Category Archives: populism

Insurgent Supremacist: An Interview With Matthew N. Lyons on Antifascism, Anti-Imperialism, and the Future of Organizing

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.

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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.

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#AllOutPDX Against Patriot Prayer on August 4th: What You Need to Know

On Saturday, August 4th, there will be one of the largest actions against Patriot Prayer, and their acolytes the Proud Boys, in the two years they have been terrorizing the West Coast.  Coming from Washington and areas around Portland, they have been converging on the city to hold far-right rallies with deep anti-immigrant, Islamophobic, homophobic, transphobic, and incredibly violent rallies where they have been attacking leftists.  Patriot Prayer, while using the civic nationalist rhetoric of “independent Trumpism,” have made themselves a vessel for white nationalist groups, including the active support and participation of groups like Identity Evropa, the Traditionalist Workers Pary, Cascadian Legion, Operation Werewolf recruits, as well as members of neo-Nazi skinhead gangs and “Patriot” militia groups like the Oath Keepers and 3%ers.

The last several rallies and marches from Patriot Prayer have increasingly become centered on the Proud Boys, the civic nationalist street gang that is known for its violent attacks.  On June 30th, the Proud Boys brutally attacked counter-protesters, critically hospitalizing community members, and this came after several unprovoked street attacks from various Proud Boys in the weeks before.  This Saturday they will be holding another public rally, centered on founder, and Senate candidate in Washington Joey Gibson.  This event has a vague goal of “freedom” and other buzzwords, but the point is to attack the left.

This action is being countered by a massive coalition.  Pop Mob, which means “popular mobilization,” has organized a mass coalition to march and amass on Patriot Prayer.  Rose City Antifa and other militant organizations will be having a huge direct response to Patriot Prayer, and both projects are coming together in mutual aid to shut down Patriot Prayer.

Here are the critical things that every attendee on Saturday should know.

10:30am

There will be a rally at City Hall in downtown Portland made up of a number of community groups and labor unions to stand against Patriot Prayer’s hateful rhetoric.  This will include SEIU Local 503, the Western State Center, Portland Jobs With Justice, and others.

11:30

Converge on Tom McCall Waterfront Park at the Salmon Street Fountain.  This is where Patriot Prayer will be coming.  This action will be frontlined by militant antifascists, including Rose City Antifa, Eugene Antifa, PNW Antifascist Workers Collective, SHARP, and RASH NW.  This will be backed by Pop Mob, which makes up the large mass of participants.  This coalition has been endorsed by a range of groups, from the one’s listed on the 10:30am rally to other groups like KBOO, Black Rose – Rosa Negra, the Democratic Socialists of America, and many other churches, labor unions, and community groups.  This is one of the largest coalition actions of the year.  This means that there will be spaces for both type of participation, and the “green zone” behind the militants intended to be a space where protesters can be protected to speak their views and support the protest of Patriot Prayer.

People are no longer meeting at Chapman Square, that was a placeholder location until Patriot Prayer revealed their actual location.

Patriot Prayer will have the ability to carry guns, and many promise to be armed.  If they are in Terry Shrunk Plaza, where they often amass, they are banned from bringing in weapons because it is a federal park and their are regulations preventing that.  This is not the case for Waterfront Park, and they have been open about bringing guns.  The announcement of the guns is intended to frighten counter protesters, and in a recent video from Joey Gibson he included a young boy playing with a semi-automatic weapon.

Patriot Prayer is also saying that they are going to be putting upwards of 35 members of their own group, including Proud Boys, dressed in black bloc clothing into the antifascist crowd.  Those people can then attack counter protesters or try to catch them being foolish.  This groups is supposed to be run by Russell Schultz, one of the violent Proud Boys doxxed by Rose City Antifa.  This is likely bluster to create a sense of internal discord, but may be something to watch for.

The far-right side is raising money to bring in Proud Boys from other state, and they had between 60-80 at the June 30th rally.  They could be bringing even more this time, and they will all be coming in at least four busses from Vancouver, across the river in Washington.  Those busses will have armed security on them.  The Proud Boys are the most violent contingent, and will come in body armor specifically to fight.

Protocols

  • Go in groups, do not walk by yourself.  Stay with the large crowd of protesters.
  • Prepare for police repression, depend on antifascists for defense and not the police.
  • The large mobilization is safer when they are all together, and the militant bloc is prepared for community self-defense.
  • Rose Hip Medics will be there, they are street medics trained to provide support to protesters injured by far-right thugs and the police.
  • InfoWars “reporters” are going to be there to try and harass protesters on camera.  Gibson and Proud Boys have gone on InfoWars to celebrate brutalized community members and to erroneously claim antifa are bringing guns.
  • Reporters and photographers/videographers should respect boundaries, including avoiding close-up shots on masked protesters.  Movement photographers should be aware that PP members are going to be using cameras in your crowd, so make sure to check in with others in advance so they know what you are filming and you can get good boundaries.

Patriot Prayer Releases Their Rally Info, Meeting at Waterfront and Canceling Berkeley Rally

Joey Gibson, the founder of Patriot Prayer, is finally putting out more information about his intentions for the August 4th rally, which is informing the antifascist organizing plans.

Joey Gibson is calling for people to be at the Fred Meyer on Columbia Way in Vancouver, WA at 10am if they want to take the busses down to Portland that he has secured.  He is promising to have armed security on each bus.  He is suggesting that everyone rides the shuttles, which he says are personally owned by attendees and not rented, so they will be there after the rally.  He is putting several teams on call for in and out transfer for people needing to get out, no matter at what point he feels his people will be at risk during the rally.

These are the same busses that were used when Joey came down to harass people at the ICE encampment, and gave them some cover to get out easily.

He has also announced that they will be at the Waterfront Park in Portland, though he has not released all the final details yet.  He promises that the full info will be out this weekend.

Though Joey tried really hard to keep everyone together for the August 5th rally in Berkeley, after the August 4th rally in Portland, though he did not organize it.  He suggested that people “back stabbed” him in regards to the rally.  The American Guard, founded by Klansman, had been a part of the organizing.  Gavin McInnis, the founder of the Proud Boys, eventually pulled the Proud Boys from appearing, and so Joey Gibson decided that he did not want to be a part of it.  In a recent video, Gibson expressed anger of the results of this rally, and blamed it on infighting and personal problems inside their movement, calling them “little demons” and suggested it was a “spiritual problem.”  Joey ended up doing a second video as well, discussing the growing infighting in their movement, especially between the people in Vancouver and Berkeley, and they are desperately trying to keep their movement together.  As far as we can tell, the August 5th rally in Berkeley is over and all of their attention will be on the Portland one.

The Portland rally he expects to be one of their largest, including better preparation and no coordination with the police.  Their position at the Waterfront means they will be out in the wide open space.  There is also some reporting that suggested that Gibson called the location so his people can bring weapons, which they could not do in the federal park like Terry Shrunk Plaza where they have held past rallies.  Rose City Antifa has changed the meeting location for their action to the Waterfront to meet Patriot Prayer, and Pop Mob is continuing their pre-protest rally at City Hall with the support of organized labor and community organizations.

Below is the information for Patriot Prayer’s rally, as put out by Joey Gibson.  This is the information they are giving to their rally participants.

The Portland Rally will start at Salmon Street Springs at the waterfront in Portland Oregon at 1000 SW Naito Pkwy, Portland, OR 97204.

It will be secured and ready for buses to drop off Patriots in large groups. Stay together and inside the security.

The bus will be picking people up at 108 Grand Blvd, Vancouver, WA 98661. If you look at the two satellite photos there is a red circle along the road and side walk where people will load onto the bus. There will be armed security on the public sidewalk and the Vancouver Police are aware that we are going to be there. As most of you know the Vancouver Police do not put up with masked criminals like they do in Portland.

Shuttles will start leaving at 10 am. Last shuttle to leave 11:35 am

It is highly encouraged to show up at 10 am to guarantee a seat.

Parking: There is a giant parking lot next to the drop off spot and is extremely busy so it will be hard for people to go after your car but it isn’t a guarantee. People with flags and other obvious items are parking about a mile away and taking Uber in or just get dropped off by a friend.

We have 5 fast buses with armed security on each bus. These are the best way to get in safe and to leave safe. Please come to Vancouver to catch a bus.

People not taking the Shuttle

Those coming into the water front on their own should not be wearing anything that identifies you are with the Patriots. Wear normal clothing and get to Salmon Street Springs from the multiple different ways in.

 

This is the flyer for the Pop Mob pre-event rally, afterwards that crowd will then join the larger antifascist block protesting Patriot Prayer and the Proud Boys.

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Antifascists Confront Patriot Prayer and Proud Boys in Portland on June 3rd [VIDEO]

By Daniel V. Media

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.

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

June 9th – Say NO to Misogyny/Say NO to Hate

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.

Producerism: The Homegrown Roots of Trumpism

Jeff Shantz

The disturbing rise of Donald Trump to the presidency and the growing  mobilization of rightwing forces in the United States has driven attempts to understand and situate trumpism and the particular brand of politics his rise signals. Most commentators have been tempted to look at rightist traditions outside of the US, whether right populism in Europe or Latin America or historic fascist movements as in Italy, Germany, or Spain. Yet I would suggest we can better understand trumpism and its place in rightist developments in the US by looking at a forgotten homegrown American lineage—producerism.

Producerism refers to a political-economic perspective of right wing populism. At the center of producerist ideas and movements is the notion that so-called productive members of society, typically industrial or more skilled workers, small business people, and individual entrepreneurs are threatened by dual pressures coming from so-called parasitical strata both above and below them in the social hierarchy. From above are the economic and political elites who live parasitically by usurping the value produced by their workers in the form of surplus value or profit. From below the middle class workers are threatened by the poor, unemployed, and those who receive social welfare. Both the elite and the non-elite strata live off of the value produced by the middle classes. Producerists present a picture of an imperiled middle class that is responsible for social wealth, growth, and development but is constantly squeezed by non-productive forces from above and below. The dual squeezing of middle class labor is said to drain society of its productive faculties and resources, leading to stagnation and eventual decline. The end result is a society that is lazy and unproductive due to pressures toward idleness, parasitism, and freeloading. For producerists, the middle class are the real engines of social growth and development are should fully enjoy the fruits of their labor, free of undue control from capital or taxation by government.

Producerism is an undertheorized, often overlooked perspective, yet one that has influenced a range of historical and contemporary right wing movements. Producerism was developed by organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan to mobilize working class whites against former slaves, union organizers, and Jewish workers in the aftermath of the American Civil War. Producerism found some expression in William Jennings Bryan’s populist opposition to the rail and mining monopolies in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. In the 1960s producerist rhetoric was used by George Wallace in his anti-federal, campaigns for states’ rights. It also found expression in Richard Nixon’s appeals to the “silent majority” and his so-called “Southern Strategy” to become president. Contemporary expressions of producerism are found in the Reform Party of America and figures like Pat Buchanan and Glenn Beck. The more recent Tea Party movement in the US, and its rhetoric of middle class decline, tax-cutting, cuts to social spending, anti-immigration policies, etc. is perhaps the most dramatic recent expression of producerism as a political movement. The images of the “Momma Grizzly” or “Hockey Mom,” popularized by Sarah Palin, are expressions of the tenacity or resilience of the middle class and entrepreneurialism.

Producerism represents a critique of capitalism and free market ideologies, but does so from a conservative or reactionary rather than a radical or progressive perspective. For producerists, the primary class within social change is the middle class rather than the proletariat or working class more broadly, as in anarchism and communism. In producerist perspectives, it is the so-called productive middle class, particularly better paid industrial or skilled workers rather than service sector workers or the poor, that produces value in society.

The value produced by middle class workers suffers a dual expropriation by economic and politics elites. On one hand the value they produce at work is expropriated by executives and owners who retain that value as profit. On the other hand the portion of value retained by middle-class workers as their wages is expropriated by government elites in the form of taxation. For producerists, middle class workers always bear a disproportionate and unfair burden in national taxation schemes.  On the one end, corporations enjoy a variety of tax breaks, rebates, and loopholes.  On the other end, producerists claim that the poor and lower wage workers are not taxed as heavily. This latter claim, of course, overlooks the heavier burden placed on lower paid and poor workers by regressive taxes such as consumption or sales taxes. The earnings expropriated through taxes are redistributed both upwards (as corporate grants and tax relief) and downwards (in social welfare spending for the poor and unemployed).

The usurpation of middle class value by large corporations and international finance capital siphons wealth out of the country, limits free enterprise and entrepreneurship, and destroys small business through monopolization. At the same time, the underclasses and migrant labor drain productive wealth away from entrepreneurs and industrial production giving it instead to supposedly wasteful government programs that benefit the least, rather than the most productive, strata in society.

Producerists, unlike anarchists, anarcho-syndicalists, and communists, are typically not anti-capitalists. Producerists differ from anarchists or anarcho-syndicalists even in the way that they view capital. Some producerists draw a distinction between what they view as productive industrial capital (which is usually portrayed as domestic) and so-called idle or unproductive financial or speculative capital (which is often constructed as international). While industrial capital is involved in the production of real material goods that address specific needs, such as automobiles or refrigerators, financial capital is viewed as purely symbolic or frivolous, undermining productive capital by wasting resources on speculative schemes aimed only at profiting the financiers. Speculative capital is connected with the rootless interests of cosmopolitan or multinational investors. This distinction between national capital and international capital or investors can give rise to racist formulations as in anti-Semitic constructions of finance capital as part of a Jewish world conspiracy. Such were the infamous formulations at the center of Nazi ideology, in which ill-defined notions of Jewish, cosmopolitan, and communist were equated in a paradoxical framework that also included global capital (also ill-defined).

In the period of capitalist globalization companies engaged in outsourcing, global movement, or investment, rather than domestic production, are viewed as a threat. Some producerists advocate protectionist policies and high tariffs to safeguard the domestic economy and workers. Foreign transnational companies are viewed as a threat, yet domestic transnationals, such as Wal-mart and Ford are viewed more favorably. The internationalist threat is, once again, posed from above (bankers, financiers, Trilateralists, the United Nations) as well as from below (socialists, communists, migrants, labor solidarity).

While primarily economic in orientation producerism often takes on cultural critiques.  Middle class values, associated for producerists with a sturdy work ethic, patriarchal and heteronormative family structure, and values of thrift and conservatism, are counterpoised against the so-called “decadence” of supposedly unproductive classes such as artists and writers.  These cultural workers, who are believed to live from government subsidies, grants, or welfare, are viewed as dangerous bohemians who threaten economic prosperity as well as cultural values.  Their “lifestyles” are again viewed as being subsidized or underwritten by the productive work and surplus value produced through the labors of the hard working middle class.

Often the terms are racialized as the middle class is presented as white and African-Americans and Hispanics are presented as lazy or bound by “cultures of poverty.” Producerists often take on nativist, even explicitly racist, positions toward immigrants.  Immigrants are viewed as a threat to the middle classes as they can be used to drive down labor values by expanding the labor market and, thus, depressing wages. Producerists accuse migrants of representing a drain on social services, particularly welfare, education, and health care.

Producerist narratives are often also gendered, presenting middle class workers as male and proper families as male-headed.  The narratives are also often heteronormative, presenting homosexuality as a form of unproductive decadence that threatens cultural values of restraint and discipline.

Producerism bears some relation to notions of social Darwinism in which poverty is viewed as the lack of “fitness” of the poor who should be left to survive by their own labors. Where the poor fail to succeed or survive the outcome is viewed as a reflection of natural selection at work.

The political ideology with which producerism bears the greatest similarities is indeed fascism. Indeed fascism is often viewed as a form of producerist ideology. Fascism, like producerism, also presents a view of society in which the middle class suffers a dual threat coming from above (financial capital) and below (the poor, unionized workers, the left). Hitler expressed the view that the state should respond only to the claims of the productive classes which excluded migrants and the poor.

Some producerists support skilled craft associations, even craft unions, as free associations of individuals. Yet they oppose industrial unions, particularly radical or syndicalist unions, as threats to production or advocates for the less productive. It bears watching to see what types of union formations might emerge as part of contemporary trumpist initiatives and to oppose them.

 

Further Reading

Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.

Betz, Hans-Georg and Stefan Immerfall, eds. 1998. The New Politics of the Right: Neo-Populist Parties and Movements in Established Democracies. New York: St. Martin’s Press

Laclau, Ernesto. 1977. Politics and Ideology in Marxist Theory: Capitalism, Fascism, Populism. London: NLB

Zernike, Kate. 2010. Boiling Mad: Inside Tea Party America. New York: Times Books

 

Originally Published in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review #70