the rest of life. Along with this logic comes all our other “modern” ideas of what a state is and should do, as well as what rights it must provide and what freedoms we humans are due. These are rights inextricable from industrialisation, the energy which propels it, and the damage it does to the earth. As post-colonialist historian Dispesh Chakrabarty noted in his essay, “The Climate of History,”
In no discussion of freedom in the period since the Enlightenment was there ever any awareness of the geological agency that human beings were acquiring at the same time as and through processes closely linked to their acquisition of freedom. Philosophers of freedom were mainly, and understandably, concerned with how humans would escape the injustice, oppression, inequality, or even uniformity foisted on them by other humans or human-made systems… The period I have mentioned, from 1750 to now, is also the time when human beings switched from wood and other renewable fuels to large-scale use of fossil fuel—ﬁrst coal and then oil and gas. The mansion of modern freedoms stands on an ever-expanding base of fossil-fuel use.
Of what value, we ask, is that freedom if it comes at the cost of the earth’s ability to sustain human life?
But we must go even further, because the rights offered by Liberal Democratic Capitalist (Modern, Industrial) civilization are themselves only an offer after conquest. As many contemporary critics of human rights discourse from India and Africa, including Makau Mutua, have observed, the concept of rights is inextricable from the existence of a state which defines to whom those rights extend (and do not extend) and enforces and exports those rights.
Let us be clear: the Modern idea of freedom and the equally modern reality of colonialism and slavery go hand in hand. The promises of an order in which humanity is entitled to peace, prosperity, and happiness and that human life must be preserved at all costs are not only false but are bound up in the logic that reduces the earth to ashes, purges the gods from the wild hills and deep forests, all while poisoning the very humanity that it claims to deify.
The gifts of modernity were never offered in good faith. Expand the length of life, but reduce the quality of that life. Kill the gods and worship humanity, but destroy and degrade human life like never before. Create technology that will remake the earth to serve us, but turn the earth into a barren wasteland that will literally boil us alive. Banish superstition and the irrational, but be governed by faith in technological progress and the market, neither of which you may question.
But let us entertain, briefly, the miracles modernity claims to have birthed into the world: medicine, rights, peace. These are the sacred proofs to the worshippers of the Modern, evidence that what the Modern has wrought in the world is Good and Just. Yet rarely is it mentioned how these things have been gotten. Much of modern medicine requires first the torture of some other living thing to give it its efficacy. We can cure syphilis thanks to experimentation on poor Black men, we can treat mental disorders thanks to the lobotomization of women diagnosed with hysteria.
When they speak of peace, they do not speak of the barrel of the gun and the threat of nuclear annihilation which gives the great modern civilizations their serene placidity. Peace means “peacekeepers,” military occupations, covert subversions and overthrows of governments elected by the same “democratic means” such violence is meant to protect. Civil order and peace within the cities are maintained by armed gangs called police, and it certainly appears to take quite a few prisons to ensure modern “freedom.”
And of rights? The right to property comes through the slaughter of indigenous peoples through colonial conquest. The right to wealth and even access to social safety nets both are funded through the exploitation of the poor outside the modern construct of Nation. Freedom to communicate through technological wonders built by near-slave labor from materials mined by actual slave-labor. And all the rest of these rights derive, as Chakrabarty notes, “from an ever-expanding base of fossil-fuel use.”
The Enlightenment claimed to banish the darkness within humanity and raise humans above the rest of nature. In so doing, it conjured a new darkness into the world, the Modern. Perhaps numbered among its chief conjurers were those who truly believed that science and technics could make the world a paradise for all. It has done nothing of the sort, but rather scorched the skies, melted the glaciers, poisoned the air, and further yoked nature–including the human–to the capitalists and their machine logic.
Indeed, the most delusional aspect of modern Liberal Democratic civilization is its claim to do all this in the name of the “human.” Human rights, human advancement, human wealth, human freedom, all this promised to us as benefits of civilization’s destruction of the rest of nature through factories, the assembly lines, the pipeline, the automobile, the urban, and the internet server. Yet even humans are ground up into bone and dust to feed the machines of progress, their lungs blackened, fingers broken, bodies crippled, minds subjugated, environments ruined, souls destroyed. How much more the myriad other parts of nature? The extinctions speak for themselves.
More probably, the Modern was yet another mere trick to consolidate power. Promises that humanity could be perfected, sorrow and suffering eradicated, inequality eliminated–all by men who themselves owned slaves, spread war and rape, and subjugated all that lives to their dominance. Upon the ancient shrines of forsaken gods of nature they placed the human, then proceeded to sacrifice not just the natural world but other humans themselves to their vain worship of the modern.
Let us make the admission the fascists, the socialists, and the liberal democrats refuse to make. Fascism could not have been possible without the worship of the Modern the Enlightenment birthed. Nazi doctors and scientists vivisecting and dissecting humans to find in their entrails the cause of their behavior merely continued the work begun by the Enlightenment. The efficiency of their war machine was only possible thanks to the humanist search in centuries past to perfect the movement of human in industry. And what else could we make of the Nazi organization of human society into taxonomies of race and degeneracy, but a mere perfection of the Enlightenment’s desire to discover and then make the world run according to “natural laws?”
Let us say yet more: to be against the modern is to be also against the fascist. But to be against the modern is also to be against the fascist’s twin, the State-Communist, and against the patriarch which birthed them both, the Capitalist-Democratic neueordnung. As with the three monotheist religions which together inform them, they each worship the Modern and merely disagree on how to implement Its will.
And let us say yet one more thing: it is not we who oppose the Modern, or industrialism, or civilization, who must answer our critics, but our critics who must answer us. Those who praise the Modern for its medicine must answer first for the Black and Indigenous people experimented upon to bring it forth into the world. Those who defend the Modern for its rights and freedoms must first answer for the colonial rape and slaughter which brings those rights and freedoms. Those who celebrate the Modern for the peace and prosperity of its cities must first answer for the homeless, the displaced, and the murdered. Those who sing paens to the Modern for its technological progress must first answer for the children mining the minerals to make computers and smartphones.
And especially, those who would call the anti-modern “fascist” must answer us. It is we who accuse you, defenders of the Modern and its industrial, humanistic delusions. It is you who must answer for the very reason we rage against the Modern, with its machine logic that mobilized entire populations to eradicate what once connected humans to nature and its gods. It is you who must answer for the Modern industrial camps in which humans were dissected, dismembered, and killed in the name of saving civilization from barbarism. It is not us but you who must account for the latest technology that sorted the deported and damned, for the most scientifically advanced chemicals which choked out their lives.
We have seen what your civilization and your progress really means. We have seen what your technology, your government, your orders of discipline and your machines are really for. In the slums, the prisons, the gutters, and the factories we have seen how fascistic your vision of humanity actually is, and in the dying forests, the rising seas, and the darkened skies we see what comes of people that forget its gods to become Modern.
This article was republished from Gods & Radicals.
Rhyd is one of the co-founders and co-editors of Gods&Radicals. His recently released collection, Witches In a Crumbling Empire, is available now. You can support him on Patreon, and listen to his podcasts with Alley Valkyrie, Empires Crumble.
Matthew N. Lyons is an anti-fascist author and researcher whose work stretches back twenty-five years. Always at the front of understanding how the far-right shifts and reconfigures itself, he has developed deep historical and theoretical work that is directly intended to aid in antifascist organizing that sees results.
His book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, co-authored with Chip Berlet, looked through America’s history and dug into exactly what the elusive term “populism” means, and how it motivates working-class people to take up radical right-wing political movements. He has been especially pioneering at the blog Three-Way Fight, named for the concept that in any revolutionary struggle you can have an insurgent force that is different that either the left and the ruling class, and it is at that point you can often find fascist ideologues building their own version of a revolutionary movement.
In Lyons’ most recent book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, he looks at the strains of fascism that appropriate anti-imperialist and other struggles often associated with the left, how the far-right is changing and creating new social movements, and how we can understand fascism’s future.
This is an interview with Matthew N. Lyons that asks some of these questions, how to understand populism and fascism, how fascists use anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics, and what we can do about it.
Your book spends a great deal of time discussing the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements that intersect with fascism. What is the nationalist investment in these issues? How does their perspective break from the left’s interpretation of these movements?
In the book sections you’re referring to, my focus isn’t so much on the intersection of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements with fascism. Rather, it’s on the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war tendencies within far right movements themselves. These tendencies have taken various forms and have deep historical roots within both classical fascism and sections of American conservatism. In the United States today, far rightists believe that the U.S. government and many transnational institutions such as the United Nations are controlled by malevolent globalist elites, who are working to weaken and destroy traditional societies and homogenize everyone to help build up their own wealth and power. White nationalists define this supposed threat in racial terms, as Jewish elites versus the white race, while other branches of the U.S. far right (such as Christian theocrats and most Patriot groups) tend to define it as an attack on U.S. national sovereignty and western culture.
There are a couple of different things going on here. Fascists and other far rightists have a long history of offering distorted versions of leftist, radical politics, to help them capitalize on people’s rebellious energy and anger at the status quo. When I describe it this way, it sounds like political opportunism, and that’s definitely part of it. But on a deeper level, there’s also a genuine conflict here, between modern global capitalism and the traditional social hierarchies such as race and nation and gender that have served capitalism well in the past but now sometimes restrict it. Modern global capitalism depends on moving goods and services and workers and investments across old boundaries, national and otherwise. This threatens many traditionally privileged social groups, whose privilege is based on those boundaries and divisions. So then you get, for example, multinational corporations pushing to let in more foreign workers, and sparking an anti-immigrant backlash. And you also get multinational corporations pushing to project military power overseas to help protect their investments, and sections of the right, fascist and otherwise, lining up against them and saying our people has nothing to gain from these wars.
On a surface level, far right opposition to military interventionism or capitalist elites or imperialism can sound leftist. But there are basic underlying differences. Leftist politics is predicated – at least in theory – on promoting human equality and dismantling human oppression and exploitation. In contrast, fascists and other far rightists believe that human equality is a sham. They say that inequality is either unavoidable or a positive good to be protected. To them, global capitalist elites are evil because they see them as promoting equality, not opposing it. A related issue is that a genuinely radical critique of power focuses on systems of oppression and exploitation, whereas far rightists generally analyze power in terms of conspiracy theories, which blame social problems on a sinister group of outsiders (such as Jews) who supposedly distort the normal workings of society.
How do you define fascism?
In Insurgent Supremacists and other writings I offer a working definition of fascism as “a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.” This is based on an effort to combine two different approaches. The historian Roger Griffin sees fascism as a political ideology that emphasizes a myth of national palingenesis, or collective rebirth out of a near-fatal crisis. In contrast to that, a series of independent Marxists (from August Thalheimer in the 1930s to J. Sakai and Don Hamerquist today) have analyzed fascism as having a contradictory relationship with the capitalist ruling class – attacking the left and promoting class hierarchy but also pursuing an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways. Both of these approaches regard fascism as a right-wing revolutionary force, but Griffin is strong on delineating fascist ideology while the independent Marxists are strong on fascism’s class dynamics. Both are important.
I draw a sharp distinction between fascism and what I would call conservative authoritarianism. Most repression in capitalist societies operates more or less directly in the interests of big business. I see fascism as a drive to wrest political control away from big business and establish a new political elite. Historically, fascists have cut deals with capitalists to help them win power, but capitalists’ assumption that they could then rein in fascists has proved wrong. Instead, fascists have set about trying to reshape all spheres of society according to their own totalitarian agenda and, in the case of German Nazism, undertook a profound and far-reaching transformation of the social order in keeping with their racist ideology. Many capitalist regimes have pursued genocide against subject populations, but Nazism is the only regime that has pursued genocide against a significant section of the industrial working class, an effort that directly clashed with capitalists’ economic interests.
In the United States today, fascist politics is still driven by a totalitarian vision to reshape society, but that can take different forms. White nationalists’ vision centers on race and their dream of creating an all-white nation. But I think it’s appropriate to use the term “fascism” also for totalitarian right-wing visions that don’t center on race. The most important example is the hardline faction within the Christian right – spearheaded by Christian Reconstructionists – that wants to impose a full theocracy. That vision centers on religion, of course, but also on male supremacy and gender conformity – much more than race. Also, some fascist currents, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, carry forward classical fascism’s vision of a large centralized state, but many fascists now want to impose their totalitarian vision in a decentralized manner – through “tribal” networks or segregated “ethno-states” or local churches and patriarchal families. I’ve used the term “social totalitarianism” to describe this kind of politics that is simultaneously authoritarian and decentralist.
How do you see the Trump administration in relationship to insurgent white nationalism? Has your opinion of it changed in the time that Trump has been in office?
White nationalists – not just people with racist politics but people who specifically want to create an all-white nation – played a bigger role in electing Donald Trump in 2016 than they had in electing any of his predecessors. More specifically, alt-rightists’ skillful use of internet activism was a significant factor in defeating Trump’s Republican rivals and to a lesser extent in defeating Hillary Clinton. After the election, Richard Spencer proclaimed that alt-rightists were the vanguard of the Trump coalition. At the same time, alt-rightists were clear that Trump was himself not a white nationalist – he was useful to them, but he was not one of them. He would do some of what they wanted, and he would buy them time and space to spread their message, but he did not share their long-term goals.
Since Trump’s inauguration, alt-rightists have had very mixed feelings about his administration. They have liked his demagoguery and scapegoating and his moves against immigrants of color and Muslims, but wish he would go a lot further. They like some of his foreign policy actions, like challenging free trade orthodoxy and criticizing NATO and reaching out to Kim Jong-un. But to varying degrees they also think he has capitulated to (or maybe is being blackmailed by) the conservative establishment. They don’t much care for the staunchly conservative positions he’s taken on tax policy and destroying Obamacare. They hate his support for Israel and his missile strikes against Assad’s government in Syria. Some of them still look on Trump positively, while others think he is beyond redemption.
In Insurgent Supremacists, I argued that Trump’s administration represented a coalition between conventional conservatives of various kinds and “America First” nationalists, some of whom had ties with the alt-right. I still think that’s accurate. Several of the America Firsters have left the administration, such as Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn, but there are several still there, such as Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, and especially Jeff Sessions. They benefit from what seems to be Trump’s sincere contempt for most establishment politicians, but they’re limited by the lack of a coherent organizational base and the lack of a coherent base of support within the ruling class. The Mercers and Peter Thiel are scary, but it’s unclear to me whether they represent a larger organic tendency within the business community or just hardline right-wingers who suddenly happened to become billionaires. It’s clear there are business sectors that are happy Trump is dismantling industrial regulations, but that part of his agenda is just an extension of previous neoliberal policies. Which business sectors support America First nationalism? I’m very interested to learn more about that.
The periodic warnings that Trump is either a fascist or is moving in a fascist direction seem to be picking up momentum again. I don’t agree, although I agree with some elements of the argument. A lot of people use the term “fascism” much too loosely, to cover any and all forms of right-wing authoritarianism or repression. To me, fascism has to involve a drive to systematically transform all areas of society according to a totalitarian ideological vision. I don’t see any evidence that Trump has such a vision or has the drive to implement any such systematic change, and he certainly doesn’t have the kind of independent organizational base you would need to carry it out.
What I do think is true and is quite serious is that Trump is making the U.S. political system more authoritarian. Part of that is continuing the process of incrementally expanding the government’s repressive powers and machinery, a process that has been going on for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents. But Trump and his supporters are also dramatically changing the political climate, ratcheting up the scapegoating and demonization of political opponents, even mainstream ones, to levels we haven’t seen since the early 1950s. Trump and his supporters have vilified news reporting to the point that the New York Times can publish a major expose of his family’s tax crimes and he doesn’t even bother to deny it. These moves don’t add up to anything close to fascism, but they do significantly weaken the liberal-pluralist framework (it’s not democracy but it’s not a dictatorship either) and make it significantly easier for some kind of systematic, organized, ideologically driven authoritarianism to emerge and impose itself. I don’t think Trump is part of that but it could come quickly.
How do you define populism? Why do you think that there has been an upsurge of populism around the world right now?
I see populism as a type of politics that aims to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. That’s how Chip Berlet and I defined it in Right-Wing Populism in America, and it’s based on political scientist Margaret Canovan’s work. Populism can be broadly divided between left-wing and right-wing varieties. John Judis in The Populist Explosion gives a good succinct explanation of the difference. He says that left-wing populists define the struggle in dualistic terms – the people versus the elite – while right-wing populists claim the elite is manipulating one or more out-groups – such as immigrants or Muslims or welfare mothers – so that “the people” are being squeezed from above and below.
There are serious problems with both left-wing and right-wing populism, but the problems are different. Left-wing populism can be a framework for attacking real inequity and disempowerment, and to that extent it can play a positive role, but it oversimplifies social conflict by reducing everything to the people versus the elite. So it tends to gloss over – and thereby reinforce – other forms of oppression that don’t coincide with that simple dividing line.
Right-wing populism glosses over lots of stuff as well, but the bigger problem is that it directly targets oppressed and marginalized groups for scapegoating and demonization, because its concept of “the people” is as much about defending privilege as it is about anti-elitism. In addition, the way right-wing populism defines the elite is itself based on a kind of scapegoating, which focuses either on a specific subset within the elite or on people who aren’t elite at all. So even though right-wing populism feeds partly on people’s anger at being beaten down, it channels that back into attacks that strengthen and intensify hierarchy and oppression and institutionalized violence.
As you say, there’s been an upsurge of populism lately in many parts of the world, and that includes both left and right versions. In very broad terms I see two big contributing factors. One is a crisis in the global capitalist system – highlighted by the 2008 financial crisis but going far beyond it – and a widespread recognition that the conventional policies that have dominated most governments for decades really only serve a tiny minority. The other big factor is the weakness of the radical left – brought about by a combination of external repression and its own internal failings – and the radical left’s inability to rally major segments of the population in most countries. So, many people are hungry for alternatives, hungry for a way out, and a lot of times populism seems like the best option.
Are there any examples of organized resistance happening currently that you think are a good model for combating the far-right?
I don’t know that there’s any one example where I’d say, “here’s the model of resistance for us to follow,” but I think there have been a number of very positive developments. I think the principle of “diversity of tactics” is very important – meaning actions organized so that there is room for people to take a variety of militant and non-militant approaches, and where those are understood as complementing and supporting each other, rather than competing or in conflict. I know that folks in the Bay Area and in Portland, for example, have worked hard over the past year or more to build coalitions based on this approach, and have had some important successes as a result.
I also really like the principle of “community self-defense,” as advocated by the Twin Cities General Defense Committee of the IWW and others, meaning that antifascists should not look to the state to protect us, because the state is really not on our side, but rather should look to build connections with, and base themselves in, working class communities. Another positive example I would cite is the network Solidarity & Defense Michigan, which is one of a number of groups that helped to halt the alt-right’s mobilizing drive in 2017-2018, and which has emphasized the linkages between resisting far rightists and combating institutionalized oppression in the form of housing evictions, police violence, deportations of immigrants and refugees, and so on.
I also particularly appreciate when people approach antifascist activism in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn from mistakes. I think an example of that was the article “Tigertown Beats Nazis Down,” which is a self-critical reflection on the April 2017 mass protest against Richard Spencer in Auburn, Alabama. I can’t speak to the specific events that happened there, but I thought the spirit of the article was really constructive and positive.
How can the anti-imperialist movement insulate against the far-right?
First, leftist and liberal anti-imperialists should have a strict policy of non-collaboration with far rightists. That means not attending their political events and not allowing them to attend ours. It means not giving them a platform on our media to air their views, and not legitimizing their media by accepting invitations to publish our articles or be interviewed.
Second, let’s recognize and combat oppressive dynamics within the left that resonate with far right politics – dynamics such as authoritarianism and transphobia and sexual violence. And more specifically let’s combat the elements of far right ideology that have influenced sections of the left itself. In the 1980s, the Christic Institute borrowed “anti-establishment” conspiracy theories from the Lyndon LaRouche network and other far right sources and repackaged them for progressive audiences. Today, groups like the Center for Research on Globalisation play a similar role. Let’s develop strong radical analyses of institutionalized power systems and reject fake-radical conspiracy theories, many of which are rooted in antisemitism.
And we need consistent radicalism specifically with regard to Israel. I’m an anti-Zionist Jew: I reject Israeli apartheid rule over Palestinians and Zionist appropriation of Jewish identity for racist and imperialist ends, and I reject smear campaigns that equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. But it’s disturbing and dangerous when we see self-described leftists portraying Zionists as some kind of super-powerful force controlling U.S. foreign policy or global capitalism, or dismiss any concerns about antisemitism on the left as Zionist propaganda.
Third, I think we need to reject simplistic left analyses that celebrate any perceived opposition to U.S. international power as “anti-imperialist” – and that automatically equate anti-imperialist with “progressive.” The Assad government has implemented neoliberal economic policies, collaborated with the CIA’s rendition program, and murdered thousands of Palestinians, but somehow it’s supposed to be anti-imperialist now. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to celebrate the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Those attacks hit the centers of imperialist power more forcefully than anything Assad and his allies have ever done, but they also killed 3,000 people and were carried out in the name of a deeply reactionary ideology. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to join forces with the neonazis who did in fact celebrate the 9-11 attacks as heroic blows against globalist Jewish elites? What’s needed here, again, is a recognition that there are more than two political poles in the world, and – as radical antifascists have been saying for years – my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.
Pegida, an anti-Islam group active in Canada and with connections to white supremacists and neo-Nazis in Europe (particularly Germany), has been holding regular rallies in London, Ontario. While Pegida have made few inroad on their own in London, they have made growing links with neo-fascist groups like Soldiers of Odin (SOO) and Proud Boys.
On Saturday, October 13, 2018, a rally of several Pegida members along with a dozen or so SOO and a few Wolves of Odin and other neo-fascist supporters was confronted by a much larger counter-mobilization of antifascists. With cops present the fascists held their ground outside the City Hall building.
London is the sort of city one might expect fascists to receive some reception in. It is a mid-size city in Canada known to be generally politically conservative with a sizeable white collar professional workforce with many company headquarters located there. It could well be a foundation for fascism as a conservative white collar middle strata feels squeezed by economic pressures from above (capital, ownership) and social demands from below. And clearly Pegida and SOO and others see it that way given their persistence in holding events there. On multiple occasions they have held events outside City Hall.
Of note, a SOO member gave a positive shout out to local city councillor Phil Squire. That the mainstream politicians are open in working with fascists is something that bears attention and response in Canada as elsewhere. It appears to be a more common phenomena in Canada as witness in Edmonton where three United Conservative Party candidates openly partied with SOO, including taking photos with them at a campaign event. Perhaps more infamously, Rob Ford, Premier of the country’s largest province Ontario has taken photos with fascist Toronto mayoral candidate Faith Goldy and her entourage. When called out, Ford, unsurprisingly given his own politics, refused to apologize.
On October 13th, the antifascists gave Pegida a reason not to come back. And showed that as their numbers remain small the opposition seems to be growing in size and confidence.
By Jeff Shantz
Some have expressed confusion over the apparently contradictory actions of neo-fascist Soldiers of Odin (SOO) toward homeless people in various urban contexts in Canada. There is a dual targeting of homeless people as opponents to be socially cleansed and as potential recruits. Both within the same fascist organization. Understanding the strategies of SOO in targeting homeless people tells us important things about how fascists are mobilizing and how collective organizing can work against them.
On one hand SOO have mobilized confrontations and attempted assaults against homeless people on multiple occasions in Nanaimo, British Columbia, a small, historically blue collar city, now university town. They have taken a poor bashing, bigoted approach against homeless people. On the other hand SOO have tried to recruit homeless people to their cause in Surrey, British Columbia, a blue collar suburb, and new, gentrifying, city center, in Metro Vancouver. They have also tried to do food servings as means of recruitment of homeless people in Edmonton, a major industrial city and seat of provincial government in Alberta.
So, what is behind these apparent contradictions and inconsistencies—bigoted anger and friendly recruitment? Well, to understand the SOO tactics around interacting with homeless people we first have to analyze the different contexts in each case, and, in particular, the levels and types of organizing among homeless people themselves. And we can also look at assumptions about community responses. These assessments provide important lessons about the need to organize our communities—all our communities, including the most marginalized and excluded—in order to oppose and discourage (and hopefully stop) fascist mobilizations. And they provide lessons about the role played by poor bashing and hatred by mainstream institutions.
Class Solidarity and Organizing Against Individual Vulnerability and Fascist Recruitment
In terms of organizing, it is important to note that in Surrey, where SOO tried to recruit homeless people into an anti-migrant position, using false claims that refugees were taking up housing from homeless people, there was little collective self-organizing on the basis of autonomy, self defense, and community solidarity. So SOO could approach individual homeless people to stir up resentments as potential recruits. Luckily homeless people there had little time for them. There were community support groups who worked in solidarity with residents of The Strip, where dozens of people lived in tents (but which was not an organized tent city). There were discussions about the real nature of SOO which helped build opposition. And SOO offered nothing to people except racist blame placing.
In Edmonton, similarly, homeless people were not organized in any sort of collective, self-determining, autonomous space. So SOO again apparently assumed they could also recruit homeless people playing on desperate circumstances to stir up, to construct, individual resentments.
In Nanaimo, conversely, and I would argue significantly, homeless people had self-organized into a conscious, a class conscious, tent city community, Discontent City. Along with allies they could collectively organize to oppose and confront SOO and other bigots and poor bashers. In Nanaimo, SOO viewed collectively organized homeless people as a threat. As a point of working class solidarity against bigotry and division and for an alternative built from the ground up. The fascists may have recognized the class solidarity operating in Discontent City and viewed it as an obstacle to their own efforts to split the working class and target more vulnerable sectors (including migrants).
Producerism and the Targeting of Homeless People
Fascists view organized homeless people (as part of the working class more broadly) as a threat needing to be removed. Generally fascists have targeted homeless people for violence. This is in keeping with their producerist vision. This is a Right wing approach to class issues that divides the working class between supposedly productive “producers” (in a way they further construct as white workers) and those they view as unproductive or as social parasites. This latter category can include both bosses, who do not labor productively, and unemployed people.
For fascists, the supposedly productive sectors of the working class are pinched by the unproductive who allegedly live off of their labor from both above and from below (without properly distinguishing actual exploiters who steal surplus value and less fortunate workers who have simply not had a sale of their labor power in a system where only bosses have the power to hire and fire). Rather than seeing all who need to sell their labor to survive as working class in a vision of class solidarity, and anti-capitalism, the producerist view divides working class people among deserving and undeserving according to fascist criteria.
Class Wide Organizing
Fascists have typically viewed homeless people as targets to be socially cleansed, and/or as recruits to be bought for a potentially small price. Where there is a class conscious organizing the latter becomes improbable. So the fascists feel a material threat.
This shows the importance of class-wide organizing , including among our most vulnerable members. This provides the defense against recruitment and mobilization of opportunistic fascists looking to use people in dire straits as fodder for their movements. This is a lesson about organizing more broadly in a context in which working class people feeling vulnerable and hopeless and economically precarious can be susceptible to supporting or sympathizing with far Rightists or become open to actual active recruitment.
Notably, in Nanaimo, there has developed a layer of poor bashing opponents or the tent city who have shown up in larger numbers to hurl epithets at homeless people and to express support for the SOO mobilizations. And this has been encouraged by mainstream political institutions that have opposed the tent city and used poor bashing language and policy approaches against tent city residents ad supporters. Notably, the leader of SOO on Vancouver Island has decided to run for city council in upcoming municipal elections.
So the role of official political entities in fanning fascist flames must also be recognized and openly contested. But collective organizing and self defense provide important counters to all of this. Fascists fear collective organization of working class people for solidarity and social and economic justice. In its absence they see an open ground for organizing of a fascist basis. In this way, the actions of SOO are not so much contradictory as shaped by the absence or presence of threats and potentials they see for their own organizing.
An attempted mobilization by far Right group La Meute (Wolf Pack) at Oka, Quebec, on Saturday, September 15, 2018, was stopped in its tracks by Mohawk activists who refused to let the racists cross their territory at Kanesatake. Mohawk community members rallied to block entrance to the reserve as a vehicle caravan of La Meute members and supporters sought to gain access. La Meute is known for its anti-migrant and Islamophobic positions and has organized several public rallies in Quebec.
The racists, who flew several banners and flags with racist slogans from their vehicles clearly viewed their efforts as some form of intimidation and provocation. It did not work as they were forced to turn away. The Quebec provincial police, the SQ, did the usual work of police in assisting fascists as they intervened to escort La Meute supporters away from the blockade, Mohawk resisters sent them all off with warnings not to come back.
The far right, anti-migrant, anti-Muslim National Citizen’s Alliance (NCA) has announced that it will host a national convention in Halifax, Nova Scotia on November 17. The Calgary, Alberta, based organization has also announced plans to run candidates in the 2019 Canadian federal (national) elections, through they are not yet an officially registered party. Their leader is Stephen Garvey. The racists are also planning a public rally for November 18.
Vocally opposed to immigration and multiculturalism in Canada the NCA (formerly the National Advancement Party of Canada) couches its racism in appeals (obliviously) to “Canada’s traditional identity, heritage, culture” and they refer to the “basic cultural norms of Canada” that they want migrants to be made to adhere to. Their campaign will pursue a “strong no nonsense immigration policy that puts the well-being and safety of the Canadian people first and implementing a temporary pause and substantial reduction in immigration.”
There have been at least three previous attempts at public rallies in Nova Scotia by the NCA in the last few months alone. Each one has been shut down by mobilized anti-fascist, anti-racist opposition, including the K’jipuktuk Halifax Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) . In June opposition shut down an attempted rally at a Halifax park. In August the NCA tried twice to hold a rally in Dartmouth but were largely outnumbered by about 80 to 10 and escorted from site by those dependable allies of far Rightists, the local police.
In May, the Annapolis Valley Apple Blossom Festival “banned” the NCA from attending the festival but only after egregiously allowing them to participate in the festival parade. There they marched openly with a banner reading: “Save Our Canada!” and uploaded a propaganda video from the parade.
Halifax anti-fascists and anti-racists have been able to mobilize significant numbers to confront and drive off the NCA, a few times this year already. Looks like they will be doing so again in November.
It has long been said that cops and klan go hand in hand. This holds in Canada as in the US. On Saturday, September 8, 2018, Toronto police provided a personal security detail to ensure that fascists were able to march through the streets of Toronto, the country’s largest and most diverse city. The march was the first of two slated to happen over the first weekend after Labor Day. Groups claiming attendance include PEGIDA, Soldiers of Odin, Wolves of Odin, Worldwide Coalition Against Islam, Proud Boys, Northern Guard, and III%ers, a veritable cross section of neo-fascist and white supremacist groups in Canada. About 65 fascists in total showed up.
Witnesses say Toronto Police Service (TPS) formed a wedge to force through groups of counter-protesters who came to oppose the fascsists. At one point, witnesses report, police punched an Indigenous woman in the face to clear a path for their kindred spirits.
PEGIDA put forward the call under a banner of the memory of 9/11 as the rallying cry for their march. Initial numbers put antifascists at at least 30 with PEGIDA et al at only 10. Cops formed a barrier protecting the fascists. At some point a larger group of 20 fascists showed up, with a dozen or so more joining later, and police moved against the antifascists. Toronto City bylaw enforcement officers supplemented TPS.
Antifascists held ground to stop the march from starting despite the aggressive actions of police. Of note, several non-participant members of the public cheered on the counter-protesters against the fascists. At least one antifascist was arrested on phony claims of assaulting prominent white supremacist Eric Brazeau. These actions came after a series of confrontations between antifascists and the Soldiers of Odin, the white supremacist anti-immigrant patrol organization that started in the Nordic countries before expanding over to Canada.
It is worth pointing out that TPS actions came only two weeks after some of their members were photographed, in uniform, with neo-Nazi candidate for mayor Faith Goldy.