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.
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.
On June 30th, far-right provocateur Joey Gibson brought his group, Patriot Prayer, back to Portland in an effort to stoke the anger of a city grieving from violent racist attacks. On June 3rd, Patriot Prayer held a march whose sole purpose appeared to be to fight the left. Lacking in political content, the repeatedly marched their crowd into counter-protesters, attacking them at will. The Proud Boys, the Alt Light street-gang started by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnis, has become the dominant portion of Patriot Prayer’s base as the rest of their larger support by Trump republicans slowly recedes. Over the past year many their key young participants have joined the Proud Boys, to the point that Patriot Prayer seems to be simply an extension of the regional Proud Boys crews.
On June 3rd they attacked people with increased brutality, though were fought back readily by a crowd of antifascists organized by Rose City Antifa. They eventually were unable to continue their marching and were chased off the streets as their numbers dwindled. They vowed to return to “stand their ground,” announcing the June 30th date.
On the day of, it was clear that they had dug into their connections across the country and had Proud Boys from crews in multiple states including, reportedly, California, Washington, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and others. The crowd was dominated by Proud Boys in their yellow/black Fred Perry shirts, and after a school bus of additional Proud Boys arrived from over the river in Vancouver, they numbered around 80 participants. (Note, some people have listed the number closer to 60, some closer to 100. For our part, we counted about 80.)
They held their typical round of speeches, with long-winded diatribes from Joey Gibson comparing himself to the “founding fathers.” Then a Proud Boy rapper named Political Muscle, a white guy with clunky rhymes, did raps about Antifa. Another speaker discussed the Book of Revelation and the Satanists that control the government, and who were communists, were going to install all of us with RFID chips (The Mark of the Beast).
Once it was time for their march they got into multiple, well-planned formations and put on body armor, preparing to attack. They were open about this, mentioning that they were there to push back on the left and to fight if they deemed it necessary. They were hit with bottles, eggs, and other projectiles right out of the gate as they turned the corner away from the park. Two blocks later they took a left and were met, without obstruction by the police, counter-protesters. After a short standoff the Proud Boys charged protesters and attacked in brutal fashion, often ganging up on individuals and beating them on the ground. Several people went completely limp on the ground and had to be rescued by passersby, and could have died without that support. Ambulances had to come through to pull out the critically injured, including one protester who had cranial bleeding and a fractured skull.
Once the Proud Boys were pushed back, the police declared their permit pulled and the scene a riot, amid the dozens of flash grenades and pepper-balls they were firing. The Proud Boys continued their march despite this, yelling at the police even though it was clear that law enforcement had let them attack protesters without objection and had aimed their crowd-control weapons almost exclusively at antifascist protesters. One local reporter wrote that they had heard the police talking in a coffee shop nearby and saying that they were tired of this and would “just let them fight.”
As the march continue there were more and more disruptions from antifascists that were swarming on all sides, resulting in dozens of street brawls. In several of these situations, as is clear in the video, the Proud Boys were allowed by the police to continue their beatings, and sometimes even appeared encouraged to do so. Eventually Patriot Prayer was forced back into their park under police protection, unable to complete their march.
The video below clearly shows the Proud Boys level of violence, which is only increasing. This was one of the most brutal situations of far-right violence in a city that has been marked by skinhead attacks, and as it escalates it seems that the Proud Boys could easily become murderers. Without the antifascists there, including Rose City Antifa, the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, and Labor Against Fascism, a lot more people would have been hurt. They successfully pushed back their advance and denied them unopposed use of the space, a victory that has continued for two years now.
Joey Gibson will be returning on August 4th with a similar strategy, and antifascists will be out there to stop him.
A year after Patriot Prayer, and it’s leader Joey Gibson, brought in white-nationalist and neo-Nazi speakers for an Alt-Right rally they returned with another rally labeled as a “Free Speech” event. This came one year after the action they held in the same location on June 4th, 2017, where almost four thousand people came out to oppose them. This charade quickly became clear when they showed up with the white-nationalist and misogynist hate-group Proud Boys and attacked journalists, one incident involving a Portland Mercury reporter being shoved and then questioned who she was reporting for.
Anti-fascist groups Rose City Antifa, Eugene Antifa, Rash NW, Pacific Northwest Anti-Fascist Workers Collective, and others organized to shut down this rally and prevent white-supremacists and those that give them a cover to organize under from marching in the streets and instilling fear in the at-risk communities that they target.
Police struggled to keep Patriot Prayer’s numbers protected which lead to panic and anger from their crowd. After several attempts by Patriot Prayer to march, all of which were prevented by the large coalition of anti-racist activists, Patriot Prayer returned back to Terry Shrunk Plaza and called it a day.
Several core members of Patriot Prayer, along with Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who has been arrested for fighting at past events, were chased throughout the streets of Portland and finally found police protection at the Portland Waterfront. The numbers of the crowd opposed to Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys had swelled from random onlookers who only had to hear who was being chased to join in on defending their town from hate.
Rose City Antifa has continued a series of articles outlining exactly who these Proud Boys are and a call to hold them publicly responsible.
- The Pacific Northwest Proud Boys – White Nationalist Social Club
- Pacific Northwest Proud Boys – Robert Zerfing, Travis Nugent, Caleb Stevens, Ethan Nordean
Here is the Facebook event for the June 9th action against Patriot Prayer in Kent, WA, where Patriot Prayer is targeting a Planned Parenthood location
Patriot Prayer will also be returning to Portland, in the same plaza, on June 30th to further antagonize the city. There will be a counter action.
As the far-right is constantly shifting and redefining itself, both in the U.S. and in Europe, it can be hard to pin down the enemy so as to create a successful counter force. Antifascism today requires a deep understanding of the underlying principles and behaviors of the fascist right, as well as to understand how social movements can and should operate in the 21st Century.
Below is a conversation between Shane Burley (Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It) and Alexander Reid Ross (Against the Fascist Creep) about what makes up the fascist movement today, how it is changing, and how antifascism can be strengthened. A particular amount of time here has been dedicated to the idea of “decolonizing antifascism” and how antifascist can think about fascism as a truly international force that is not only cemented to Europe and the U.S.
This article is an addendum to the recent piece written by Shane Burley for the Institute for Anarchist Studies, Twenty-Five Theses on Fascism. The below article builds on that discussion, and responds directly to a criticism published here.
By Alexander Reid Ross
During the late Soviet days, the bohemian dissident Alexander Dugin used to stay up late with an assembled group of aesthetes in the flat of Yuri Mamleev, situated just a few blocks from the great statue of poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. The circle of friends who trudged down Yuzhinsky Pereulok to Mamleev’s apartment building, ringing six times before gaining entrance and climbing six flights of stairs to his flat, engaged in what they called the “mystical underground.” Exchanging stories on ancient myths, esoteric secrets, and cosmic mysteries, the “Yuzhinsky Circle” embraced alcohol, guitars, and occult fascism. They participated in Satanist ritual, held séances, and hoped to reach a kind of reality-breaching mystical state through which everyday reality might break down and the delirium of fascist worship would bring the arcane from the ether all “Seig Heils” and “Heil Hitlers” (Clover 152-153).
A wild, freewheeling drinker, Dugin mistakenly left a collection of forbidden texts in his own apartment, and when KGB agents found them in a search of his house, he catfished on the Yuzhinsky Circle to save his own hide. Joining a KGB-connected “historical restoration society” (read: ultranationalist political organization) called Pamyat (Memory), Dugin wormed his way to the core of nationalist leadership advancing through the waning Soviet nomenklatura before another Russian fascist pushed him out for his ambition (Clover 161-165). Subsequently, Dugin moved to Western Europe in 1989 and took up with the so-called “European New Right” in Belgium and France, where he learned the networks of European fascism and the parlance of “geopolitics” (Shekhovtsov 37). Also in France was Eduard Limonov, a Russian punk who had lived dissolute in New York City before joining the European New Right in France in guest editing the left-right satirical periodical L’Idiot International (Lee 317-319, 478n74). After the fall of the Soviet Union, Limonov and Dugin returned to the Motherland, met amid red-brown circles, and designed the National Bolshevik Party while disseminating fascist precepts through other party organizations, such as the populist Russian National Liberal Party and the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (Atkins 81; Chaudet, Parmentier, Pelopidas, 54; Clover 209-213; Sedgewick 231-232).
Their ideology hinged on geopolitical notions of “large spaces”—a spiritual empire from Lisbon to Kamchatka comprised of ethno-states in which cultural minorities would be Verboten (Bar-On 205). Yet they insisted on other ideas for the spectacle—absolute power in the form of the man, whether Bakunin, Stalin, or Hitler (Shenfield 209). Sweeping, history negating deeds that could remake the past through a stroke of expurgatory violence. “A revolutionary has his own morality: it is the effectiveness and success of his struggle against global despotism,” Dugin would write in Eurasian Mission (158). Insisting that liberalism depends on techniques to the point of gutting meaning from life, Dugin’s Fourth Political Theory insisted, “the liberal discovers his way to [fascism] when he takes one step further and achieves self-affirmation as the unique and ultimate instance of being” (110). The uniqueness of the individual opens to affirmation not unlike what Heidegger discovered in Nietzsche’s later works called “positive nihilism”—the clearing and leveling process of destructive nihilism that opens to a movement toward philosophical recreation (poesis). “Logos has expired and we all will be buried under its ruins unless we make an appeal to chaos and its metaphysical principles, and use them as a basis for something new,” Fourth Political Theory continues. “Perhaps this is ‘the other beginning’ Heidegger spoke of.” (211)
What stirs in the heart of these feverish words is the heart of revolutionary idealism—the deconstruction of the reality produced by the various moving pieces of everyday life through an act of symbolic sabotage that at once reveals the obscure meaning of life and death, the movement of the stars, the arcane. Yet the direction of this motion toward sublime truth is contaminated with ultranationalist presuppositions that manipulate revolution toward the ends of insidious interests. This is why it’s fatal for revolutionaries to ignore fascism in its germ—its summoning and deployment of revolution theory, its assessment of nihilism and usage of avant-garde constructions. Yet Paul Simons, with his captious review of Shane Burley’s 25 Theses on Fascism, does exactly this while seeming to promote the old canard that “the left are the real fascists.” We will see how a skewed reading of both Burley’s text and source texts facilitate this strange turn in Simons’s analysis, allowing him to conclude with unfounded attacks on left antifascists rather than carry out a concerted effort to locate and disperse fascism where it lies.
First, we might begin with an assessment of the more finicky claims Simons makes regarding Burley’s points. First on Arendt, Simons faults Burley for making her subjective hatred of Eichmann’s willingness to participate in genocide through bureaucracy into a general re-evaluation of the malaise of Germans when faced with that genocide. Yet are the two not coterminous? Eichmann’s behind-the-scenes consent to fascist genocide, channeled through bureaucratic punctiliousness, represented the crisis of modern alienation from not only the means of production, but the means of mass destruction. “The logic of the Eichmann trial,” Arendt wrote, “would have demanded exposure of the complicity of all German offices and authorities in the Final Solution — of all civil servants in the state ministries, of the regular armed forces, with their General Staff, of the judiciary, and of the business world.” However, Arendt contends that the trial “carefully avoided touching upon this highly explosive matter — upon the almost ubiquitous complicity, which had stretched far beyond the ranks of Party membership” (my emphasis) (Arendt 13).
For Arendt, as Judith Butler observes, the crimes of Eichmann were carried out by Germans throughout the land, largely emerging from “the degradation of thinking” and “the way in which the crime had become for the criminals accepted, routinised, and implemented without moral revulsion and political indignation and resistance” (Butler). Surely there is room within this larger critique of mass inaction during the Shoah for Burley’s comment on the “malaise” of the German public and bureaucracy — an observation similarly made by Baumann, among others (29). Why fault Burley for his interpretation, in line with the best literature on the Holocaust, rather than investigate more deeply the questions of why—why did the Shoah happen and do we not see a hauntingly similar degradation of thinking in modern society from today’s Executive Branch to the general public?
Continuing a sad refusal to confront material rather than wrestle with facts, Simons faults Burley for using Benjamin’s assessment of fascism as the “aestheticization of politics” by claiming, tendentiously, that Benjamin’s reversal in the form of Communism (politicization of aesthetics) is a “swipe” (!) rather than a restitution. In fact, Benjamin understood aesthetics as deeply political. Margaret Cohen’s text is vital here: “Benjamin makes use of surrealism, then, not only for its shocklike aesthetics but also because the movement provides a conceptual paradigm with the potential to explain why these shocklike aesthetics work to political effect” (197). Benjamin of course took option with the vulgarity of Marxists’ focus on economics, but still actively maintained a politicalizing approach to aesthetics and an open affinity with the left. The trouble here remains that Simons seems too quick to call foul because he wants to score points against the left instead of engage in genuine discourse.
Looking at these two crucial misreadings, we must observe that, after criticizing Burley for using two thinkers very close to, if not within, the Frankfurt School (Arendt and Benjamin), Simons faults Burley for ignoring “completely” the Frankfurt School. Clearly in a compact 25 Theses Burley will not be able to delve completely into every contention held by all manner of thinkers who have ever considered fascism. Because Burley did not mention Poulantzas or Malatesta or Simone Weil or García Lorca, for instance, does not mean that he has ignored those writers. Yet the way Simons, himself, ignores appropriate understandings and usage of Arendt and Benjamin speaks to a disingenuous and insensitive reading.
Contending with Fascist Statism
Perhaps more importantly, Simons privileges the statal attributes of fascism over its non-statal and even anti-state processes to the point of pretending the latter don’t exist. Fascism begins, as with Dugin’s “mystical underground,” as a kind of collection of different disenfranchised ideological formations focused on overthrowing liberal democracy and restoring a kind of archaic, mythical sovereignty. Simons does not recognize this and in fact references Giovanni Gentile’s famous entry in the Enciclopedia Italiana di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, written in 1932 in efforts to sum up the Fascist ideology. Early formulations of fascism that emerged first in 1914 and then again following World War I are either avoided or revised in that publication. Fixed within the context between Mussolini’s solidification of the Italian Fascist state and the rise of Hitler to power in Germany, Gentile’s work presented a propaganda piece meant to show off the intellectual grandeur of Mussolini’s power rather than a descriptive assessment of the functional core of the movement. In point of fact, several years before Mussolini asked Gentile to produce the Doctrine of Fascism, he would insist that Fascism could have no doctrine, because it was an impulse rather than an ideology.
According to historian David D. Roberts, “Fascism was ‘anti-intellectual’ insofar as intellectualism suggested the need and the scope for some dogma, some finished ideology, some rational blueprint. The Fascists agreed that there could be no such thing precisely because history was open-ended in ways only now being fully grasped. Under the circumstances, the key was to create the instrument for ongoing action – action that was itself open ended – as opposed to laying out some intellectualistic blueprint. Mussolini often boasted that Fascism was modern in precisely that sense of eschewing doctrinal baggage, the better to keep up with the grand and mutable reality of life. And he took delight on turning the tables on liberal critics; skeptics had said that Fascism was ephemeral because it lacked a doctrine, ‘as if they themselves had doctrines and not instead some fragments adding up to an impossible mixture of the most disparate elements” (289).
It is unclear what happens when one approaches fascism “teleologically,” as Simons encourages us to do, because he has not explained what he means; however, if one approaches it historically, with Roberts or Paxton, for instance, one finds that fascism tends to undergo metamorphosis as it rises to power. First as a revolutionary phenomenon linking left and right through an aesthetic glorification of violence and destruction often associated by fascists, themselves, with nihilism, fascism gains the fidelity of a hardcore group of idealists in the middle classes, reactionaries among the ruling class, and military men hoping to use their skills for the nationalist cause. Gradually, as fascists organize and assemble larger bodies, their ideology is more firmly established in communication with other contending political powers in order to absorb them, compromise with them, or destroy them. Once fascists attain power, their ideology is concretized into a dogma that can interpellate subjects into a functioning economic and political system. These systems can vary depending on the place, as the Romanian Iron Guard state differed significantly from Italian or German fascism. However, this very concretization leads to a kind of inertia through which fascists abandon their revolutionary precepts and either effectively become conservatives or simply lose power (Paxton 23).
Most unsettling of all is Simons’s claim that fascism cannot exist without a nation-state. Firstly, fascism repudiates the Westphalian nation-state, searching for more mythical understandings of sovereignty than Althussian federalism and its like could offer. In the words of scholar Stephen Shenfield, “fascism has never been committed to the principle of the nation-state. Its ideal has been rather that of the multiethnic empire, within which to be sure one particular nation was to occupy the dominant position” (16). For this reason, Hitler looked down on the parliamentary system underpinning the Kaisership when compared to, say, Frederick Barbarossa or Frederick the Great (Kershaw 13-14); and similarly, Mussolini could not appreciate an messy Italian nation-state forged through the Risorgimento more than the glamour of Scipio Africanus (Quartermaine 210).
The point is that this sort of Imperium is the desiderata of fascists from Francis Parker Yockey to Troy Southgate to Dugin, all of whom demand a spiritual empire of federated ethnic territories constructed through a kind of traditionalist unity implied by the “daily plebiscite” assumed under patriarchal control. Denying the “anarcho-fascist” tendencies of Michael Moynihan and male-tribalist Jack Donovan, or the “national anarchist” tendency of Southgate, opens the door for the kind of entryism that has plagued radical milieux associated, unfortunately, with Anarchist News and Anarkismo. Given the fact that fascism, in its earliest phases, relies on insinuating itself within subcultures and left-wing factions to grow, those tendencies must remain actively aware of these basics, or else fall prey to its machinations. We have seen radicals’ susceptibility to incidental cooperation with fascists time and time again—whether it is La Vielle Taupe in Paris moving from ultra-left revolutionary center to a hub for Holocaust denial or, more recently, egoist Wolfi Landstreicher publishing his translation of Max Stirner’s The Ego and Its Own (Now called The Unique and His Property) through a press run by a fascist who attends fascist meet-ups like the National Policy Institute, asserts eugenicist positions, and does art for books by Donovan and white nationalist leader Greg Johnson.
Simons’s ongoing denial is why his insistence that all attempts at mass organizing enlist the tactics of fascism (in fact, the fascists explicitly enlisted the tactics of leftists who came before them) appears so scurrilous and baseless. One might hope that a bit of clarity would be granted to the conversation by identifying tactics, themselves, as less the purchase and property of a given political organization than operationally useful for different reasons. From that point, we might begin a meaningful discourse on our successes and failures as antifascists. Otherwise, taking pot shots at the antifascist left is a lousy substitute for adept analysis.
- Arendt, Hannah. 1965. Eichmann in Jerusalem. New York: Viking Compass Books.
- Atkins, Stephen E. 2004. Encyclopedia of Modern Worldwide Extremists and Extremist Groups. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group.
- Bar-On, Tamir. Rethinking the French New Right: Alternatives to Modernity. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Baumann, Z. 1989. Modernity and the Holocaust. Maldon, MA: Polity Press.
- Butler, Judith. “Hannah Arendt’s challenge to Adolf Eichmann.” The Guardian. 29 August 2011. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2011/aug/29/hannah-arendt-adolf-eichmann-banality-of-evil, retrieved December 17, 2017.
- Chaudet, Didier, Florent Parmentier, and Benôit Pélopidas. When Empire Meets Nationalism: Power Politics in the US and Russia. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Clover, Charles. 2016. Black Wind, White Snow. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
- Cohen, Margaret. 1995. Profane Illumination: Walter Benjamin and the Paris of Surrealist Revolution. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.
- Dugin, Alexander. 2012. The Fourth Political Theory. Translated by Mark Sleboda and Michael Millerman. UK: Arktos Media Ltd.
- Dugin, Alexander. 2014. Eurasian Mission: An Introduction to Neo-Eurasianism. Edited by John B. Morgan. UK: Arktos Media, Ltd.
- Gregor, A. James. 2004. Giovanni Gentile: Philosopher Of Fascism. Piscataway, NJ: Transaction Publishers.
- Kershaw, Ian. 2013. Hitler. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Lee, Martin A. 2013. The Beast Reawakens: Fascism’s Resurgence from Hitler’s Spymasters to Today’s Neo-Nazi Groups and Far-Right Extremists. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Paxton, Robert O. 2007. The Anatomy of Fascism. New York, NY: Random House.
- Quartermaine, Luisa. 1995. “Slouching Toward Rome: Mussolini’s Imperial Vision.” In Urban Society in Roman Italy, edited by Tim J. Cornell, Kathryn Lomas. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Roberts, David D. 2006. The Totalitarian Experiment in Twentieth-century Europe: Understanding the Poverty of Great Politics. New York, NY: Routledge.
- Sedgewick, Mark. 2004. Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century. New York NY: Oxford University Press.
- Shekhovtskov, Anton. 2015. “Alexander Dugin and the West European New Right, 1984-1994.” Eurasianism and the European Far Right: Reshaping the Europe–Russia Relationship. Edited by Marlene Laruelle. New York, NY: Lexington Books.
- Shenfield, Stephen. 2016. Russian Fascism: Traditions, Tendencies and Movements. New York, NY: Routledge.
Below is an interview with Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It author Shane Burley discussing the Alt Right, anti-fascism, and what a mass movement looks like.
So where did the Alt Right come from?
The Alt Right really comes from a few converging political movements, both inside and outside the U.S. The real beginnings of this goes back to France in the 1960s when a number of far-right intellectuals laid the groundwork to “rebrand” fascist ideas using the language of the left. The European New Right, led by figures like Alain de Benoist and Guillume Faye, used the language of the New Left, appropriated the arguments of post-colonialist and national liberation movements, and attempted to engage in a type of “cultural struggle” as proposed by Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci. Their ideas really were to pick up where the German Conservative Revolutionary movement and Radical Traditionalist thinkers like Julius Evola left off and argue for a going after the culture with nationalist values. If they change the way that Europeans think about the world, and think about themselves, maybe this can allow a radical shift in politics down the line.
They argued that they were “anti-colonialist” and that white European nations had been “colonized” by forced of “globalist” capitalism and modernity. Their argument was then for “Ethnopluralism,” a sort of “nationalism for all peoples,” that could then fight the destructive elements of modern multiculturalism, internationalism, and capitalism. This approach avoided racial slurs, violent white nationalist politics, and the baggage of fascist political parties, and really laid a heavy intellectual groundwork for a new generation of fascists who wanted to appear as academics rather than Klansman.
The next is really paleoconservatism, a sort of far-right American conservatism that defined itself in opposition to the hawkish foreign policy of the neoconservatives that were coming into power inside the GOP in the 1980s. They saw themselves as a part of the “Old Right,” which was likely a fantasy rather than a reality, which was isolationist, traditional, and America First. The paleocons were aggressively conservative on social issues, especially in reaction to queer rights and the AIDs crisis of the 1980s, and were reactionary on racial issues. Pat Buchanan was the best known of these figures, though he was moderate by their standards.
The third real key element to the Alt Right is old fashioned white nationalism. The white supremacist movement in the U.S., rebranded in the 1990s as white nationalism, has a train going back to the early part of the century as it had to define its ideas as the rest of the world was leaving vulgar racialism behind. Many of the major Alt Right institutions, such as American Renaissance, VDare, and the Council of Conservative Citizens, trace back to years of white nationalism past. The difference with the Alt Right was really one of tone and class rather than ideas. There has always been a suit and tie contingent inside American white nationalism, but the Alt Right wanted to scrape the top of that intellectual layer off and crystalize it. The ideas were not much different, but they wanted to make sure that it would mimic radical movements on the left that have huge depth inside the academy.
The Alt Right, really then the Alternative Right, was a concept created by Richard Spencer with a web zine of the same name in 2010. He wanted to capture an energy he found while working at the paleoconservative magazine Taki’s Mag that was coalescing around different schools of thought. The European New Right had largely not had major texts translated into English, but they were starting to make their way over, and that was a huge foundational set of ideas for the Alt Right. Against modern conservatism, capitalism, Judeo-Christianity, and Americanism, it instead wanted an elitist, traditionalist, and aristocratic right. It broke with American conservatism, which was still founded in enlightenment values, and was open that it believed race was real, identity was fixed, and human beings were not equal. Paleoconservatism had been considered the edge of mainstream conservatism for years, so that is where a large amount of the its founding energy came from. It was white nationalism of America that ended up giving it its focus on race and its aggressive tone, which then allowed it to merge with the troll culture found on places like 4Chan and the Men’s Rights Movement.
From that cauldron it created its own synthesis, a more academic foundation for its racism, an aggressive revolutionary aspect from white nationalism, and the communities and connections from paleoconservatism.
What is the ‘Alt Light’ then?
The Alt Light is the sphere of slightly more moderate right-wing people that surround the Alt Right, giving them cover and helping to mainstream their ideas.
Fascism has always required a bridge to the mainstream. Even inside the GOP, open white nationalism is not going to bring a ton of converts on its own, it needs to have a stop over point if their ideas will have currency with the beltway. Political movements have done this in years past, whether it was the Goldwater campaign, pro-Segregationists in the 1960s, or paleoconservatism in the 1980s-90s.
Today, the battle is more cultural than traditionally political, just as the European New Right had always wanted. The ideas and community were also forged online, so it would make sense if it was online cultural figures ranting on social media rather than fringe politicians.
The most obvious of the Alt Light was Breitbart and, now, Rebel Media. Milo Yiannoupoulos was the first to really champion the Alt Right’s ideas without committing to open white nationalism, anti-Semitism, and anti-egalitarianism. Later it would be Gavin Mcinnis and his Proud Boys, Lauren Southern, Alex Jones and the conspiracy and patriot crowd, or anti-immigrant nutjobs like Anne Coulter. The “free speech” rallies have been this in the physical world, as have many patriot militia types.
The main point is that they are often “civic nationalists” rather than racial ones: they are simply more inclusive in their authoritarian nationalism. This means, though, that the Alt Right and the Alt Light won’t agree on some of the really big questions like race and eugenics. In that way, the Alt Light, like any of these more moderate crossover movements, are built to betray their more radical counter-parts. In the end, Milo refused to really endorse the Alt Right’s racialism, the same with figures like Laura Loomer, and, therefore, they were unable to continue the relationship. This is a very traditional process as well. The more moderate folks who were helping to mainstream the white nationalists eventually betray them and leave them behind. And the alienation that those nationalists feel during this process is often what leads to desperate acts of violence.
Is it this process of marginalization that is leading to acts of Alt Right violence? Is this violence going to increase?
It is hard to say definitively that the violence of the Alt Right is going to escalate, but the pattern is pretty well established. Right now it appears as if acts of organized violence from Alt Right and white supremacist groups is increasing, especially in the wake of the “free speech” confrontations with antifascist groups and with the debacle at Charlottesville, and that violence is turning bloody. At the same time, acts of “seemingly random violence” are increasing, with the murder of Heather Heyer just being a recent example.
This process of white supremacist terrorism, which often plays out as “seemingly random violence,” is often less random than it appears. In the 1980s, after decades of failure to meettheir objectives, many insurrectionary white supremacists took to the strategies of “lone wolf” terrorism and “leaderless resistance.” These eschewed more formal revolutionary organizations for random acts of violence that were intended to have a “propaganda of the deed” effect on the white working class. They believed that these acts would spark “racial consciousness” in white people and create a race war. In periods when more conventional organizing, both community organizing and political organizing, fail to show white nationalists any results, these attacks increase exponentially. These are also mixed with the increase of violent street formations, which in years past included KKK and skinhead projects and today look more like the Proud Boys and Vanguard America.
With the massive platform denial that the Alt Right has faced since Charlottesville and the growth of a mass antifascist movement, this is largely where the Alt Right is at. Desperation, failure, and the inability to meaningfully organize leads to increased acts of violence. While the Alt Right has been hit very hard in the last few months, it isn’t gone, and its acolytes will likely turn towards violence before they simply disappear.
Antifascist organizing has seen a massive explosion with a whole number of organizations and types of projects out there. What kind of work should someone do who is just now wanting to get involved?
This really depends on who they are, where they are, and what they want to do. The honest truth is that we always want novelty in times of crisis, and there is certainly some room for that, but this is also a good opportunity to re-establish and re-enforce the organizations that have been doing this work for years. Many organizations go back more than a decade and have a great handle on antifascist praxis, from how to handle neo-Nazis taking space to doxxing and reporting detailed information to even drawing together mass coalitions. The first real step would be to look at those organizations that have a track record in doing the work and see if that is something you can connect with. This is doubly important given the very real material threat that white nationalists offer to people’s safety. Not only are they targeting marginalized communities, but they are going after those that dare to stand up to their growth, and they often target individuals and make examples of them. This means that it is important to not behave recklessly or go off half cocked, and instead work with organizers who are experienced, know how to do the work, and give it the care and respect it deserves.
The other thing would be to look at what skills and resources you bring to organizing work, and what type of organizing and projects you can fit into your life. I don’t offer this line as a way of providing an “out” to the actual organizing work, it requires organized coordination in formalized groups that are going to do the not-always-fun organizing work, but it is important to make sure that you are able to continue contributing over time. It is not uncommon to find activist projects that explode with excitement only to peter out months down the line when those doing much of the work find that it is unsustainable in the way planned. Instead, find a pace and commitment you can sustain over time because continued involved over longer periods is always going to be most effective.
I would also caution against putting too much faith in large electoral or reformist movements, they often fail to deliver the kind of movement building or direct action necessary for antifascist work. Instead, it may be good to look at organizations that have a deeper foundation in their analysis, that look at the ways that capitalism and white supremacy feed and necessitate insurrectionary fascist movements. We are not going to Democrat our way out of the rise of populism and white nationalism, and instead we are going to need to have much deeper solutions. This will also require looking towards community defense as the Alt Right and neo-Nazis pose a threat of violence. Plainly put, they are out there murdering people, and if we do not organize to stop them then this will only increase.
When did white nationalism first come on your radar? This isn’t exactly a new thing.
No, it’s not, it really has been one of the most consistent features of the white supremacist institutions of the U.S. It is really one of the ways that the system of racial injustice gets its sharp teeth. In the segregation-era South, it was insurrectionary groups like the Ku Klux Klan that helped reinforce the system through the extralegal violence of lynchings. Technically not state sanctioned, but encouraged and socially condoned anyway. White nationalism has also always existed as the sort of violent reclamation of privilege. In times of crisis, rather than choosing to target the white supremacy that enforces worker subjugation, they scramble after lost privilege and attack people of color. This violence is a consistent feature of the way white supremacy works in late capitalism, reinforcing itself repeatedly.
I began looking at what was then called the AlternativeRight.com in 2011 when famous Holocaust Denier David Irving was touring through upstate New York, where I was living at the time. When doing research I ran across a podcast that was covering different far-right figures, and the interviewer had a certain way of speaking that seemed as though it could catch on at some point. That was Richard Spencer, then editing his webzine AlternativeRight.com and hosting a podcast called Vanguard Radio. From there he sort of lingered in the background through 2014, seeing increased opposition internationally and even in his then home of Whitefish, Montana. It wasn’t really until 2015, though, that the huge Internet cadre going under #AltRight came forward, and his movement got energy beyond their quiet conferences and academically-toned articles.
How have antifacists been approaching the rise of the Alt Right? What has been different or successful in the last couple of years?
Honestly, they have been getting shut down everywhere.
The Alt Right, for years, focused on an academic demeanor. Their move towards what they call “IRL [In Real Life] activism” is pretty recent. So one of the main sites of struggle was things like their public conferences, especially from the National Policy Institute and American Renaissance. Organizations like the One People’s Project has made it a focus to confront those conferences for years before the term Alt Right was commonly known, they even got the American Renaissance conference shut down in 2010 and 2011. The National Policy Institute conference has also been a site of growing protests, with attendants photographed and doxxed regularly. This has created such an issue that Richard Spencer, who runs NPI, was unable to even get the same public venue this year as he had for the past several. Instead they had to cram into an unheated barn whose owners booted them when they realized who they were.
One place that has become an increasing location of conflict is on college campuses. Groups like Identity Europa have honed on college recruitment, and “crossover” groups, who we often call Alt Light, like Turning Point or many Trumpist College Republican groups, have acted as a trojan horse for Alt Right ideas and members. So antifascist campus groups have grown heavily, and flashpoints like the appearance of Milo or “free speech” rallies have seen huge battles. Richard spencer wants to focus on public universities since they are more indebted to support his “free speech,” which means they will use hundreds of thousands of dollars of public subsidies and student tuition funds to pay for security if he appears. The Alt Right is also about “cultural struggle,” the Gramscian battle to change the culture to make it more palatable for their influence. All of this means that the college campus if very important and a main focus for them.
This has inspired a massive growth in college campus centered groups that are challenging them. The Southern Poverty Law Center, known for its lawsuits that have crippled white supremacist organizations and for its detailed reporting on hate groups, has moved in the direction of campus organizing. Their Columbia University chapter has taken on speeches by Mike Cernovich and the founder of the European Defense League, along with the Liberation Collective.
The Campus Antifascist Network is another huge example, growing really quickly since its announced formation only in August. They have been taking on huge challenges, defending professors threatened by fascists, confronting events by Milo and other speakers, basically responding to Alt Right organizing on campus.
The success of different projects has really been from the willingness to do the hard organizing work, to commit to high quality research and journalism work, and to build connections with a real world presence. The organizations that are successful are not just avoiding interacting with fascists, they are getting into the middle of things. Here in Portland, groups like Rose City Antifa, the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective, the Unite Against Hate coalition, the Rural Organizing Project, among others, really have come together to challenge the space occupied by far-right outfits like Patriot Prayer, who have basically protected explicit white nationalist groups. They challenge them directly, often with thousands of people in tow.
The increase of the far-right’s “free speech” rallies, which were happening in notably liberal cities simply to get a reaction, saw an increase in this battle over space. In Boston, directly after Charlottesville, a similar event sponsored by Proud Boys brought out 40,000 people in response. This did not just go to another area of the city, but came directly to the space that the fascists hoped to hold. The Alt Right’s event was effectively canceled by this, and then they continued the march, growing the community presence, reaching out to affected communities and people interested in organizing, and creating a strong and vibrant set of alliances.
Groups like the IWW’s General Defense Committee have used this mass movement antifascist approach, working in plain sight and building a mass movement with the community while refusing to allow white nationalists to have space. Redneck Revolt has done similar work in more rural areas, trying to connect with the people that would be the recruiting base for “Patriot” militias. Groups across the gamut, from non-profits like the SPLC, the Rural Organizing Project, and the Montana Human Rights Network, to militant antifascist groups, have all stepped up a presence to create long-term organizing solutions that don’t see each incident as a one-off affair.
It is hard to overstate just how bad the Alt Right is at actual organizing work, they birthed their ideas out of chatter not action, but without an organized opposition they will find a way.
By Jeff Shantz
In fascism, the monsters of childhood come true. – Theodor Adorno
In the words of tragic cultural theorist, and victim of actual fascism, Walter Benjamin, “Behind the rise of every fascism is a failed revolution.” A contribution of the Frankfurt School is thinking through the connection of the failed revolutions and fascism. While Trumpism might differ from historic fascism in not following a failed revolution (unless one looks at the failings of a mass movement like Occupy which is a stretch) it does respond to the failings of hopeful liberalism.
This is expressed in terms of fear and a seeking for comfort among those who feel or perceive a loss of status. Understanding rebellion and resistance in the current period also must involve coming to grips with the Trumpist counter-revolution and currents running through it.
How might the Trump phenomenon, and seemingly rising proto-fascism, be understood? While it is still early in the development of Trumpism (it is also late in terms of stopping real social harms from being inflicted) some outlines can be drawn.
Deceiving The Crowd
Trump can readily be situated within historical trajectories of fascism and Right wing populism. One can look to the historical social and psychological conditions of the nineteenth century. Then too popular progressive movements from below, including anarchism, were (quite rightly) viewed as a challenge to conservative elites. The growth of the masses in democracy raised concerns for elites about how to preserve their rule. Elite concern over these movements was the subject of numerous public discussions. Examples of social scientific writing on this include Gustave LeBon’s The Crowd and The Psychology of Revolution and John Henry Mackay’s Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
In The Crowd LeBon recommends mass deception to ensure a favorable outcome for elites. In the approach outlined by LeBon, conservative elites cannot actually practice democracy but must deceive the masses to appear to be doing so. One might pursue this argument in thinking about the role of so-called fake news and alternative truths in the Trumpist mobilization and the centrality they find among his key organizers like Kellyanne Conway. LeBon focused on supposedly irrational crowds that could be used by demagogues. LeBon was cited favorably by Mussolini and Hitler.
Passive democracy is no match for the power of the myth to mobilize the masses. This perspective finds an echo in the work of Georges Sorel and his emphasis on social myth. Sorel identifies the supposedly irrational in politics. In his view political actors must understand feelings that move the masses to action. LeBon speaks of elite manipulation. Sorel focuses on popular mobilization. These tendencies are combined in the figure and action of Mussolini. This convergence is reproduced in the Trumpist movement.
Nazi theorist of political power Carl Schmitt suggests conservatives must play the democratic game in order to maintain power. According to Andrew Sullivan, Trump is a result of too much democracy. Trump is of the crowd, by the crowd, for the crowd.
Precursors to Trumpism can be found in the works of Gottfried von Herder and Joseph de Maistre. In Trumpism, the artist of Romanticism is transferred to the entrepreneur or magnate who is presented as an artist (the art of the deal). The supposed genius of the entrepreneur, the “art of the deal” is contrasted with the supposed mediocrity of the mass and the degeneracy of the political establishment (the corrupt hacks of the swamp of Washington). Fascism proposes an elite that can save the nation from the degenerate state. This makes clear the choices made by Trump in his cabinet. The cabal of millionaires and billionaires are the elite who will bring about national rebirth. The ones posed as “doers.” They will make America great again. (Notably, Kevin O’Leary a financial blowhard and reality TV star is running for leadership of the Conservative Party in Canada as one of the entrepreneurial “doers,” his word, who will make Canada great again also).
The Trauma of Neoliberalism
To understand the response to Trumpism one must also understand the trauma of neoliberalism, the context of popular dissatisfaction fear, and hope. The advent of neoliberalism initiates a crisis period (see Shantz 2016, Crisis States). This involves punitive accumulation and a redoubled accumulation of wealth for the wealthy. The neoliberal period can be understood as a traumatic period of four decades. Social trauma. Margaret Thatcher even referred to “a short, sharp, shock.”
Fundamentally, neoliberalism has changed and dismantled processes of socialization and mutual aid. Indebtedness and a sense of being alone in your own debt. It is your responsibility alone in a context of declined social support. Supporters are people dispossessed and feeling left out or feeling threatened economically. This is a sense of being dispossessed or not cared for by society. Neoliberal trauma is a loss of power as a collective capacity to act. Dislocation and isolation are conditions ripe for authoritarianism (both are central to Hannah Arendt’s account of authoritarianism).
Clinton, foolishly, took on the task of reducing expectations and denying people their frustrations. She played a role of lessening the experienced impacts of neoliberalism. Impacts that Trump acknowledged and affirmed. Sanders offered another story of the white working class, if in limited, constrained, terms. Clinton held a bond to the failed program of neoliberalism. This was a condition for Trump’s victory.
Properly understanding Trumpism perhaps requires a theory of trauma related to association with the aggressor. In an actual assault, one can get through with support and understanding. Hypocrisy gives victims a sense of abandonment. This leads to compliance. You perceive things as you are supposed to not according to your own feelings. One has to give up critical thinking since it raises possibilities of separation. You comply so you belong. Any feeling of abandonment can evoke this. This is associated with feelings of shame.
Compliance is a response when society does not accept or value someone for who they are. There is an intimate connection between neoliberalism and hyper-responsibility. Issues of inequality and injustice are viewed as being the individual’s fault. Society does not owe you anything (unless you are wealthy, in which case you are owed tax breaks, grants, subsidies because of your greater contributions to a trickle down economy that will benefit everyone).
A response is compliance and omnipotent fantasy. Excess can be directed toward scapegoats. This relates to a sense of exceptionalism and belonging for those who align with the authority. A reality of compliance is expressed through a rhetoric of standing up for oneself. People whose trauma has been invalidated need their trauma to be known. Trumpism expresses a move from individual trauma to social trauma. There is an individual sense of loneliness and sense of dispossession.
The crowd is typically understood by theorists like LeBon in relation to the agitator. Trump is an agitator rather than an insurrectionist. The agitator focuses on groups who can be targeted. The agitator does not want followers to think too much.
There is an attempt to individualize the mob in the form of the figure. The figure will tolerate reality for them. What they cannot tolerate, the figure can and will. He speaks to discreet self-identified groups who identify in terms of losers (in trade, globalization, internationalism, metropolitanism, etc.) but not as classes. Agitation uses emotional tools to reinforce the power structure. The agitator differs from revolutionaries and reformers.
Trump is an over-inflated narcissist. He appears, on surface, to have none of the insecurities his followers are trying to escape. He is the mirror they look into and wish to see themselves. He is appealing to people who otherwise feel powerless. Secondary narcissism stimulates feelings of belonging and loss. Trump, unlike his followers, exhibits no self-questioning, no self-doubt. This is a great relief to his supporters. He is shameless, he has no shame. Refusal to feel shame is a guide to people. Trump expresses a politics of shame and a politics of repugnance.
Fascism promises certainties. It promises a return to more easily understood or familiar conditions for sectors of the population who feel threatened with loss of standing or position (these are often middle strata groups that feel economically insecure or threatened with decline rather than the poor).
Regular folks who support Trump (even as he represents elite interests) can see Trumpism as making the country great again while they are largely able to continue on with their lives. It does not ask much of them but promises much (even if it never delivers on those specific promises). The imagined community or imaginary love of a powerful leader emerges as an outlet for repressed drives even if the program is not realized. Charismatic nationalism offers narcissistic gratification and an outlet for repressed drives against the externalized other.
On Fake News and Alternative Facts
It has been well remarked that Trump shows a contemptuous regard for truth or facts. He is appealing to the constrained who do not want to be hemmed in or constrained by facts either, as they are by so much else in their lives. This is related to the wish to win that Trump so effectively conjured during his campaign (with his repeated emphasis on America winning again, winning huge, etc.).
Primacy of the wish to win is related to the sense to which one feels dispossessed. Trump tells an emotional truth for his supporters even if he is widely seen to be lying. This truth is his anger and the affirmation of his followers’ anger. This is the truth that comes to matter, a point rational critics generally overlook or misread. Omnipotent fantasy cannot be told the factual truth. There is a turn to emotional truth. Trust is based not on his truth claims but on the sense that he will do what really needs to be done. His supporters trust his promised power.
There is a libidinal investment of the masses in the leader. They have fallen in love with him. The crowd enjoys vicariously through the leader. Trump, on their behalf will restore the lost narcissistic idea of the nation. He will “Make America Great Again.”
Critical thinking isolates you and isolation is part of the problem in neoliberal societies. There is a pleasure in feeling free from thinking. It is partly presented as a reaction against the constant thinking through of political correctness (doing what you are supposed to do and thinking through the implications of all utterances, let alone actions). So-called political correctness (simple decency perhaps) is constructed as an artificial strategy that maintains hypocrisy.
Unknowing is derided but critics fail to see the enjoyment it can provide. Ignorance can indeed be bliss. Trump represents a poverty of ideas. He expresses a cathartic change. Trump is a grotesque character type. In the enactment of aggression, Trump is both a fool and a wizard.
Trump speaks the analytic session: be spontaneous; speak the repressed; no emphasis on truth; free association. Trump brings the language and posture of the analytic session. What of the return of the repressed? What is repressed is fear and hatred of the other.
Living with fascism has been the underbelly of US politics for a very long time. It is not coming, it has been there. Frankfurt School theorists Max Horkheimer and Erich Fromm did not see the United States as immune to fascism. Their view is developed significantly in the largely forgotten “Studies in Prejudice.” See also The Authoritarian Personality and an earlier study on anti-Semitism in the US.
Fascist tendencies exist in all modern capitalist societies. This was true even after the defeat of fascism in World War Two. Resentment has been mobilized against the post-war social welfare state and union movements. It has focused on the progressive redistribution of wealth, particularly as it has benefited members of minority groups.
From the 1980s on there has been a reversal of these tendencies as state capitalist regimes have abandoned welfare state policies in favor of Crisis State arrangements (Shantz 2016). This shifted has been effected under the so-called neoliberal consensus for state managers. The turn to neoliberalism coincides with the rise of a new generation of Right wing parties. At the same time this period has seen the decline of communist and socialist parties and movements in the West. There is a rise to prominence of Right wing parties and fascist groups. This is happening everywhere. Russia and Putin. India. Much of the blame belongs with failed democratic, labor, and social democratic parties that still refuse to break with neoliberalism. Trump breaks with neoliberal consensus. This is expressed in his election opposition to trade deals.
What the Left wishes to secure through cultural means (recognition and inclusion) the fascists will actually secure through material and military means. The challenge of Trumpism is also a challenge to rethink positive resistance politics. There is certainly a need for the Left to re-evaluate its politics. On the Left, there has been a loss of the language of solidarity as a shared fate. And a politics unrestrained by economics or program.
LeBon, Gustave. 2002 . The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind. New York: Dover
Shantz, Jeff. 2016. Crisis States: Governance, Resistance & Precarious Capitalism. Brooklyn: Punctum
By Jeff Shantz
The rise of Trump and more importantly the far Right movements around him raise some questions about the nature of the Trumpocalypse (and its relation to Right populism or more to the point to fascism). The question is now being asked whether or not it is true that there is fascism of some sort in the US at the present time. While not providing a firm answer on that question there are some initial tendencies or shaping features that are suggestive and should be addressed. These are outlines of Trumpocalypse rather than hard and fast conclusions.
Fascism refers to a unique and most extreme form of bourgeois rule. This is so because under fascism the bourgeoisie gives up some of its control to shock troops and loses its customary hold over the mechanisms of liberal democracy. Big capital desires fascism to do its dirty work for it and fascism becomes a tool of big capital. Finance capital through fascism gathers all the organs and institutions of the state. Schools, press, municipalities. Not only the executive. Workers groups are crushed. At its heart fascism is an armed movement that uses extreme violence against the Left.
Some suggest that populism is a more useful term than fascism right now. Yet there are problems with the use of populism to describe the far Right movements today. Centrist notions of populism equate Left and Right. Both are lumped together as non-liberal, against trade, etc., and therefore both are bad. In this way the centrist notions of populism are similar to earlier versions of totalitarianism analysis, as in the work of Hannah Arendt, for example. FDR was referred to as a fascist by some communists. While at the same time Hitler was called a passing phenomenon—to be followed in turn by a victorious proletarian revolution.
At the same time there is a Trumpism—against urbanism, rationalism, metropolitanism. It is a proto-fascist movement. It is about a dynamic. The proposed “purification” of society. A new anthropology—creating the human anew (as in fascism).
Of some importance, there is a tendency to underestimate the movements of contemporary brownshirts in the US. Some commentators might still assume that real fascists in the US live in bunkers in the desert and are merely odd survivalists. But that is a dangerous misreading of current movements. It is an analysis from the 1990s. Fascists today, and this is one thing that can be said about the Trump campaign, have come above ground.
Trump and Brownshirt Infrastructure
Trump represents the construction wing of Wall Street. He will oversee a regime of infrastructure building particularly of Brownshirt infrastructure. That is infrastructure of repression such as prisons, policing infrastructure. His will be a regime of building as his campaign expressed—build a wall; build prisons; build detention centers. He will provide help to banks and he will provide help to construction industries.
Trump will build his base and reward it through Brownshirt infrastructure and physical infrastructure (roads, bridges, airports). This will help the Midwest and the Rust Belt and shore up his base in those areas. That means it will reinforce the white nationalist base and white nationalist rhetoric.
Tax holidays for corporations to repatriate wealth. If taxed at one percent it could be used to fund Brownshirt infrastructure. Funding would be through banks and government would secure the loans. This will be a state assisted accumulation of capital.
Trump represents warmed over Reaganomics. His plan is the dream of investment bankers. The DNC will carry out his agenda as it benefits Wall Street. There will be a battle in the DNC over the nature of support for Wall Street. They will do so around infrastructures spending and a child care tax.
The Democrats will align with Trump. Sanders, Warren, Chuck Schumer, and the AFL-CIO have all said they could work with Trump. They will hope to gain some credit for some policy decisions. Yet this will only reify Trump as the dealmaker who gets stuff done and can work with anyone (on his terms) as he has said throughout his campaign. There will be no benefit accruing to Democrats for doing this.
This raises the need for organizing within the infrastructure industries. At present too many unions in those industries are crass business unions with less than progressive practices.
Contemporary far Right populism, Trumpism, in the US, is something of a coalition of the one percent with people of all classes who are outcast (dislocated from the social system at all levels), declasse (particularly, of course, among white American males). People supporting Trump are not the most downtrodden, not the classic lumpenproletariat, as is often assumed. They are instead the ones who fear losing their assumed place in the social structure, those who fear precarious status and economic decline (the much talked about loss of the middle class).
Fascism comes to power when the Left has abdicated its role and responsibility. That is when it is not fighting fascism directly in the streets or when it has not carried through a revolution in the making. Today’s far right operates in a different context and has a different intent.
In Europe and Latin America there are right populist movements. There are fascist organizations, but they are small and few in number. Furthermore, they have no significant connection to either capital or state power. Big capital is not significantly supporting the fascist groups. The main purpose of the current far right is anti-globalism. But big capital wants globalism. Social phobias find a home in the parties of the far right—nationalism, not globalism.
The one percent (particularly building capital) has little interest in populism. It wants migration, for example, in order to keep wages down and increase completion on the labor market. Indeed, many of the voices for the movement of refugees come from neoliberal capital rather than the broad Left.
Historic fascism emerged in face of an imploding world market. Some might suggest that there is no need of fascism for capital since there is no Left working class movement and no imploding world market.
Yet one can see hints of an answer in current social struggles, particularly over extreme energy. As one instructive example we might look to the militarization of police at Standing Rock. Some mobilization against extractives. Is this being used as an impetus for capital to mobilize fascism in the present period? The militarization has already happened in Canada. As the stakes get higher this militarization will increase. It has not yet developed in the form of Right wing mobilization of civilian gangs to attack Indigenous peoples defending their lands. But there are isolated individual instances that suggest it could.
When Reform Fails
Far Right populism is what you get when social reform or social democracy fails. Today there are not significant working class movements of the Left in the US. Right wing populism thrives where the Left has failed. There have been mass movements representing refutation of elites and neoliberalism recently. Arab Spring, Indignados, Occupy Wall Street represent examples. There has been, since the decline of these movements, a hard swing to the Right. This is represented in Trump, Modi, UKIP, and the Front National in France, etc. In the current context the far Right has taken up the challenge that the Left has failed to meet.
The Left has abandoned even its bread and butter “wheelhouse” issues. There is virtually no Left movement against global trade agreements anymore. While there has been some spoken opposition against CETA and the TPP there is no semblance of the public mobilizations that challenged NAFTA in the 1980s and early 1990s and the WTO in Seattle in 1999 or the FTAA in Quebec City in 2001. There has been no large scale movement against any of the smaller agreements passed over the last few years either. And that is at the level of manifestations, not at the level of organization in workplaces and neighborhoods.
And this has been an organizational challenge. The Left in the West has built very little in the way of real world, material infrastructures of sustenance and resistance. Unfortunately the far Right has moved in to occupy this abandoned territory. Megachurches gave a center to sprawling suburbs. They provided community life. The Left used to do this but does not anymore.
Unions are business unions and there is no contestatory ideology. They offer service for workers for pay. They organize over contracts and grievances. It is a commodified form of unionism. There is nothing that makes mainstream unions inherently working class, let alone radical working class. Organized labor has become a form of clientalism. Organized labor does not organize labor. It is focused on contract negotiations. There are some public campaigns on issues like education. There are some “get out the vote” efforts.
Neoliberal Populism Today
The present period is perhaps closer to the 1970s period of neoliberal populism. The Left in the 1970s was marked by three different tendencies. First was welfare state social democracy. Second was the advocacy of class conflict. Third was the denial of class (post-modernism).
Neoliberalism impelled a shift from understandings of classes to notions of taxpayers versus elites. Corrupt elites were understood not as capital and politicians but as state bureaucrats and unions within neoliberal frameworks. Individual liberation was viewed as everything. The aim of neoliberal populism was identified as getting welfare state and union bosses off your back, not capital. This would supposedly allow anyone to win in the market game. These were staple views espoused by Reagan and Thatcher.
After some years of course the realization grew that the market game produced mostly losers. And these losers were working class. By the time this realization set in for broad cross-sections of people there was no likelihood of getting back the welfare state that neoliberals had transformed (into a carceral or workfare state). Capitalist globalization circumvented and destroyed unions.
Now neoliberalism is unpopular and the welfare state is not on offer. The Left cannot deliver on hopes for a return to the welfare state. Right wing populism emerges keeping at its center the rugged individualism of neoliberal populism. But now it has also to focus on bailed out bankers and big capital. It must focus on corporate welfare as well as social welfare as its motivating social ills. But, not surprisingly, Right wing populism gives less focus to corporate welfare. Indeed, for Right wing populists many of their leaders are part of the establishment.
Neoliberalism has made the irrationality of supporting capitalism (a planet destroying system) seem to be the only possibility on the planet. Right wing populism has been ramping up a counter-revolution in culture. It is a cultural counter-revolution rather than an economic counter-revolution.
The Democratic Party claims that they can be and will be better managers of neoliberal capitalism. They claim to be more efficient and thus will be able to manage more tax money to put into some, limited range of, social programs. They also claim a more diverse base of interests in their representative politics. The Democratic Party since 2008 has, despite the hopeful rhetoric, been pro-Wall Street and pro-war as, indeed, it has always been. They offer nothing to the working class, even in the Sanders wing.
Fascism always needs to be fought directly, not argued with. You cannot fight power unless you build power. There is a need for organizing infrastructures of sustenance and resistance. Syndicalist organizing and a militant approach to challenging structures of ownership and control are crucial. On the one hand there will be a need to organize against development capital. On the other green syndicalist approaches can connect struggles over extreme energy and extractives.
It might be recognized that organizers have to engage with some Trump voters (some, not by any means all). Not doing so is to replay the elitism of Hillary Clinton. At the same time, and crucially, organizers have to support and defend the main targets of Right wing populism. There is a pressing need to find the common ground there.
There are real questions about how to provoke progressive politics in the US. One necessity is to refocus on locally based struggles and work to share them and their lessons internationally.
Some have suggested a Left Tea Party. This is a futile hope. There is no Left equivalent of the Kochs and Coors who build up Right wing infrastructures. The Left cannot have a Left version of the Tea Party. The Left has no real organizational form or movement like the Tea Party. The Tea Party was a real movement, it was not strictly Astroturf. There is no equivalent on the Left.
One approach is to think of organizing space. Especially in the cities. Trumpism is a war against the cities. It is a war against diversity. It is a war against metropolitanism. Cities are refuges of migrants, queers, women, unions, the Left. Cities are also a concrete space. Imagined communities do not exist the way cities do. There could be a broad based strategy focused on cities.
Cities are controlled by real estate developers. Thus struggles confront the Trump wing of builders and real estate capital. Cities are huge bases of support and opposition. They are large economies. There is a need to organize city by city. At the same time it is a historical fault of the Left not organizing the working class in the suburbs. Suburbs are the areas of the working class. Yet the Left organizes downtown in the city center.
Finally something must be said about the anti-Trump protests. The Republican Party wants to pose the working class as white reactionaries. Anti-Trump protests are working class protests. The diversity of the working class. A working class revolt against Trump. These manifestations are already posing questions of organization (beyond street manifestations) anew.