All revolutions start as the basic refusal of an oppressed person to follow along with the rules of their own subservience. The autonomous Marxist tradition breaks from many understanding of economics and history to say that it is what it calls “Working Class Self-Activity” that brings about crisis. In 2007-8 we saw an economic collapse not just because of the nefarious actors on Wall Street, but because an entire working class decided to refuse to go along with the destruction of real wages and living standards. Through de-industrialization, attacks on labor unions, and the depletion of the social safety net through neoliberalism, the actual wealth of the collective working class was set ablaze. Debt soared, and workers began to, en masse, take out loans they couldn’t pay back, buy houses they couldn’t afford, and run up credit cards they didn’t care to pay off. They refused to play by the rules of the system that was forcing them into economic and social retreat.
That principle has echoed through history. The crisis of the Civil War came after decades of increasing slave revolts. The similar principle can be seen in peasant revolts across the world, the story of the labor movement and its insurgent actors, and the student uprisings starting in the 1960s.
Kevin Van Meter dives deep into this phenomenon, which he calls “everyday resistance.” This is the kind of resistance that happens no matter if someone is attuned to revolutionary class politics or not. It is the kind of resistance that comes as an act of survival. Stealing from work. Clocking in your friend who is late. Creating mutual aid networks to care for kids. Fighting back against abusive husbands. These are all acts of resistance, and they are, as Van Meter asserts, the foundation of all radical and revolutionary politics.
The question here is how to mobilize this everyday resistance into a fully formed mass movement, and how antifascism and the resistance to Trumpism can build on the instinct towards survival.
The below talk was given at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon.
The history and theory of antifascist resistance were forged both out of the integral battle against fascist forces, as well as the intersections of radical left politics that wanted to go beyond acting simply as a station of resistance. The rise of the Alt Right, Donald Trump, and identitarianism and right populism throughout the West has made this more relevant than anyone would have guessed only a few years ago.
Within that, two authors have written books that dive deep into how to understand the rise of fascism in the 21st century, and the growing mass antifascist movement. Historian Mark Bray wrote Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook analyzing the history, strategy, and theory of ‘militant antifascism,’ a movement that sees direct resistance as necessary. Journalist Shane Burley just released Fascism Today: What It Is and How to End It breaking down the key ideas, history, and tactics of American fascists, and how mass antifascism is rising to stop it.
Both authors came together in Portland, Oregon at the historic Powell’s City of Books to discuss the books, fascism in the age of Trump, and what can be done to stop white nationalism.
With today being Samhain (Halloween), we thought we would share this now classic essay/zine on the radical history of this holiday and tradition. We have reposted the version found at Mask Magazine, including their photo selection, and have also included a link to the zine version below.
By Bradly Stroot
Origins of the Halloween Spirit
Though widely recognized across North America, the origins of Halloween are poorly understood by many of its celebrants, likely due to their dark, unsavory, and disorderly nature. Its calendar date and etymology are undeniably Christian (from “All Hallows’ Evening,” the night before All Saints Day on November 1st), but the spirit that animates this “Halloween machine” is widely thought to originate from the pagan New Year celebrations of the Keltoi people (or Celts) of Ireland.
The Keltoi, whose name is likely derived from kel-, the Indo-European prefix for the “hidden,” were a diverse constellation of Celtic-speaking tribes that spread across much of Europe and the British Isles between the Iron Age and Early Middle Ages, even occupying Rome for a period of time around 400 BCE. Because of these hidden people’s refusal to commit their oral history and scholarship to written records, much of the most spectacular accounts of these “primitive” pagans and their “bloodthirsty” human sacrifice have been written by their imperial enemies like Julius Caesar and thus should be considered suspect at best.
What is known almost for certain, however, is that many Keltoi of the British Isles believed in an afterlife called Tir na tSamhraidh, or the “Land of Summer.” The doors to this Other world were only opened once a year on Samhain (pronounced SOW-in), the period between the two nights of October 31 and November 1. According to Nicholas Rogers, the author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night,
“Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead. It was quintessentially ‘an old pastoral and agricultural festival […] It was also a period of supernatural intensity, when the forces of darkness and decay were said to be abroad, spilling out from the sidh, the ancient mounds or barrows of the countryside. To ward off these spirits, the Irish built huge, symbolically regenerative bonfires and invoked the help of the gods through animal and perhaps even human sacrifice. […] In Celtic lore, it marked the boundary between summer and winter, light and darkness. […] It represented a time out of time, a brief interval ‘when the normal order of the universe in suspended’ and ‘charged with a peculiar preternatural energy.’”
These liminal interludes, as Barry Cunliffe calls them in The Celts, were particularly dangerous because “they were times when anything could happen and it was only by careful adherence to ritual and propitiation that a precarious order could be maintained.” Lisa Morton, another Halloween scholar and the author of Trick or Treat: A History of Halloween, crucially adds that this was the only time of the year with a relative abundance of food and alcohol which contributed to Samhain’s festive and mischievous atmosphere. She also adds that, in addition to Beltane on May 1st, it was one of the two most important days in the Keltoi’s often frightening heroic folk tales, like that of,
“the Formorians, a race of demonic giants who have conquered Ireland after a great battle, demand a yearly tax of two-thirds of the subdued survivors’ corn, milk, and children, to be paid each year on Samhain. The Tuatha de Danann, a race of godlike, benevolent ancestors chronicled in Celtic mythology, battle against the Fomorians for years, but it takes the Morrigan, a mother god, and the hero Angus Og to finally drive the monsters from Ireland – on Samhain, of course.”
In these multiple accounts of Samhain, we can find themes that will come to define Halloween and follow it through its long history – particularly those of liminality, excess, celebration, mischief, darkness, fire, demons, and, perhaps most important to this essay, rebellion. When I obsessively began researching Detroit’s Devil’s Night a month ago, it was not immediately clear what its connection with this larger tradition would be, but as a began to work backward I began to uncover a genealogy that I couldn’t ignore. From the anti-Christian heresy of the medieval British Isles to the widespread arson of 1980s Detroit, we will see as this spirit of Halloween will continue to intersect with several notable subversive moments throughout its long life, constantly re-inventing itself to evade the forces of law and order.
The Witch Hammer, c. 700-1590 CE
Though Samhain provided Halloween with these raw, disorderly materials, it actually gave the holiday very little in terms of concrete practices or symbolism, excepting bonfires. These traditions, including the name of Halloween, came later in the Medieval period with the violent imposition of Christianity and its holy days, All Souls’ and All Saints’ Day.Originally celebrated on May 13 as a remembrance of Christian martyrs who had died at the hands of pagans, Lemuria (as it was previously known) was moved to November 1st by the Pope and rebranded as a more palatable, positive celebration of “all the saints.” Later, the early Church added All Souls’ Day on November 2, conveniently bookending the celebration with an opportunity to pray for the souls of the deceased that were trapped in Purgatory. According to Morton, however, “it seems more likely that the gloomy, ghostly new celebration was added to cement the transformation of Samhain from pagan to Christian holiday.”
Three centuries later, this gloomy and ghostly nature of All Souls’ Day transformed from an exceptional, temporary celebration to the daily reality of most Europeans as the Black Death began to spread throughout the western hemisphere. Beginning in 1346 and peaking around 1350, the plague killed as much as 60 percent of Europe’s population and left the surviving population with an unavoidable preoccupation with death. This, coupled with the simultaneous spread of the printing press, led to the mass circulation of Danse Macabre imagery and a generalized perception of Death as a personified subject, which one can still see in modern celebrations of Halloween. Though the figure of Death was originally portrayed as an animated skeleton, the opportunity was quickly seized by the Church and early capitalists to re-purpose this body of enmity in order to target a rebellious subject whom they had both long considered a threat but were now finally strong enough to destroy: the witch.
According to Arthur Evans’ recently republished 1978 book, Witchcraft and the Gay Counterculture,
“Despite its contempt for magic, the early church did not organize a full-scale attack against magicians and witches because it was not yet strong enough. The Christianity of the early middle ages was largely an affair of the King and the upper class of warlords. The rest of society remained pagan. In addition, early medieval Christians were hampered by a general breakdown of centralized authority in both church and state. Anarchy favored paganism.”
However, as Evans continues,
“By the early thirteenth century, […] the church was much better organized and ready to act. Its immediate target was heresy: the numerous and widespread attempts to combine traditional Christianity with elements of the old religion. To deal with this, the church launched crusades and started the Holy Inquisition. […] Now it began to look at the historical sources of heresy – the surviving old religion that modern historians view as ‘folklore,’ ‘peasant fantasy,’ and ‘strange fertility rites.’ Feeling its privilege, power, and world view threatened by these sources, the fifteenth-century ruling class fantasized that Satan was conspiring to overthrow the power of Christ’s church on earth.
With this consolidation of sovereign power and the figurative marriage of Satan and witches began what came to be known as The Great Witch-Hunt. In Caliban and the Witch, Silvia Federici traces the lineage of this mass genocide beyond just the Christian elite’s fear of paganism but to a whole world of generalized peasant revolts and the powerful, undomesticated women who likely organized them. Though this population was likely quite heterogeneous and their activities today may be likened to those of midwives, abortionists, sex workers, and popular healers among others, their enemies were able to collapse their commonalities into the identity of the witch, which could then be surgically targeted for removal.
According to Evans, the early Church “turned homosexuality into heresy” and began to collapse the two identities so that to call someone a heretic was to call them a homosexual, and vice versa. And “because of the methods of the Inquisition, […] great numbers of Lesbians and Gay men must have lost their lives.” We can also assume that the many individuals who today might have self-identified as transgender were likely also targeted for extermination. Besides the story of Joan of Arc: Transvestite and Heretic, there is unfortunately very little other research into this history and, therefore, my only reference point for this period will be Federici’s figure of the witch-as-woman.
The authorities obsessed over that these witches largely lived alone, relied on public assistance, were sexually “promiscuous,” and encouraged non-procreative sex (by means of contraception and abortions). Because these activities interfered with male supremacy, heteronormativity, population growth, compulsory labor, domestication, and order – in a word, civilization – the witch started being painted as a threat to life itself. According to Federici, “Witches were accused of conspiring to destroy the generative power of humans and animals, of procuring abortions, and of belonging to an infanticidal sect devoted to killing children and offering them to the devil.”
But, according to Federici, these accusations did not spontaneously generate from the witches’ own neighbors overnight. Instead, a highly-organized campaign of indoctrination was introduced from above and spread from to village to village traveling public officials. All this was only possible with the mass generation of propaganda using the most advanced technology of the day – the printing press. Of particular importance to re-imagining these rebellious women as demon-worshipping baby killers were the widely circulated copies of the Malleus Maleficarum and the evocative images created from the engravings of Hans Baldung Grien. In his most famous work, Witches’ Sabbath, one can see precursors to images of witches we still can find on Hallmark cards today – deformed bodies gathering around a bubbling caldron with their animal familiars (later portrayed as black cats), and flying through the air to their subversive meetings with the devil.
Of special significance to the history of Halloween is this last component – the mass gathering of witches at the Sabbath, or Sabbat. Though widely exaggerated by its enemies, some historians have speculated that the Sabbat was an actual nocturnal gathering of thousands where peasants plotted popular revolts against ruling social enclosures.
Given the potentially subversive nature of these massive gatherings, it should be of no surprise then that the “witches” who attended became a target of extermination to the forces of order. Curiously, according to Morton, this is about the same period when a term closely resembling “Halloween” first begins to appear in the English language.
“The choice of All Hallows’ as a major holiday for witches and devils was no doubt coerced from the accused with a political agenda in mind. […] A spectacular witch trial took place during the reign of the Protestant king James I: in 1590, dozens of Scots were accused of having attempted to prevent James from reaching his queen-to-be, Anne of Denmark, by gathering on Halloween night and then riding the sea in sieves while creating storms by tossing live cats tied to human body parts in the water. After the infamous North Berwick Witch Trials, as they were called, Halloween was forever to be firmly associated with witches, cats, cauldrons, brooms, and the Devil.”
Mischievous Nights c. 1600-1900 CE
After this brutal erasure of an entire population and the undomesticated form of life that they represented, one can see a marked change in the culture surrounding the celebration of Halloween, particularly in its embrace of romance, parlor games, and tempered mischief in place of unbridled revolt. According to Rogers, one popular tradition of this era was a public choral performance that encouraged marriage and procreation with refrains celebrating “the wise virgins awaiting the coming of the bridegroom.” These public affirmations of marriage also announced the beginning of the seasons of Christmas and misrule, a temporary period of permitted mischief wherein urban leaders were ritually usurped from power in mock coups by impersonated sheriffs and mayors.
Simultaneously in the countryside, according to a sixteenth century account written by Philip Stubbs, large groups of drunken revelers would parade the churchyards with their horses, singing and dancing “with such a confused noise that no man can heare his own voice,” and demand contributions from their neighbors in order to continue their “Heathenrie, Devilrie, and Drunkennesse.” According to David J. Skal, the author of Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween, it is also within this era that the tradition of the jack-o’-lantern develops, complete with a Christian folk etymology of harmless mischief:
“Jack was a perennial trickster of folktales, who offended not only God but also the devil with his many pranks and transgressions. Upon his death, he was denied entrance into both heaven and hell, though the devil grudgingly tossed him a fiery coal, which Jack caught in a hollowed turnip and which would light his night-walk on earth until Judgement Day. Jack’s perpetual prank is decoying of hapless travelers into the murky mire.”
In this new era of “civilized” Christianity, previous bloody wars between pagans and early Christians were replaced by relatively minor inter-religious skirmishes between Protestants and Catholics – that is, until November 5, 1605. Successfully recognized by its simple injunction to “Remember, remember the fifth of November!”, this was the day that Guy Fawkes, a Catholic malcontent, was caught placing thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in a vault beneath the protestant House of Lords, later known as the Gunpowder Plot.
Fawkes was soon publicly hanged as a Catholic traitor and the date of his failed attack was chosen by the Parliament as “a holiday forever in thankfulness to our God for deliverance and detestation for the Papists.” Halloween and Guy Fawkes Day/Bonfire Night (as it came to be dually known) co-existed peacefully for about 40 years until, in 1647, Parliament banned the celebration of all festivals excepting the anti-Catholic celebration. It was then, due to their relative proximity of one another, that November 5 began to take on many of the sinister and mischievous elements of Halloween. Young people would spend weeks preparing for the night by going house-to-house dressed in rags and demanding firewood or money for the massive bonfire roasts of Pope effigies that would come to define the night, a tradition that some historians consider as the origin of trick-or-treat, which will be discussed later. According to Rogers, if no firewood or money was given, it was “considered quite lawful to appropriate any old wood” from these households.
It also around this same time, according to Rogers, that the oldest recorded use of “Mischief Night” is noted by a headmaster to describe his school’s theatre performance that ended in “an Ode to Fun which praises children’s tricks on Mischief Night in most approving terms.” Though originally celebrated on May 1, it eventually found it’s home on in Great Britain on November 4, the night before Bonfire Night, and later in the US on October 30. According to Rogers, it was during this transitional time that Halloween itself began to reappear in the British Isles as a festival distinct from Bonfire Night while still retaining some its most disorderly practices such the targeted destruction of private property, particularly by young, working class men in Scotland and Ireland.
“Mimicking the malignant spirits who were widely believed to be abroad on Halloween, gangs of youths blocked up chimneys, rampaged cabbage patches, battered doors, unhinged gates, and unstabled horses. In nineteenth-century Cromarty, revelers even sought out lone women whom they could haze as a witch. […] ‘If an individual happened to be disliked in the place,’ observed one Scot in 1911, ‘he was sure to suffer dreadfully on these occasions. He doors would be broken, and frequently not a cabbage left standing in the garden.’ Such was Halloween reputation as a night of festive retribution that in some parts of Scotland the imperatives of community justice prevailed over private property, to a point that the Kirk-session found it impossible to enforce law and order.”
These accounts of masculine mob attacks to deliver “community justice” to “unpopular” neighbors and “lone women” are not included as an endorsement for their obviously proto-fascist and misogynistic nature; instead, these moments illustrate how, by means of the witch-hunts and other violent forms of domestication, women had been excluded from the sphere of rebellion and continued to be a target of attack. It is also important not to overlook these moments’ qualities of retribution and ungovernability that will better situate the widespread vandalism of Irish-American immigrant youth and Detroit’s prolific teenage arsonists.
Black Halloween, 1845-1945 CE
Much like the Black Plague of the fourteenth century, the potato blight of 1845 dramatically impacted the course of Halloween’s evolution as it spread across Ireland, killing both the country’s staple food crop and over one million Irish peasants from the resulting starvation. Over the course of the next seven years, one million more Irish would leave their homes, many sailing to North America where they soon outnumbered all other immigrant groups combined. It is not surprising then that this is also the context in which that Halloween celebrations and revelry, long disdained by earlier Puritan settlers, begin to appear in the United States. As Lesley Pratt Bannatyne writes in her book Halloween: An American Holiday, An American History, “Wherever the Irish went, […] Halloween followed along.”
In their new homes across North America, Irish immigrant youth continued to experiment, innovate, and spread new forms of devilry during the Halloween season, often creatively adapting to the idiosyncrasies of each environment. In some Midwestern towns, this took the form of removing farmers’ gates to free their animals, while on the East Coast, this took the form of weaponizing the relatively abundant supply of cabbages. Lamenting that “gangs of hoodlums throng[ing] the streets” had replaced the “kindly old customs” with “the spirit of rowdyism,” William Shepard Walsh, a nineteenth-century historian details that:
“Mischievous boys push the pith from the stalk, fill the cavity with tow which they set on fire, and then through the keyholes of houses of folk who have given them offence blow darts of flame a yard in length. […] If on Halloween a farmer’s or crofter’s kail-yard still contains ungathered cabbages, the boy and girls of the neighborhood descend upon it en masse, and the entire crop is harvested in five minutes’ time and thumped against the owner’s doors, which rattle as though pounded by a thunderous tempest.”
In keeping with Halloween’s long tradition of liminality, Tad Tuleja posits in his essay Trick or Treat: Pretexts and Contexts that these attacks on rural households:
“may be seen as an attack on domestic borders. The majority of popular pranks were ‘threshhold tricks’ that assaulted, if only temporarily, ordered space. […] Buggies, which provided cohesion to far-flung rural communities were ‘dysfunctionalized’ by being placed on barn roofs. Even the popular custom of tipping over outhouses served metonymically as an attack on the house-as-home.”
Though many of these mischievous deeds against rural neighbors were treated with a wide berth of tolerance by the authorities of the day, the tactics of urban immigrant youth soon sharpened and escalated to the alarm (and beyond the control) of fledgling police forces, taking on a character resembling something closer to asymmetric urban warfare. After the collapse of the American stock market on October 24th, 1929 (or Black Tuesday, as it came to be known), the next few years saw Halloween mobs specifically targeting symbols of luxury and the infrastructure of the metropolis, with a notable peak in 1933 (uncoincidentally at the height of America’s Great Depression) that came to be known as Black Halloween.
According to multiple accounts by Lisa Morton, Nicholas Rogers, and David Skal, this period was marked by youth gangs ripping down street signs, sawing down telephone poles, opening fire hydrants, disabling streetlights, barricading streets with stolen gates and refuse, dragging tree stumps onto railroad tracks, removing manhole covers, tearing up the boards of wooden sidewalks, smashing storefront windows, holding shopkeepers hostage, unhooking poles from the tops of streetcars, spreading grease on trolley car tracks, putting empty barrels over church steeples, attacking the police, and burning “almost anything they could set afire.” Rogers adds that as the celebration of Halloween started to spread westward, so did these flames. In 1908, anonymous vandals in Belton, Texas burned several freight cars, houses, and 1000 bales of cotton which in total cost the city upwards of $6 million in today’s money, when adjusted for inflation.
Many of these attacks were focused around immobilizing the movement of commerce through the metropolis but specifically, as Rogers observes, “the new symbol of prosperity, the automobile, became the object of destruction. Revelers soaped windows, deflated tires, and at busy intersections unceremoniously ‘bounced’ cars, or rocked them from the back to the discomfort of the passengers.” Skal also notes the class antagonism to be found within these accounts, adding that,
“one report took special notice that a car overturned by a ‘mass attack’ of hoodlums was a ‘sedan of expensive make.’ The stucco of America’s social contract was likewise severely chipped by the time Franklin Roosevelt took office in 1933, and in a small way, the customs of Halloween pranking reflected more generalized anxieties about civil unrest.”
Skal goes on to write, in a notable account of multiracial rebellion, that
“on Halloween 1934, the pranks of masked children parading through the streets of Harlem rapidly escalated from harmless flour and ask pelting to rock throwing to automobile vandalism. The police estimated that four hundred youngsters, both black and white, were involved in the various melees, which culminated with a car being heisted and rolled down a fifty-foot embankment in Riverside Park, where its tires were slashed.”
Though it would be pleasant to imagine that these sorts of multiracial conspiracies were common in this period, it should not be surprising that not only was this rare, but actually antithetical to many of Roger’s accounts of non-white participation in these mobs. In fact, three years earlier on Halloween night of 1931, a violent street battle developed between 400 black and white adults on the same streets of Harlem. As urban youth began to materially sabotage the fragile economy, white mob attacks began to develop into larger race riots, and widespread looting overtook the Halloween celebration of the 1934 World’s Fair in Chicago, it was not to be long before the forces of order would have to once again intervene to restore order to the holiday.
The Taming of Halloween, c. 1945–1960
After three decades of annual insurgency by tireless immigrant youth, it became obvious to authorities that the rebellious spirit of Halloween had to be severed from the holiday once as for all. As Skal writes, “although Halloween never even registered in the national debate, the many local controversies surrounding the holiday echoed much larger political themes about anarchy, order, and wealth distribution.” He continues, citing the accidental death of a young girl (after her dress caught fire from a Jack-o’-Lantern) as another source of public unease regarding Halloween, which,
“to many observers, seemed nothing but an invitation and excuse for social disaster. Fear of a seething underclass was a strong subtext of other reform movements of the early 1930’s; film censorship campaigns, for example, got especially worked up about the Halloweenish content of horror and crime movies, each genre anarchic in it own way. Such entertainments were widely viewed as demoralizing threats to public order, October 31 all year long.”
This particular passage is striking because it likens to the desperate counter-revolutionary concessions of the Roosevelt’s New Deal with the concerted efforts to “civilize” Halloween by police, schools, politicians, churches, and civil groups. While this certainly took on forms of updated strategies from previous centuries – erasure in the form of film censorship, romance as costume balls, parlor games as church lock-ins, and so on – it also presented a newly available option in the post-Depression era: consumption. Rogers explains that “by making Halloween consumer-oriented and infantile, civic and industrial promoters hoped to eliminate its anarchic features. By making it neighborly and familial, they strove to re-appropriate public space from the unorthodox and ruffian and restore social order to the night of 31 October.”
Though there is evidence that Halloween rebels were being bought off with candy as early as 1920, it is not until after the Halloween unrest of the mid-1930’s and post-WW2 production boom that we begin to see trick-or-treat being explicitly promoted as a tangible solution to restore order to the reviled holiday.
The precise origins of the tradition itself are disputed by some historians, but many agree that it partially arose from Depression-era “house-to-house parties” that some neighbors would co-operatively host on Halloween to save money. Morton notes that one of the first national mentions of the term “trick-or-treat” can be found in a 1939 article entitled A Victim of the Window Soaping Brigage?, which specifically names the practice as “a method of subverting rowdy pranking.”
“Whatever its specific sources, inspirations, or influences,” writes Skal, trick-of-treating “became widely known and adopted as a distinct property protection strategy during the late Depression.” However, he continues,
“it is the postwar years that are generally regarded as the glorious heyday of trick-or-treating. Like the consumer economy, Halloween itself grew by leaps and bounds. Major candy companies like Curtiss and Brach, no longer constrained by sugar rationing, launched national advertising campaigns specifically aimed at Halloween. […] The begging ritual was modeled for millions of youngsters in the early fifties by Donald Duck’s nephews Huey, Dewey, and Louie in Disney’s animated cartoon ‘Trick or Treat,’ accompanied by a catchy, reinforcing song of the same title.”
In addition to promoting trick-or-treat as a subtle alternative, Rogers also cites this specific Donald Duck cartoon as a propaganda piece critical for “the taming of Halloween,” explaining that “rather than experience real-life shenanigans, children could find them in a Walt Disney cartoon.” By the late 1950’s the enmity that had come to define October 31st had been almost completely supplanted with a fabricated ethic of consumption, whether in the form of candy or experiences. This “generation by models of a real without origin or reality,” as Jean Baudrillard conceived of a hyperreality, was apparently so effective that one police sergeant in Los Angeles publicly expressed his confusion about the disappearance of teenage rebels after an oddly peaceful Halloween in 1959.
Of course, these measures were not applied uniformly across the entire continent, and in some places the destruction previously associated with Halloween were simply displaced to the day before, on October 30th. As Rogers recorded of an older man’s prouds remarks of his boyhood in Hoboken, New Jersey, “there was only mischief. The adult world could not buy us off with candy or shiny pennies. They didn’t even try.” In these small pockets of lingering mischief, particularly in the newly developed suburbs of the period, the vandalism took on a decidedly less class-conscious tone, reverting to a previous form of pranks that targeted “unpopular” or stingy neighbors by smashing their pumpkins or stealing their gate. And because of their relative isolation to one another, many of the areas developed hyper-localized terms for their own sports, like Vermont’s Cabbage Night, Montreal’s Mat Night, upstate New York’s Gate Night, New Jersey’s Mischief Night, and Detroit’s infamous Devil’s Night.
This map from Joshua Katz, NC State University, visualizes where people call the night before Halloween “mischief night.”
The Demonization of Halloween, c. 1967-Present
On July 23rd, 1967, after the police raided a party for two returning Vietnam GIs at an illegal speakeasy on the Near West Side of Detroit, crowds made up mostly of black residents soon gathered outside and began throwing bottles and stones in retaliation. The police were forced to retreat and the remaining crowd quickly seized the opportunity to pillage a nearby clothing store. The incident quickly widened into full-scale looting throughout the entire neighborhood. Sidney Fine, in his book Violence in the Model City, recorded accounts from witnesses that described this moment as possessing a “carnival atmosphere” of multiracial looting, in which the police were totally outnumbered and were forced to watch this “gleefulness in throwing stuff and getting stuff out of buildings” from a careful distance. By the next afternoon, the first fire had been set at a nearly grocery store and a small mob blocked a firetruck from putting out the flames. According to historian Herb Colling, the local media initially refused to report on the unrest for fear of it spreading to other parts of the city, but the unavoidable smoke of a burning Detroit soon began to fill the city’s skyline.
Over the next 24 hours, the fires and looting spread across the entire city targeting both black and white-owned businesses, notably resulting in 38 handguns and 2,498 rifles being appropriated by the rebels. In response, President Johnson was forced to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 that could authorize the use federal troops to put down an insurrection against the U.S. Government. Beginning at 1:30am on July 25th, over 8000 Michigan Army National Guardsman and 4700 U.S. Army paratroopers descended upon the city to violently put down the uprising. In the following three days, countless horrors of brutality, sexual assault, and assassination were visited upon those who continued to fight against the forces of order.
By July 28th, after the last fire has been set, the troops began to slowly withdraw from the city and authorities began to survey the damage. All told, the five-day period between July 23-28 resulted in 2509 stores being looted or burned, 7231 arrests, 1189 injuries, and 43 deaths, 33 of whom were black residents. Unlike the 1943 Detroit race riot, however, observers noted a high participation of white residents in looting stores, setting fires, and sniping cops which raised questions about whether the uprising could be simply categorized as a ‘race riot.’ The Great Rebellion, as it came to be known instead, set off a wave of unrest that would continue to spread to over two dozen cities and return to Detroit the following year after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is following this period of social upheaval and counterinsurgency that one finds the development of a diffuse anxiety within the white population over “inner city issues,” and their subsequent mass exodus to the suburban peripheries, later known as white flight. In these shiny new refugee camps for the white middle class, an alienating fear of the Other lingered and would soon prove to be a death knell for trick-or-treat, one of their children’s last remaining sources of autonomy and comradery outside the family unit. Much in the way that authorities were forced to suppress the mischief they initially promoted in place of unbridled revolt, they now found themselves losing control over the unrestrained throngs of begging children that they created to replace the uncontrollable vandals before them. As Morton argues:
“Given trick or treat’s almost universal suburban popularity, its emphasis on representation of outsiders, and the way it empowered its participants, it was perhaps inevitable that trick or treat was about to experience a backlash. Adults, it seemed, were unwilling to grant their children that power after all. In 1964, a New York housewife named Helen Pfeil was upset at the number of trick or treaters whom she thought were too old to be demanding candy and handed them packages of dog biscuits, poisonous ant buttons, and steel wool. Within three years, the urban legend of children being given apples with hidden razor blades surfaced, and parents began to worry about Halloween.”
Though only two deaths (both of which were later attributed to family members) and a small number of injuries were reported over two decades of “Halloween sadism,” the media was quick to portray the holiday as rife with poison, satanic cults, and stranger danger. As one 1975 Newsweek article leading up to Halloween claimed,
“If this year’s Halloween follows form, a few children will return home with something more than just an upset tummy: in recent years, several children have died and hundreds have narrowly escaped injury from razor blades, sewing needles and shards of glass purposefully put into their goodies by adults.”
Civic groups and churches again rushed to this opportunity for a decisive social enclosure, that is, of removing youth from the street once and for all. Across the continent, thousands of “alternatives to trick-or-treating” were suddenly being hosted at shopping malls, museums, zoos, schools, spook houses, and community centers while some hospitals continued to reinforce the paranoia of Halloween sadism by offering to x-ray the die-hard trick-or-treaters’ candy for dangerous metal objects.
These “tales of Halloween sadism,” Rogers eloquently argues,
“were measured against the vision of a stable, congenital decade of trick-or-treating in the 1950’s. This was a decade of Cold War politics and Red scares. Yet beyond the zone of leftist agitation, it was also a decade of relative social peace, of continuing baby boom, of consumer affluence and suburban development. The 1960’s and 1970’s, however, posed new challenges to the social and political fabric of the United States. This was the era of civil rights agitation, of urban ghetto riots, of student and antiwar protest, of youth countercultures, of feminism and gay liberation, of Watergate. In the South, African-Americans defeated Jim Crow, but in the North they faced de facto resegregation as whites fled to the suburbs in the wake of rioting in Watts, Newark, and Detroit.”
Within five years of The Great Rebellion, the composition of Detroit’s population had completely changed, producing a majority black inner city ringed by a hostile periphery of white suburbs. “In the aftermath of the riot,” As Ze’ev Chafets explains in his once controversial 1990 book Devil’s Night: And Other True Tales of Detroit, “Detroit became the national capital of disingenuous surprise. People suddenly discovered what should have been obvious – that beyond the glittering downtown, the leafy neighborhoods, the whirring computers, there was another city: poor, black, and angry” that “seethes with the resentments of postcolonial Africa.” This comparison was clearly not lost on those who would soon be tasked with recycling counterinsurgency measures developed against anti-colonial uprisings to be used against a new form of annual black insurgency – that of Devil’s Night.
Although 1983 is widely recognized as the official beginning of Devil’s Night because of its dramatic increase in dumpster fires, there is evidence to suggest that there was an already low-level insurgency associated with Halloween dating back to at least 1979 and, conceivably, to 1967 itself. It was only in 1984, probably due to a combination of the widespread media hype of the 1983 arsons and the World Series victory by the Detroit Tigers on October 31st, that there was a marked increase in building fires. With over 297 fires on October 30th alone, 1984’s Halloween season set the high water mark for destruction with “the worst fire scenes I’ve seen since the riots of 1967,” according to a former Detroit Fire Department chief.
This last statement should also not be overlooked, because within it is a glimpse of authorities’ conceptual framework for viewing Devil’s Night – that is, not as an isolated incident, but as an aftershock of The Great Rebellion that rivaled its destruction and, therefore, should be eligible for the same levels of counterinsurgency. But to do would require more than just a single comparison; it would require resorting to racist and supernatural tropes to target an opaque and population that had long been mystified the white population. Much in the same way that the witch was manufactured to target a heterogeneous population with the figure of a supernatural, life-stealing Other, the figure of the Devil had also been revived to literally demonize the insurgent black youth of Detroit. According to Carole Nagengast’s Violence, Terror, and the Crisis of the State, “the goal of state violence is not to inflict pain; it is the social project of creating punishable categories of people.”
Though many residents and politicians speculated about the circumstances that produced the widespread arson of 1984, David Skal notes that the influential Detroit Free Press newspaper noticeably avoided any sociological analysis in the months after, instead favoring a “law-and-order approach to Halloween Eve arson and crime, including gun control, aggressive prosecution, and more jail cells.” According to the authors of an enlightening research paper entitled Preventing Halloween Arson in an Urban Setting, it was the following that Mayor Coleman Young then created a “Devil’s Night Task Force,” tasked with goals of “reduced arson, raised community awareness, and increased involvement in the fight against arson” over the next decade. Each spring, appointees from the mayor’s office, Detroit Neighborhood City Halls, city departments (including public health, fire, police, youth, public lighting, law, recreation, information technology, planning, among others), community organizations, churches, public schools, and the private sector would convene to begin creating strategies based on insights gleaned from previous years.
With these in hand, fire and police officials from each neighborhood would collaborate with neighborhood snitches and influential clergy to create “decentralized action plans” to enact a larger eight point, city-wide strategy: Deployment of Public Safety Personnel, by means of mobilizing all available police, firefighters, and helicopters; The Elimination of Arson Targets by means of towing abandoned cars, removing tires from dumping sites, and demolishing thousands of vacant homes and buildings; Volunteer Training by means of offered orientations to Adopt-A-House volunteers who wanted to guard abandoned buildings or Neighborhood Patrols who wanted to seek out arsonists on foot; Media and Communications by means of an aggressive PR campaign to convey “the dangers of arson”; Activities for Children and Teenagers by means of church and city-sponsored movie marathons, dances, carnivals, etc.; Youth Curfew in the form of a 6pm curfew for those under 18, whose violators would face expedited processing at temporary nighttime courtrooms; and Prohibition on the Sale of Fuel by means of criminalizing the sale of dispensing of gasoline into portable containers.
In each of these eight headlines, we can find almost perfectly mirrored strategies depicted in Kristian Williams’ essay The Other Side of COIN, many of which he directly cited from U.S. Army Field Manual on Counterinsurgency and British brigadier Frank Kitson’s strategies against anti-colonial movements in Kenya, Cypress, and Northern Ireland. Of particular significance to many of these strategies is the goal of “monopolizing the use of force” and establish legitimacy in doing so, which the Army field manual asserts as “the main objective.” One can particularly see this in the conflicting strategy of guarding and demolishing abandoned homes, a clearly desperately attempt to re-establish control over a territory that had subverted its monopoly on destruction by self-immolating. As part of maintaining its fragile legitimacy, however, the city couldn’t simply call in the National Guard again; instead it had to source its army from the remaining loyal segments of the city’s population to do its bidding. This “Halloween anti-arson intervention,” when viewed through Williams’ simple equation reveals its obvious and undeniable nature: Community Policing + Militarization = Counterinsurgency.
Between 1985-1996, largely by means of these counterinsurgency strategies and anti-gang initiatives, the city of Detroit was able to considerably reduce Halloween-time arson within the city. Though it is tempting to conclude that this may have been the moment when the rebellious spirit of Halloween was finally killed, to do so would deny the almost constant low-intensity insurgency that remained and would later spread to other cities like Camden and Cincinnati. In 1994, after the new mayor of Detroit publicly declared the death of Devil’s Night and mobilized a significantly smaller number of citizen patrols, the numbers of arsons dramatically rose, forcing him to mobilize an army of 30,000 “Angel’s Night” volunteers the following October. Given this constant obligation to douse its flames, perhaps we should not speak of the death of Halloween, but instead, its temporary imprisonment.
But if the history presented here is any indication, moments of disorder are not only unpredictable but evasive by their very nature of disrupting of linear time and ordered space. As the rare moments of social peace between upheavals become ever shorter and the fires of Detroit blends into Camden and Ferguson’s into Baltimore, it’s possible to conceive of the spirit of Halloween returning not as a discrete moment in October, but, in the words of one old revolutionary, “a holiday without beginning or end.”
“Shane Burley’s book includes a wealth of information about today’s far right groups, ideologies, strategies, and subcultures…. It also says a lot about the need for a multi-pronged approach to antifascism, and illustrates this argument with numerous and diverse examples of antifascist activism, past and present. It is the kind of book we need to help us understand—and end—fascism today.” — Matthew Lyons, from the foreword
We can no longer ignore the fact that fascism is on the rise in the United States. What was once a fringe movement has been gaining cultural acceptance and political power for years. Rebranding itself as “alt-right” and riding the waves of both Donald Trump’s hate-fueled populism and the anxiety of an abandoned working class, they have created a social force that has the ability to win elections and inspire racist street violence in equal measure.
Fascism Today looks at the changing world of the far right in Donald Trump’s America. Examining the modern fascist movement’s various strains, Shane Burley has written an accessible primer about what its adherents believe, how they organize, and what future they have in the United States. The ascension of Trump has introduced a whole new vocabulary into our political lexicon—white nationalism, race realism, Identitarianism, and a slew of others. Burley breaks it all down. From the tech-savvy trolls of the alt-right to esoteric Aryan mystics, from full-fledged Nazis to well-groomed neofascists like Richard Spencer, he shows how these racists and authoritarians have reinvented themselves in order to recruit new members and grow.
Just as importantly, Fascism Today shows how they can be fought and beaten. It highlights groups that have successfully opposed these twisted forces and outlines the elements needed to build powerful mass movements to confront the institutionalization of fascist ideas, protect marginalized communities, and ultimately stop the fascist threat.
Shane Burley is a writer and filmmaker based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared at places like Jacobin, In These Times, Waging Nonviolence, ThinkProgress, Labor Notes, Roar Magazine, Upping the Anti, and Make/Shift.
From the introduction to Fascism Today:
White nationalists have a revolutionary vision, one that opposes the state and dominant white culture as much as it does the left and non-whites. It wants to reimagine this world as one that is exclusively for white interests, where the “strong” rule over the “weak,” where women know their place and gender is firmly enforced. They have reached into the culture and found a firm grasp and are going to use this moment in the sun to grow, to expand their influence, to make themselves a militant threat to the values of democracy and equality. The battle for those on the left, the organized faction interested in great human equality, is now to understand who the Alt Right are and what they want, and they must look past the contradictory phrasings and confusing tactics to do that. The incidents of reactionary violence, the mobilization that figures like Trump and his racial scapegoating has inspired in working-class people, and the mainstreaming of explicit nationalism has made real the threat that was only in the background of many political battles over the last sixty years. Fascism has never been silenced exclusively by its own ineptitude, but instead by the concerted efforts of organizers that risk everything to stop it. Fascism attacks all of our movements: from the labor movement to anti-racist struggle, the growth of the LGBT fight to that over ecological liberation. Fascism makes these battles intersectional since it acts as a orchestrated attack on the core values of all of these movements, making real the idea that all oppression has a common center. Fascism is an attempt to answer the unfinished equation of capitalism and, instead of challenging the inequalities manifested through this economic system, it hardens them. With the election of Donald Trump, this “worst case scenario”, Fascism taking a hold, now seemed possible, which added material impetus for movements on the left to link up and take charge. This changed everything.
Fascism Todayis available for excerpt
Shane Burley is available for interview
Events like May Day are a temperature check for the collective hive mind of the left reflecting on the year behind them. Because it is a tradition that skates back more than a hundred years, it rarely stands out as the most pressing of days, mainly because it is part of a regular organizing cycle. Good years or bad losses, May Day comes on the same day.
In Portland, Oregon, it was the obvious confluences of forces, the ongoing revolt happening in Trump’s America, that helped to ignite the substantial growth around its activities. How the Portland May Day Coalition planned for this year’s event was largely based around the practical work of the groups involved, how it tied into the ongoing projects of the component organizations. The Portland Committee for the Human Rights in the Philippines (PCHRP) held an earlier event in the day along with the Brown Berets and Gabriella outlining the JustPeacePH project, supporting the peace talks currently happening between the Government Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the People’s Democratic Government of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). They were then leading the anti-imperialist contingent in the following march, linking together the struggles against colonialism in the Global South and the increased victimization of Latinx immigrants from the Southern U.S. border and the long-standing history of workplace organizing that May Day signifies.
The Burgerville Workers Union was celebrating the anniversary of its break-out campaign, one that went public in multiple shops a year ago, bringing with it one of the most dynamic and persistent struggles seen from a direct union shop in the Pacific Northwest. The showing from organized labor was large, as it usually is, and there was a clear openness to the growing linkages between social movements as the possibility of nationwide Right-to-Work and the further erosion of state programs lends urgency to an already dire attack on working people.
You wouldn’t hear about any of this, however, because what came next was a full-frontal assault on the long-planned event, its organizers, and their neighbors.
From the march of almost a thousand people through the streets of the Southwest Downtown district came the militarized invasion of hundreds of police, letting loose with explosive weaponry and laying siege on a crowd comprised of families, people with disabilities, and many raising their voices for the first time. From many photos from that afternoon it is hard to see what happened, a haze that filled the gap between skyscrapers from the canisters of “tear gas” that were fired with only seconds in between. When the police forcefully rushed the crowd, which had already formally dispersed, they began a frightful chase through the streets of the commercial and financial territories. It would be obtuse to point out that the narrative that the police offered, which began even before the actual force was felt as they took to Twitter to premeditate the media stories, was dishonest. Instead, it showed a clear set of priorities, ones that double back on several decades of crowd control, ones that had evolved to avoid the kind of escalation that was doubled down on here.
The Cop in Our Heads
In Mike King’s recent treatise on the repression of Occupy Oakland, When Riot Cops Are Not Enough: The Policing and Repression of Occupy Oakland (Rutgers University Press, 2017), he reflects on the way the repressive police measures evolved nationally to the more complex web they have today. During the wave of confrontations starting the Civil Rights Movement in the 1950s and the urban uprisings that rocked urban areas in the 1960s, police used heavy handed dispersal tactics that were aggressive to forcefully put down that unrest. While some would argue they are tame by today’s standards, they were an outgrowth of the institutionalized white supremacy that was holding on for dear life. Starting in the 1970s, police entered a new phase acknowledging that the “brute force” strategy they were employing was only escalating and mobilizing increased opposition, and it began radicalizing a generation of those injured in street fights. They began systems of negotiation and compromise with protest movements, offering up permits for demonstrations. This concept relied on the negotiating power of the state, and a large majority of American social movements have been brought in on these agreements, usually accepting some limitations in exchange for less direct police repression. A permit is much easier than going through a mass crackdown on a simple street march, so why not?
The effect of this change was, by and large, for the police to transfer their authority of containment from the station to the protesters themselves, turning the organizations and leadership themselves into the acting agents of the state’s boundaries. If protesters were given legal leeway, they would then police themselves, and it could even hold a few people in leadership roles accountable for the actions of participants. This can and does have the effect of turning many in a project against other elements, where those engaging in certain tactics are necessarily blamed for putting others at risk, all outlined in the structures of the permitting system. This created a structure that, when mixed with a moderated police presence, would both contain the social movements and make sure that the effective repression came without social backlash. As the years went on and the war on drugs, gangs, and poor people broadly took shape, the structure of police engagements increased volatility across the board, until now the police that surround broad-based political rallies look liked they are armed to “liberate” Fallujah.
Since centrist Democrat Ted Wheeler took the reigns of the Portland Mayor’s office, he has made the decisive move to crack down on the growing discontent in the city. The election of Trump, the organized resistance to gentrification and displacement from housing organizations, and the reaction to ongoing police killings of black and brown “suspects” has led to a climate of resistance that is growing exponentially. This hit a fever pitch in the days after the election where thousands flooded the streets, blocking every major highway and shutting down businesses. The direct action taken by some protesters, amounting to broken windows and other property destruction, was not out of bounds for the city’s history, nor was it maliciously interpersonal as the police department persisted. Nonetheless, the police, under oversight from the mayor’s office, went after suspects aggressively, charging some with compounded multiple felonies in stacked cases that shocked even the most jaded activists. In one case, a protester is facing upwards of thirty-months in prison for some broken car and bank windows, using riot charges to compound the offense and turn it into a veritable “anarchist scare.” In another, they tried to charge different broken windows as separate offenses so as to make the case eligible for a state statute that allows excessive sentencing if the acts of property destruction are seen as separate incidents.
Wheeler’s actual approach seems to be done within an amnesia of institutional memory, the lack of a known history. “Little Beirut,” as Portland was named in the 1990s by George H.W. Bush, has always had a long history of militant street protests and projects, from the Earth First! and ELF campaigns of the 1990s to the more recent Black Lives Matter insurgencies. For Wheeler to lean on the side of aggressive policing, especially in situations where the police appear as the clear instigators, he is acting without a clear understanding of the role of police in the escalation of confrontation. The police were not there to quell unrest, they were the foundations of that unrest, and their presence, violent victimization of protesters, and unwillingness to even own up to their own “let them police themselves” idea has ended the specter of the police as an institution of “public safety.”
What they destroyed with their flash grenades was the police in the protester’s head, not the willingness of protest movements to take the streets.
So what happened?
Twenty minutes into the march on its negotiated route, as they went down 2nd Ave, the police summarily announced that the “permit for this march has now been revoked.” This mid-march revocation is a new concept for the city, one more step in the extra normality the events took. This decision was allegedly because a window at the Federal Courthouse had been cracked and some in the Black Bloc had thrown Pepsis at the riot cops that were encroaching on the route, a reference to the disastrous recent Pepsi ad with Caitlin Jenner and the “peace” brought by handing the police soda. Apparently, that doesn’t work in real life.
While some will see even that as an escalation, it comes after the police honed in on the rally park beforehand, confiscating mundane objects like flag poles and surrounding march attendants, often destroying materials. The conception of the permitted march as one that would be free of police intervention seemed dashed quickly, so the impetus to follow the narrowing constraints was compromised.
Within a few minutes of the first notifications an order of dispersal came that, because of their position at the back of the march, only a few people could hear. Many of the families, younger children, people with disabilities and special needs, and others were towards the front. The first they heard of this dispersal was when flash grenades started indiscriminately flying into the crowd. Dozens flowed in violent bursts in the next few minutes as protest goers frantically tried to figure out just what was happening. Security volunteers were ushering people to safety, yet there seemed to be no safe spot as flash grenades were going off in every corner and there was literally no sidewalk area that people could crowd into in compliance. Legal observers from the ACLU tried to document this in flurried rushes, but as full tear gas canisters began flowing into the streets, there was mass confusion, especially as people were collapsing, struggling to breathe in the chemical cloud.
The response from the Black Bloc came in kind, with debris being lit on fire in the area between the cops and the protesters, the windows being busted out at a Target location, and a police SUV vandalized. The police chased protesters around the city, bum rushing crowds with dozens of officers in formation, attacking those that appeared the most vulnerable. Many noticed riot police prioritizing a houseless woman in the area, while others saw that anyone in marked attire, whether or not they were a part of the Black Bloc, was suspect. By the time many arrived back at the park where the opening rally was the police were in tow behind, declaring that this was “now officially a riot,” and promising the use of projectile weaponry.
Unity Through Struggle
While there are often disagreements over tactics and strategy, the May Day Coalition immediately placed the blame on the police, both for instigating violence and propping up false allegations on their social media and PR outlets.
Today the Portland police chose to violently escalate a peaceful march. The people asserted their (lawful) right to be in the street and express solidarity with immigrants, with workers, with Indigenous sovereignty, and against capitalism. The Portland Police Bureau responded by
1) Forcibly removing the accessibility vehicle, which was present to allow those with mobility issues to participate and raise their voices
2) Fabricating stories about “Molotov cocktails” being thrown at them, which thousands of eyewitness reports will refute
3) Trying at every step of the way to force themselves into a crowd that very clearly did not want them there
4) Arbitrarily revoking the march permit and informing only the rear of the march, while the elderly, youth, and folks with mobility issues were at the front
There will be a lot of articles about “the march turning violent” but make no mistake, the PPB attacked a permitted march whose only goal was to keep moving along its planned route because some noisemakers and name-calling were enough of an excuse for them to use their large surplus of explosives and chemical weapons against those who had committed to rise, resist, and unite, against fascism and capitalism.
In general, the local media parroted the police as well as they could. There was minor vandalism of the KOIN news truck while KGW did their best to turn the event into a veritable “car chase,” complete with their helicopter live-streaming the protest locations. The Portland Mercury, which leans a little to the left of the rest of the regional outlets, did a large spread of photos and videos, indicating that the police charged after very minor vandalism and even went after a press photographer. Even in their photos you can see protesters flung to the ground as twenty-five were arrested, reporters being screamed at to walk away from their posts.
After the arrests were made and the streets cleared, mayor Wheeler eventually made a public statement echoing the kind of liberal non-committal signaling that many “progressive” Oregon politicians are known for.
In Portland we respect peaceful protest, but we do not and cannot support acts of violence and vandalism. That’s not political speech. That’s crime… Last night was another chapter in a story that has become all too familiar in Portland: Protests that began peacefully but devolve quickly due to the actions of those whose only desire is to damage people and property.
This “tough on crime” rhetoric seems perfectly in line with the language of Trump’s administration, and it could be simply that Wheeler does not want to deal with what will likely be several years of escalating conflict as the austerity and white supremacist machinations of the political state unfold. He thinks that by demonizing protesters, using extreme acts of violence, and shifting the narrative, he will be able to create a ghost of fear in the collective left, and turn them in the direction of moderate parades like the Women’s March instead of the more militant formations. The police have followed up with broad requests for information on protesters, and will likely do what they have done in the past: post pictures of people they are suspecting for different activities to try and get the community to turn them in.
This is not, however, the historical legacy of the city, nor the pattern that the growing revolutionary spirit has had over the past decade. Instead, the truth is that this will not actually stop the organizations from participating in growing demonstrations, but instead show them that the middle ground provided by state actors offer little comfort. Long-term movement building and organizing is what will actually create a force capable of resisting the mission of Trump and the profiteers in Portland, and even these kind of momentary showings of force from the police are not going to scare off those who have committed to confronting this terror. As Trump attempts to rename this as Loyalty Day, and the Alt Right and white nationalists acted as the strong-arm of the police in many cities, the flung Pepsi cans seem to fade in importance.
On May 2nd, the organizers in PCHRP, the AAPRP, the Burgerville Workers Union, and all the other organizations and projects continued their work. No matter how the police and mayor’s office intend on reframing this work, the projects themselves have a life that goes far beyond one repressed event. The question is if the state will make it a priority to put down these social movements as the administration continue to speed to the right, and how we will respond. This highlights why the movement against police violence is at the critical intersection of all other struggles, but also why we need to make this a collective fight with our arms firmly linked together. The revolutionaries of the city are more unified than they were before the event, the realities of repression has a way of firming up alliances in defiance. The opinions about the efficacy of the Black Bloc are diverse(and principled), but an understanding was forged clearly, and the sight of the Black Bloc defending protesters and acting with conscious unity has bridged a divide that, at times, seemed unresolvable. Many in the Bloc brought in large Black Widow props, owing to the defensive actions that the spiders take in mutual aid and lending to the language of direct action.
When the grenades landed, we were seen as one large mass, all dangerous (though people of color and other marginalized identities took on a special focus from state actors). Our fate is firmly in the hands of each other since, as has been the record, the only way we are to continue is if we find solidarity even in these moments of repression. If the state wants to instigate violence, then they will see our numbers grow, our resistance mount, and our spirit firm up into the vocalized rage. The next time will be larger, permit or no permit.
By David Van Deusen (Co-Founder of The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective)
“Gonna leave the city, got to get away, Gonna leave the city, got to get away. All that hustling and fighting man, you know I sure can’t stay.” -Goin’ Up To The Country, Canned Heat
“Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is. Do you, Mr. Jones?” -Ballot of a Thin Man, Bob Dylan
[This article was first published in print format in Catamount Tavern News & the Northeastern Anarchist in 2008]
Vermont, 2008- From 1965 through 1975 it is estimated that 100,000 young people migrated north to the Green Mountains; most simply passed through. Still, many thousands remained. These newcomers, mostly white, of mixed class background and primarily from the eastern cities, shared the commonality of being part of a loosely defined 60s counter-culture. This youth migration culminated in the founding of 50-100 communes by 1970. Their forms varied; some were organized around radical left politics, others around agriculture, many more lacked any defining focus beyond the vague parameters of the hippy counter-culture. What they all had in common, whether this was individually articulated or not, was a desire to transcend mainstream America. With this, social experimentation as opposed to adherence to traditional political-social-family structures became the counter-culture norm.
The first wave of communards hit the Green Mountains in the mid-60s. By 1967 a number of communes were established, especially in the southeast part of the state. Of these, a good deal of their members cut their teeth in the Civil Rights Movement, and the continuing resistance to the war in Vietnam.
Robert Houriet, an early communard and a current resident of the Northeast Kingdom, recalls, “The commune movement began with the Civil Rights Movement. The Freedom Houses in the south became the incubators of the communes… People continued to live communally because they wanted to restore the broader community of the Civil Rights Movement.”
However, Houriet [who authored Getting Back Together, a book on communes in 1969] contends that this first wave was not necessarily intending to organize Vermont – at least not at first. In fact he understands these first commune pioneers essentially as political refugees suffering from both urban police repression and political burnout.
“The first phase was an escape, but it was an escape which had a utopian element… The big bang came after the Chicago [Democratic National] Convention. The Chicago convention [and the ensuing riots] was the epigamic event where people realized the political movement was over –fractured beyond repair. You can go to the Weathermen or you can go to Vermont,” says Houriet.
Many of these early migrants, a good number of whom were formally members of or allied to the radical Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), sought to take refuge in these northern hills. It was a time for reflection, experimentation with psychedelic drugs, and an evaluation of their personal and social lives. But it was not long before two things occurred. First, after 68’ the trickle of counter-culture migrants turned into a flood. This mass second wave quickly led to the formation of dozens of new communes, especially in the north. Second, the older SDS/political elements realized that any attempt to circumvent personal and economic alienation was intimately tied to the external community. And with that, new efforts at political organizing were rekindled.
One commune, Red Clover, was at the forefront of these new efforts. Members, including John Douglas, Jane Kramer, Robert Kramer, and Roz Payne, began as a radical media collective in New York City called Newsreel. By 1969 this group, now transplanted to Putney, formed an organization called Free Vermont. The goal of Free Vermont was, simply put, to bring forth a popular revolution in the Green Mountains. To do so they worked to consolidate the newly arrived counter-cultural elements into the radical left. To a smaller extent, and with mixed results, they also sought to radicalize the native population. Free Vermont’s political analysis also hinged on the belief that the urban centers of the United States were teetering on revolt, especially in the Black community. In the event of widespread urban insurrection, it was their contention that Vermont, and other rural areas, should be prepared to act in a supporting role. Towards this end they acquired firearms as a means of self-defense. But the acquiring of weapons was by no account considered a strategic end by Free Vermont. They realized that to foster a meaningful and socialist revolution and/or to provide the anticipated broader revolution support, it was first necessary to build up their own effective institutions which in turn would give the counter-culture left a non-capitalist (or at least a more participatory) means of subsistence and production. By enlarge these new institutions took the form of producer, consumer, and service orientated co-ops and collectives. By bringing people together within co-ops it was hoped that the ingrained cultural posits of individualism and authoritarianism could be, in part, replaced with a new cooperativism compatible with the basic principles of socialism.
As Free Vermont began to reach out to the communes, they soon launched a number of co-ops across the state. In Brattleboro they opened a free auto shop (Liberation Garage) and worker-owned and operated restaurant (the Common Ground). They began dozens of food purchasing co-ops. A free health clinic was formed in Burlington. A children’s collective school called Red Paint was formed in southern Vermont. A Peoples’ Bank was started whereby economically better off communes deposited money that could be accessed by communes of lesser means. They organized forums against the war, organized woman’s groups, and around ecological issues. Free Vermont also printed a leftist newspaper which was distributed by the thousands in the high schools and communes alike. In the north, where many communes focused on agricultural pursuits, farming co-ops were formed. Attempts were made to circumvent the highly capitalistic produce markets in Boston and New York by establishing a cooperative distribution center. The success of these endeavors varied, but for a few years, perhaps between 1969-1973, one could squint their eyes and almost see the outline of a true cultural revolution on the horizon. Free Vermont, though counting a hardcore activist base of no more 100, soon attracted ten times that many fellow travelers; a sizable force in a state that at that time had a total population of less than 400,000 people.
John Douglas, co-founder of Free Vermont and current Charlotte resident, recalls “[Our goal was] fucking revolution! Free Vermont was… the umbrella organization we had put together… We traveled around Vermont rooting out communes and collectives. We really were focused on bringing the state together politically around [opposition to] the war [in Vietnam], around the [Black] Panthers, [and] Civil Rights.”
Roz Payne, who later went on to form another Free Vermont commune in Burlington called Green Mountain Red states, “We were living together and we were trying to create a better world together… We were trying to make changes in our lives and the politics of the world as far as racism and imperialism and capitalism.”
But the story of Free Vermont is not the whole story. In Plainfield the Maple Hill Commune, which had dealings with Free Vermont but should not be considered part of its political core, also had their own impact on their surroundings.
Jim Higgins, a former Maple Hill resident and presently a writer for the Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, recalls “[In 1971] I went on to form the Plainfield Co-op with a lot of my old communards… One of our goals was to bring into our co-op network local born adults. It was an energetic effort to reach out with our ideas of cooperative business practices and wholesome food and subverting the system as it were through tremendously reduced prices… There was many co-op discussions about products we would offer that would bridge the gap, so we vigorously pursued non-food products from [wood]stoves to chainsaws, to ball jars, snowshoes, [and] skis; products that generally had interest to those around us who would not necessarily be interested in brown rice and soy beans. That helped a great deal simply breaking social barriers. They had to come into the co-op to buy it. ”
The experience of the Maple Hill Commune, who also took an active role in organizing demonstrations and teach-ins to end the conflict in Vietnam, is not dissimilar from experiences of dozens of other communes across the state. In short, the Commune Movement was a force, or at least a point of conversation, in many a small Vermont town.
Internally, a good number if not most communes sought to break the subtle and not so subtle chains of sexism. More often than not (and as a rule on Free Vermont Communes), decisions were made democratically, by all the members, housework was expected from males, while tasks such a splitting winter wood was also done by women. Childcare was collectivized and was performed by both sexes. Political meetings would include woman’s caucuses. The Liberation Garage in Brattleboro held free auto repair classes, organized by Jane Kramer, especially aimed at teaching women how to fix their cars and trucks. In Burlington the Green Mountain Red collective was pivotal in opening a free woman’s health clinic (which today is merged with the local Planned Parenthood). The Red Clover Collective organized a touring performance which taught and celebrated woman’s history.
In many ways, Vermont communes, or at least the more politically active communes, did not suffer the same fractures that much of the broader U.S. left did when feminism came into its own in the early 70s. This was a result of the genesis of the Free Vermont Movement. Free Vermont was essentially founded by the Red Clover Collective, which itself was an outgrowth of the older Newsreel Collective. And here, the Newsreel Collective already recognized the problems of internal sexism and found ways of correcting these tendencies.
Roz Payne, who was considered one of the political heavies of the movement, contends, “Free Vermont was a political activity that we had undertaken to organize and politicize all the [Vermont] communes. And we’re the ones that…came out of a Newsreel Collective that talked about woman’s issues starting in 67, 68, and 69 when we were making films in New York and we had those discussions. ‘Why were only the women holding the microphones…and why are all the men holding the cameras?’ Then John Douglas got cameras for [women] to use… These were issues that we brought up earlier. So we already had those issues [dealt with]… I never felt oppressed in my commune around the women or the men.’
However, their efforts did not result in perfection. Female communard, Lou Andrews, recalls her days on the rural Franklin Commune (which was a core Free Vermont commune) as a time where she felt more liberated than previously in mainstream society, but one where men still had a disproportionate influence upon the general direction of the commune. In her opinion this influence was a subconscious force; one that was not guaranteed by formal process, but one that existed none the less.
As far as the division of labor goes, Lou, who now lives in Burlington, assesses her commune as a mixed bag, but one that clearly falls more in the direction of sex equality than does the traditional nuclear model. “It was always a struggle to get men to do the dishes… [But] we all gardened. Men and women canned the food. Men and women drove the horses. And men and women did the sugaring, although it was men who primarily were what we called ‘the firemen’ who in the sugar house fed the wood into the evaporator. And that was kind of a little macho deal going on. Cause they got to where cowboy chaps (ha ha ha).”
Roz, current resident of Richmond VT, also recalls that not all communes were free of the traditional divisions of labor based on sex. “You’d find some of the more rural communes the women were in the kitchen, and the men were outdoors doing stuff. So [Free Vermont] would talk about that, and we would have women’s meetings, a communal women’s grouping that would break off to discuss the things that were happening with various people.”
While Free Vermont sought to build equitable relations on the communes and a radical base of operations in the Green Mountains, it did not lose sight of its second purpose. As the local counter-culture became better organized, aid was offered to the urban revolutionary movement. In some instances children of Black Panthers from the eastern cities were sent north to attend the Red Paint collective school. Political aid was offered too. One former communard (who will remain unnamed) contends that the first dynamite procured by the Weather Underground Organization [an armed leftist group who carried out 27 bombings between 1969-1977 including those on the US Capital Building and the Pentagon] came from a granite quarry in Barre. John Douglas, for his part, states that Free Vermont helped establish safe houses for Weathermen and Black Panthers who went underground. They also facilitated clandestine border crossings into Quebec. But these activities were not committed without a price. Free Vermont communes were raided by the police and FBI. Government informants were known to be operating in many quarters. Douglas tells of a gathering he attended at the Franklin Commune (in far northern Vermont) where a group of federal agents posing as bikers offered to provide them with hand grenades and dynamite. Douglas declined. This surveillance and harassment ultimately lead to a pervasive atmosphere of paranoia and tension. In turn these pressures contributed to the eventual decline of the movement.
While many of the hippy communes collapsed due to lack of rational internal organization or focus [see Barry Laffan, Communal Organization and Social Transition, Peter Lang Publishing, New York, 1997] the decline of the more overtly political communes has more to do with political repression, disillusionment (as neither the local or urban insurrections came to pass), and again a new round of burn out. Just as they were compelled to evacuate the cities by the end of the 60s, the radical communards felt an increasing pressure, though be it maybe in a more personalized and defuse form, to abandon their communal lands in the face of a new backlash of political repression and interpersonal pressures. By 1976, following the end of the Vietnam War, less than half of the original 100 communes remained. By 1980 all but a few were gone. While many former communards remained in Vermont, and while a number of the institutions they founded continued, the general trend was overwhelmingly a turn away from models espousing collective living and working. Instead they increasingly turned to a private home life, or a traditional nuclear family arrangement. Cooperative farms were replaced with privately owned and operated organic farms. Radical agricultural organizations, such as the Northeast Organic Farmer Association (NOFA), drifted into a modest liberal reformism. Calls for insurrection were heard less, while calls for issue based reformism became louder. Where in 1970 the battle cry was for a complete new left social revolution, the mantra of the 80s was for a nuclear freeze. In short, as the Commune Movement broke down, and as its participants began to return to more individualistic-traditional living arrangements, their politics, though remaining left, grew more moderate.
During the declining phase of the Franklin Commune it is interesting to note the further observations of Lou Andrew. She contends that when the difficulties of operating the collective farm were exasperated by a serious house fire, it was the men who were the first ones to leave the commune, and oftentimes Vermont too. On the other hand she notes that the women were more apt to try to work through the difficulties longer and ultimately, to at least remain in Vermont. Andrews speculates that the reason for this dynamic is because woman found their social relations and power within a communal structure to be more liberated than that which they previously experienced in mainstream America. The men on the other hand had a male dominated outside world to return to where they would at least be afforded the same limited rights and privileges that were too often elusive to women.
In the end the Commune Movement did not vanish into thin air, nor did all communards drop out of the social and political arena. The Vermont of today is inescapably a product of those times, just as it is also a product of other progressive migrations; be it radicals coming north during the Great Depression, the anarchist and socialist labor movement brought by Italian immigrants in 1900, or yeoman farmers/Green Mountain Boys who pioneered Vermont during the 1760-70s. The Commune Movement is just the latest of these defining eras of Vermont’s history, and its epitaphs and advancements are perhaps most apparent in their relative newness. The Bread & Puppet Theater (now considered a staple of Vermont culture), the dozens of food co-ops (perhaps the most per-capita in the world), a large free health clinic in Burlington (now employing over 60 people), a number of worker-run businesses (i.e. the Common Ground in Brattleboro), NOFA (and by extension Rural Vermont which began through NOFA), and countless farmers’ markets are all direct results of organizing done by Free Vermont and the communards of the 60s and 70s. However, its true legacy can perhaps best be seen through its indirect contributions.
Generational diffusion of the basic values of the 60-70s counter-culture has resulted in the left being more firmly embedded in all corners of Vermont making the state the most progressive in the country; the only state never visited by President G.W. Bush. In recent years Vermont (population 600,000) has led the nation in many important social issues. Universal healthcare is provided for all its children (and will continue to be regardless of the eventual outcome of the Federal SCHIP debate), funding for public education has essentially been socialized, gay couples retain the same civil rights as straight couples, and more than 70% of the people firmly oppose the war in Iraq (in 2003 three thousand marched on the rural state capital to oppose the war). Even Vermont’s organized labor is greatly influenced by the Commune Movement.
In 1998 a Central Vermont anarchist group known as the #10 Collective [themselves members of the Love & Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation and largely influenced by the political teachings of Vermont 60s radical Murray Bookchin] played a lead role in forming the Vermont Workers’ Center. One of the prime movers of this collective was a young man named Jason Winston. Jason, like thousands of other native born Vermonters, was the child of counter-culture parents. And today the Workers’ Center, with a constituency above 20,000, functions as a grand coalition of most the major Vermont labor unions as well as individual workers. As such Vermont labor has been a leader in opposing the current war, and in the fight for the establishment of single payer universal healthcare. This fact can also be understood as another indirect influence of the leftism of the 60-70s. In a word, those communards that stayed, those that organized, those that eventually became neighbors and friends with thousands of native working class Vermonters, did in fact have an impact on public opinion.
Electorally Vermont, unlike most of the US, recognizes four major political parties. In addition to the Democrats and Republicans, there is also the very far left Liberty Union Party. This party, which received 5.7% of the vote for State Treasurer in 2006, was formed in the 70s as the electoral expression of the Commune Movement. Besides the Liberty Union, there is also the social-democratic oriented Vermont Progressive Party. The Progressives were formed by former Liberty Union member Bernie Sanders (now serving as the first socialist in the US Senate) and includes many activists and supporters from the commune days. Sanders won his first election in 1981, becoming the socialist mayor of Burlington. He formed the Progressive Coalition, the forerunner of the Progressive Party, shortly thereafter. His victory was a result not only of gaining the backing of key unions, but also of support work done by former communards. One such communard, Barbara Nolfy of the Franklin Commune, went on to serve in his administration as a member of a newly organized Burlington Woman’s Counsel. Furthermore, Progressive Party Chairman Anthony Pollina (who won 25% of the vote in the 2002 Lieutenant Governor’s race and is currently considering a run for Governor in 2008) was once an organizer with counter-culture allied NOFA. Presently the Progressives are the strongest third party in the nation, with six seats in the State Legislator (including the Chair of the House Agriculture Committee), the Mayorship of the largest city (Burlington, population: 39,000), several City Council positions, and countless Town Select Board seats as well as lesser elected posts.
And again, our present seems to be witnessing a generational revival of cooperativism. In 2006, on the heels of greatly falling wholesale milk prices, the Dairy Farmers of Vermont (co-founded by Anthony Pollina) opened a farmer owned milk processing plant in Hardwick. More generally, of the forty worker-owned businesses in the state (which employ 2000 people), 10% are organized as democratic co-ops. From the Red House construction company in Burlington, to the Brattleboro Tech Collective, to the popular Langdon Street Café and Black Sheep bookstore in Montpelier, worker and farmer co-ops are again on the rise.
But just as the Commune Movement has had its effects on Old Vermont, Old Vermont has had its effects on the counter-culture activists and institutions that have survived. Its long standing tradition of local democracy through Town Meeting has focused much of the continuing political angst of the left out of closed off communities, and into the directly democratic Town Halls, where their ideas have spread throughout the population. It should come as no surprise that hundreds of Vermont towns have passed resolutions against the war, for the impeachment of the President, against GMOs, and in support of universal healthcare. And where the old co-ops have drifted into more traditional business practices, the unions have been there to organize the workers [such as the United Electrical Workers at Montpelier’s Hunger Mountain Co-op, and Burlington’s City Market –both of which are large area employers]. In a very real sense the relationship between Old Vermont and the Vermont of the communes has become symbiotic; elements of each driving the state in both a more democratic and more socialistic direction.
This continuing trend to the left can even be observed in the declarations of the State’s General Assembly and other bodies of Vermonters who have gathered in capital building in Montpelier. Pressured from below, in 2007 the State Senate passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Bush, and both the House and Senate passed a resolution calling for a military withdrawal from Iraq. In 2003, the day the U.S. invaded Iraq, hundreds of Vermonters met in the State House where they unanimously passed resolutions condemning the acts of the Federal Government as illegal and immoral. And again in 2006 more than 200 Vermonters held a meeting in the State House to discuss the possibility of secession from the United States (a cause now supported by 13% of the population). Former communards and 60s-70s radicals were undoubtedly present at both events. All these declarations, as symbolic as they may be, point to the leftward trajectory of politics in Vermont; a trajectory which, in part, was set in course by the Commune Movement a generation before.
The final chapter on Vermont’s Commune Movement cannot be written until history reveals whether or not those heady days of the 60s and 70s were a cultural abrasion, or an immediate harbinger of things to come.
For Robert Houriet the future, and therefore the past, holds a bitter promise. “We were just ahead of the economy,” says Robert. “We were trying to go back to 1930 at a time when the economy was going off the scale in terms of abundance. A false abundance, as it turns out… [The final victory of the cooperative movement] will have to be economically determined. People will do this because they have to, because they choose to do what is possible. And what becomes possible is [determined] when the price of oil becomes too high, when the price to the environment becomes too high not to do it that way. Not for idealistic reasons, but because they have to. The farmer [for example] will feel the pinch… –they can’t achieve the mechanization, the storage, the distribution without doing it cooperatively. So cooperativism will become efficient. It will become necessary that people adopt cooperative methods.”
By David Van Deusen (Co-Founder of The Green Mountain Anarchist Collective)
“Let us remember that every great step forward in history has not come into fruition until it has first been baptized in blood.” – Mikhail Bakunin
NOTE: The essay was first published, not so long after the Battle of Seattle, as a pamphlet by Black Clover Press, Montpelier VT, 2001. It has not previously been available in other formats.
Introduction Militancy and direct action are not only necessary tactical tools for the anarchist left, but, when correctly implemented, they are also the facilitators of inspiration and motivation for both those involved with the act in question and those who observe the act in question. It is such activity that helps draw numbers into the movement by creating an outlet for the venting of frustration and alienation. In short, militancy and direct action, by challenging the entrenched power of the wealthy ruling class and state, fosters a sense of empowerment upon those who partake, while also furthering creative aspirations by hinting at what a revolution toward a non-oppressive society might feel like.
Of course, militancy and direct action do not carry the inherent qualification of being violent or nonviolent in and of themselves. The slashing of management’s car tires during a labor dispute, as well as erecting of barricades and subsequent rioting against the forces of the State during a pro-working class demonstration are both clearly militant actions, but so too is a non-violent workers’ factory occupation during a strike as well as occupying major city intersections and shutting down of financial districts during a protest against neoliberalism.
Clearly there are many circumstances in which non-violent tactics are not only advisable, but also the only effective course possible. Furthermore, tactical nonviolence is always the preferred course of action when its outcome can bring about the desired objective and subjective results more effectively or as effectively as a violent act. Such practices should be encouraged and taught throughout the anarchist and leftist movement generally in order to maintain a moral superiority over the forces of capital and the state, who of course practices both overt and covert violence with little discrimination on a consistent basis. This commitment to nonviolence is fundamentally based on pragmatism and revolutionary ethics, while finding its material existence through the implementation of tactics. However, nonviolence should, under no circumstances, be understood as a strategy in and of itself. When nonviolence is used as a strategy it transcends its existence as a descriptive term and defines itself as an idea, a noun, as “pacifism”; it becomes an ideology.
When nonviolence is used correctly, as a tactic, it is a most useful tool in the popular struggle. The reason for this is because such a display of resistance is indicative of an underlying threat of violence. For if people are willing to put themselves on the line for the sake of liberty, and if these people are willing to risk bodily harm in such an action, it displays a level of commitment, which, if turned in a violent manner, could manifest itself in the form of a future insurrection; an insurrection where if critical mass is attained could threaten the foundation of state power; that of the ruling class and the underlying anti-culture.
Ironically the victories of the Civil Rights Movement in the South during the 1950’s and ‘60’s owes a lot to the inherent threat of violence. In this case, the southern leadership, embodied in Martin Luther King Jr., expounded upon the need for nonviolence to be utilized as a strategy. However, this movement did not take place in a vacuum. Parallel to the happenings in the South, a movement for black liberation was being launched in the North, and elsewhere, as embodied in the Nation of Islam, later in an autonomous Malcolm X, and then in the Black Panther Party (BPP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, a group which formally rejected strategic nonviolence while under the leadership of Stokely Carmichael. This aspect of the movement displayed signs of extreme militancy and was not pacifistic in rhetoric or in character. To the government this represented the logical alternative to which the movement as a whole would turn if certain terms were not ceded to the pacifistic element in the South. The much trumpeted success of the Southern Civil Rights Movement’s pacifistic strategy has, despite itself, much to thank to the threat of violence
In the following essay, I will elaborate on the above theme. First, I will discuss situations where political violence in not only necessary, but ethically justifiable. Second, I will discuss the natural disjunction between strategic nonviolence and the poor and working classes, and finally, I will discuss the contemporary bourgeois roots of pacifism as an ideology of the status quo.
When Violence is Necessary
The fact is that there are times when the only way to effectively advance a movement is through the use of violence. Sometimes, this necessity is clearly in reaction to particular act of state violence, other times it is due to more general circumstances. Either way, justifiable acts of leftist/working class violence are always fundamentally an act of self-defense insofar as the very institutions of the capitalist state inherently constitute continuing physical and psychological violence against the great mass of its people.
“Once the State moves to consolidate its own power, peace has already been broken.” – Che Guevara
More concretely, violence can be understood as absolutely necessary during certain phases of popular struggle.
This occurs when:
1. Nonviolent options have been explored yet no ostensible victory has been reached.
In the face of exploitation and oppression, inaction is akin to no action, and hence is tacit acceptance and support of those evils. In addition, the continued implementation of proven ineffectual tactics in the face of these evils must be considered akin to inaction, in that ineffectual tactics translates into the same end result; continued exploitation and oppression of the poor and working class by the hands of the ruling class, bourgeoisie and their lackeys. Thus, it would follow that there may arise circumstances, after the exploration of peaceful options, where the only ethical course available to a movement, or individual, is of a violent kind.
2. Whenever State oppression becomes violent, to the point where the movement itself or large segments of the population or the premises on which the people subsist are threatened with liquidation.
The physical self-defense of a people, a movement, or the premises upon which they subsist, is a self-evident right, obvious in the natural world. To claim otherwise is to deny the bravery, justness and dignity of Sitting Bull and the Lakota of the 1870’s, the Jews of Warsaw during the Nazi occupation of the 1940’s, the Cuban’s defense at the Bay of Pigs in the early 1960’s, the man who vanquishes the would-be murderer of his child, and the woman who manages to physically fight off a would-be rapist. To allow for otherwise is nothing but a neurotic self-denying tendency and an unnatural will to suicide.
3. Violence must be understood as a looming fact once the critical mass necessary to seriously challenge a ruling class and state power is domestically reached.
To believe that the state will voluntarily relinquish its power in the face of a moral challenge is as childish and absurd as it is dangerous. History, without exception, has shown that a parent state will react to any legitimate or perceived threat to its domestic power with a ruthless violent suppression of the threat. If that means the murder of large sections of its own population, so be it. Pacifism in the face of such repression translates into no more than the eradication of the insurrectional movement through the means of murder to the sum of absolute death. Once the state finds itself backed into the proverbial corner, it can be expected to act by animalistic instinct; in short, it will fight for its life and will not relinquish until either itself or all of its foes are dead. Let us not forget the 30,000 fallen heroes of the Paris Commune whose blood will forever stain the consciousness of modern France.
Some would argue that the above claim is proven false by the historical fact of Mahatma Gandhi’s pacifistic movement; a movement which did succeed in liberating India from direct British imperial rule. However, such a line of argument does not apply in this case, as that particular case did not occur inside a primary capitalist nation. Rather it occurred on the edges of a crumbling empire. The response of the British government would have differed radically if the movement had occurred inside one of its perceived, primary domestic provinces, or if it were a general domestic movement against the state apparatus itself. The former of which is born out in the fact that the present situation in Northern Ireland has its contemporary roots in the 1960’s nonviolent Catholic Civil Rights Movement.
Therefore, if the goal of the anarchists and the left generally is not self-eradication through a violent counter reaction and the subsequent consolidation of oppressive forces, it will recognize nonviolence for what it is; a tactic, not a strategy.
Pacifism as Foreign to the Poor and Working Classes
One must also question the ability of a nonviolent movement to generate the critical mass necessary to substantially challenge the entrenched fundamental power structure of the nation/state. Since the death of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968, pacifism has failed to attract any significant numbers outside of the upper middle and wealthy classes. The reason for such failure is that pacifism does not commonly attract members of the working and sub-working class because it bears no resemblance to their experience of reality or their values and shared history of struggle.
If one’s goal is to aid in the building of a serious revolutionary movement, one must be sure that movement is inclusive to those classes that inherently possess revolutionary potential. Thus, it is necessary to construct a movement which is empirically relevant to poor and working class reality. This not only means agitation on their behalf, but also utilizing a strategy which is consistent with the developing/potential class consciousness of such a constituency. If a movement fails to do such, it will fail to draw the necessary critical mass from those classes and in turn will fail to achieve its supposed goals. Furthermore, such failures are probably indicative of the co-option of that movement by ideological prejudices imported from the bourgeoisie; most likely in the form of upper-middle class activists present in the left. Nonviolence, as a strategy is a perfect example of such counterproductive prejudices.
I have often heard discussions among upper-middle class activists about the need to stay away from violent confrontations with the state at demonstrations in order to “not turn people off”. The fact is the only people who are likely to be automatically turned off by legitimate acts of self-defense are upper middle class and wealthy types who will most likely never be won over to the side of revolution anyway. On the other hand, it is common that folk from within the poor and working classes are inspired by the direct and unobstructed confrontations with the forces of the status quo. These communities appreciate the honesty, dignity, and bravery that popular self-defense demands. These are the future agents of revolution and they are not as easily turned away by the truth that real struggle entails. Violent self-defense on behalf of, and through a constituency emanating from their class, is a more pure expression of their collective frustrations brought on from alienation and made objective through their continuing poverty or sense of slavery through accumulated debt.
To further illustrate this all one has to do is look at the various strikes, demonstrations, protests, riots, etc., of the past two years to see how those from within the poor and working classes have conducted themselves when confronted with state violence and restraint. Here we can observe the violent uprising of the poor and working class black folk within Cincinnati (April 2001), the anti-capitalist riots of the Quebecois youth A20 (anti-FTAA demo, Quebec City, April 2001), the numerous Black Bloc anti-capitalist actions throughout North America and Europe (Seattle, 1999, through Genoa, 2001) the armed peasant uprisings from Bolivia to Nepal, the massive militant protests of the Argentine working class against the neoliberal policies of the capitalist government (summer, 2001), the violent union strikes within South Korea, as well as countless other examples of poor and working class resistance the world over.
Compare these developing mass movements composed of persons squarely within the more oppressed economic classes to the relatively impotent and groundless protests of strictly nonviolent upper middle class “reformers”. Two decades of liberal dominance within the left, from the late 1970’s through the later 1990’s, resulted in little or no tangible victories, and often resulted in isolating left wing politics from its supposed mass working class base. These liberals, democratic socialists, non-government organizations (NGO’s), etc., failed to deliver a mass movement of an oppressed constituency. All they did manage to deliver was countless boring protests, which rarely even received media coverage of any kind, and Walter Mondale, as the losing alternative to Ronald Reagan in the 1984 U.S. Presidential election.
The basic fact is, the strategy of nonviolence is foreign to the poor and working classes, and any grouping which places such an ideology ahead of the real desires and inclinations of the masses of exploited people will inevitably remain marginalized, isolated, and ineffectual. Here they become no more than the would-be mediators of continuing alienation and oppression, if only with a dash more of welfare programs and workplace safety boards.
Pacifism is foreign to the social reality of the workers. For example, few of us who grew up without the privilege of gross excess capital did so without learning the value of knowing how to fight. Unequivocal nonviolence in grade school would have earned us the same thing it does in the political arena; further bullying, further oppression. An early lesson for many of us was the effectiveness of “standing up to the bully.” Such an act always carried with it the threat of violence, if not the implementation of violence. To take such a stand without such a commitment would have resulted in nothing more than a black eye. It is from this early age that the more oppressed classes learn the value of violence as a tool of liberation.
Historically, violence has proven to be politically relevant through union struggles and neighborhood fights against the exploitation of the poor and working class. The history of the labor struggle is a history of blood, death, and dignity. From the Pinkertons to the scabs, to the police, army, and National Guard; from lynching to fire bombings the U.S. Government, acting as the political ram of the ruling class, more often than not has forced the working class to defend itself through its only proven weapons; class-conscious organization and self-defense, when need be, through violence. This is a historical fact that is apparent in the social underpinnings of working class community, if not always consciously remembered by its inheritors.
In addition, the more advanced elements of the poor and working class has, for 150 years, been exposed to and has autonomously developed ideologies of liberations which not only map the current state of affairs and predict future trends, but also prescribe the justified use of violence as a necessary element of their own liberation. In turn, these ideologies, although often greatly flawed, have been a consistent traveler through the trials and tribulations of these workers since the dawn of the industrial age. When successes were found, these ideologies were also present. Although it is true that much leftist ideology is becoming a dinosaur of the past within primary capitalist nations (i.e. those espousing the various forms of authoritarian communism) it must be recognized that in and of itself it has been responsible for its own transcendence. It is part of the common history of struggle and even with its passing it reserves a place of prestige within the social unconscious of the past and present revolutionary struggle. You tell me how willing the more self-conscious elements of the poor and working classes are to deny this history.
Of course, violence should not be canonized. These same communities implement violence upon themselves in a destructive manner as well. Domestic violence, murder, and armed robbery of members of their own class is a reality in many poor and working class neighborhoods. But, these forms of internal violence can be attributed to alienation as experienced in an oppressive society. Thus, crime rates have historically plummeted in such neighborhoods during times of class autonomy (i.e. Paris 1871, Petrograd 1917-1921, Barcelona 1936-39). Of course, we should condemn such negative forms of violence and work toward their eradication, but we should do so without throwing the baby out with the bath water.
Violence, both of a positive and negative sort, is an element of poor and working class culture. Violence is also a proven tool of liberation in poor and working class ghettos, both in relation to the personal and the political. And finally this reality is further validated by ongoing world events and historical fact.
Nonviolence as a philosophic universal must be understood as the negation of the existence of the poor and working classes. And no, I do not solely mean their existence as an oppressed element; I mean their existence as a class which possesses a self-defined dignity through their ongoing struggle against alienation and exploitation.
Ideological nonviolence is the negation of their shared history of struggle. It denies their dreams of freedom by its sheer absurdity and stifles certain forms of their self-expression through its totalitarian and insanely idealistic demands. In a word, strategic nonviolence is the negation of class consciousness; it is irrelevant at best and slavery at worst. In itself, it represents the conscious and/or unconscious attempt of the more privileged classes to sterilize the revolutionary threat forever posed by a confident, self-conscious, and truly revolutionary working class.
Once again, it is conceivable that some would argue the contrary by pointing to poor and working class involvement in the nonviolent movement in Gandhi’s India and/or Martin Luther King Jr.’s Civil Rights Movement. However, the extent to which non-violence was accepted as a strategy by these classes is born out in the events which followed the initial successes of these respective movements. In India the same elements that partook in nonviolent actions quickly, and regrettably, fractioned off into two camps; the Hindu on the one hand and the Muslim on the other. Not long after, these factions had no qualms about mobilizing to fight successive wars against one another. Let us remember that both these factions today possess nuclear weapons, which are aimed at one another. In the southern U.S. many of the same persons who marched with King also adopted a decidedly non-pacifistic strategy in the later days of SNCC, the formation of BPP chapters, and the Black Liberation Army cells throughout the region. In addition, let us not forget the riots which occurred upon the news of King’s assassination, turning the black ghettos across the U.S. into a virtual war zone. In the final analysis, both of these pacifistic movements must be recognized as only being such in the minds of their respected leadership. The masses of poor and working class people, which gave these movements their strength, never internalized nonviolence as a strategy; rather nonviolence was no more than a particular tactic to be used as long as its utility bore itself out.
Psychological Roots of Pacifism as a Bourgeois Ideology
So, if pacifism bears no resemblance to poor and working class reality and has no historical or sound philosophical base, what can its existence, as a strategy, be attributed to? The answer is: the deformed ideology of the progressive element of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie – in other words that of the classes composing the higher and lower levels of the wealthy privileged classes.
It is true that many individuals from these classes have become legitimate and outstanding revolutionaries through the process of becoming radicalized and declassed; Mikhail Bakunin, Karl Marx and Che Guevara to name but a few. And of course, there are many such individuals in our movement today. But, it is also true that many bourgeois elements present in the left still cling to their class privileges and prejudices as if a gilded crutch. They are oddballs in that they are bourgeois yet are driven by a self-loathing as facilitated by class guilt. On the one hand they wish to rectify the ills they feel responsible for, and on the other they are too unimaginative and weak of constitution to cleave themselves from their class privileges and the relative security that entails. Hence, they cling to the only political strategy which can, in their minds, both absolve them from their materials sins and maintain the status quo of their class security; in a word, they become pacifists. In this move they reject the dialectical materialism of both anarchism and communism by subjecting themselves to an idea at the expense of concrete experience.
Pacifism lacks any sound material bases. A quick observation of nature will tell you that the natural world is not without violence and human beings are not outside the natural world. Life is violent. Everything from the eruption of a volcano, to the lion’s killing of her prey, to human ingestion of a vegan meal, possesses a degree of violence. Think of all the weeds that were killed in the production of that tomato, or of all the living microorganisms that our body necessarily destroys through ingestion, or through the very act of breathing; that is violence.
Like the eighteenth century French philosopher Rene Descartes, these charlatans reject the fact of the body for the phantom of the mind. They create the idea of unconditional nonviolence and enslave themselves to it; instinct, lived experience, historical fact, be damned. Through their ideology they become the same beasts of dualism that have tethered the human race from Plato to Catholicism.
Pacifism is fundamentally at odds with anarchism in its view of the state. Pacifism functions by the maxim that the tacit and active perpetrators of oppression (i.e. the state through the ruling class) possess an inherent ability to rectify themselves if the true appalling nature of that oppression is unmasked to them. Hence, it is also assumed that the ruling class possesses the ability to make such an observation and that it will display the desire to make such change. Anarchism contends that the very existence of a state apparatus insures the continuing oppression of the exploited classes. This is due to the inherent tendency of power to corrupt those who possess it; and those who possess power seek to consolidate that power. The state apparatus tends to safeguard itself from such possibilities through the creation of bureaucratic institutions which entail a codified dogma specifically designed to maintain the status quo. With this development class oppression becomes an irreversible fact, within the statist paradigm, even in the unthinkable unlikelihood that large elements of the ruling class were to desire its radical reforming. In this sense the state is a self-propelling evil that is no more capable of eradicating class oppression than it is of eradicating itself; Frankenstein’s monster resurrected. Therefore, pacifism is fundamentally at odds with anarchism. Either the state is potentially a vehicle for liberation, or it is an institution of slavery. Plain and simple.
Bourgeois pacifists become modern ideologues of a confused status quo. They adhere to pseudo-rebellion, and in doing so they serve the function of bolstering the state through the implementation of a strategy that acts as an abstracted semblance of insurrection; a false, non-threatening insurrection squarely within the parameters of the predominant anti-culture. And here they defuse the revolutionary potential of any movement they touch by acting as the unconscious arm of the expanding anti-culture apparatus of false appearances and mundane stability. For as long as their strategy lacks any real potential to fundamentally challenge class bias and status quo; as long as such a strategy is devoid of the true ability to deconstruct the economic and cultural system that allows for the establishment of the bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie; as long as this strategy takes on a language of righteous and pious revolution, these self-loathing activities of a physical comfort can go to sleep at night both feeling redeemed through their rebellion and secure in knowing their tacitly oppressive luxury will be there for them again, tomorrow.
What further makes these pacifists oddballs, is the fact that through their pseudo-revolutionary activity they incur an alienated relationship with the less analytical elements of their own class, who in their ignorance constitute the class majority. These elements mistakenly view them as class traitors. This is ironic because nothing could be further from the truth. These people stand fundamentally in solidarity with their roots. And, if their activity has any ostensible effect on the larger movement, it is to prolong the day of insurrection, not to expedite it.
If left to their own delusions they would not deserve such discussion, but they, like Christian missionaries, seek to spread their neurotic illusion to new populations; in this case the poor and working classes. And in doing so they have infiltrated the leftists and anarchist movements and even now threaten to rob it of its pressing relevance by divorcing it from its learned experience.
The poor and working classes are naturally not drawn to pacifism. If pacifism becomes the prime mode of operation for leftists and anarchists organizations, these organizations will cease to have any legitimate tie to their natural constituents. Although it would be ignorant to contend that such an ideology will fail to gain a certain degree of reluctant converts among naturally opposing classes. If such irrationalities never occurred in society, Italian and German fascism would never have manifested themselves with the power that they did. In short, aspects of the poor and working classes can be expected to adopt a self-denying ideology if that ideology claims to offer liberation and if that movement in which it is contained appears to be the most prominent in the field. This is not to say that the true movement will be abolished through such a scenario, any more so than it denies the ultimate historical relevance of dialectical materialism, it is only to say that it will prolong the day of reckoning by robbing the oppressed classes of their truly revolutionary organizations.
Perhaps the best way to have repelled Franco’s fascist invasion of Spain in 1936 would have been for the C.N.T. and F.A.I. to hold a peaceful sit-in? Maybe Adolph Hitler would have reversed his genocidal policies and instead made strides towards a free society if enough Jews and gentiles would have peacefully marched in Berlin. If non-violence was the strategy of the Devil, he’d probably be ruling heaven right now… no.
In the end analysis, just as there is a place for tactical nonviolence, there is also a place for violence during certain phases of a popular movement. This can manifest as a tool of self-defense or as the midwife of state disembodiment. On the other hand, pacifism, as an ethical system of action, is nothing but an absurd dilution born out of resentment and fear and projected upon the struggles of the poor and working classes by oddball elements of the bourgeoisie. As long as such a strategy is allowed to occupy a prominent role among the ranks of the left, the left will equal the total sum of the socially inept ruling class.
In summation, nonviolence can be used in many circumstances as an effective tactic, but it is irrelevant, irresponsible, and utterly ridiculous to even consider it as a strategy. So yes, nonviolence should be utilized as a tactic where pertinent, and in turn pacifism, as an ideology and a strategy, must be purged from our movement.
The author’s opinions here are their own, as with all articles on the site.
On April 9th, Richard Spencer, with the support of Mike Peinovich (Mike Enoch) and several other Alt Right “shitlords” held a rally in front of the White House in opposition to Donald Trump’s bombing of Syrian airfields. This strays from their American First nationalism, as they quite like Assad’s authoritarian regime in the Middle East. While the left also opposed the invasion of Syria, it is for dramatically different reasons than the Alt Right, organized anti-fascists came out to confront the Alt Right at their rally. What ensued was Richard Spencer and other far-right provocateurs baiting, insulting, and prodding the opposition.
The anti-fascist contingent swelled so large that the Alt Right were forced to cut down their rally early and were chased out of the square. Richard then tried to get into his planned ride, but anti-fascists blocked this. Spencer then got into a cab, which was also blocked by anti-fascists, while police came to Spencer’s defense. Spencer cowered and then ran out of the cab and down the street as police tried to block the anti-fascist protesters. Police arrested two anti-fascist protesters, and we will be posting information on how to donate to their legal fund when that information becomes available. The video ends by following Spencer as he ducked in and our of alley ways, hiding from protesters, and then mocking them when he felt like he was safe. This really shows that his ability to organize has been destroyed by the opposition, and he will never be able to hold an unopposed public event.
The video below is the best video of the whole incident, including Spencer being run out of town and the protesters being arrested. We do not enjoy sharing a video below that includes Spencer being able to speak his views, nor do we endorse the operation that put the video together, but it is also the most clear angle of the events we have found thus far.
Note: This article is republished from its original location, published first August 25th, 2015. We think that it continues to be important now seeing Trump heading into the White House.
by Alexander Reid Ross
The White Power Candidate?
An impressive amount of light is being shed on the current presidential candidates, and Donald Trump in particular, revealing the ugly face of fascism in the US. In late June, the most popular US neo-Nazi news website, The Daily Stormer, fully endorsed Trump. Editor of The Daily Stormer Andrew Anglin writes, “[Trump] is certainly going to be a positive influence on the Republican debates, as the modern Fox News Republican has basically accepted the idea that there is no going back from mass immigration, and Trump is willing to say what most Americans think: it’s time to deport these people. He is also willing to call them out as criminal rapists, murderers and drug dealers… I urge all readers of this site to do whatever they can to make Donald Trump President.” A particularly high amount of attention has been placed on the fact that someone in the audience shouted “White power!” at Trump’s recent speech in Alabama, but what did Trump actually say during that speech?
To the tune of “Sweet Home Alabama,” Trump struts to the stage at the stadium in the majority-black city of Mobile—a Northern businessman in one of the major port cities in the Gulf of Mexico with a significant Civil War history. He seems to handle himself with all the bravado it takes for a white man from Queens, New York, who the Nation has likened to an oligarch, to ramble through what seemed like a largely ad-libbed speech for fifty minutes before an all-white crowd of an anticipated 40,000 Southerners.
The speech begins with Trump comparing himself to Billy Graham, a leader of the Moral Majority who took cues from the infamous “Jayhawk Nazi,” Gerald Winrod. By minute two of his speech, Trump declares that just last week, a 66 year-old woman was “raped, sodomized, tortured, and killed by an illegal immigrant. We have to do it. We have to do something. We have to do something.” The crowd erupts in enthusiastic applause. The US, according to Trump, is immediately beset on all sites by immigrants who pose a clear and present danger to the security of each and every white, God-fearing American citizen—“The people that built this country. Great people.”
In true populist fashion, Trump calls himself a “non-politician,” insisting that he served jury duty recently, and refused to put “politician” as his occupation. He is an outsider, the common man like us. “I know the game,” he tells us. He doesn’t rely on lobbyists, because he’s “built a great business.” Trump shifts his focus to a celebration of Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama, who walks onto the platform for a cameo appearance with his very own “Make America Great Again” baseball cap. Those hats are “hotter than pistols,” speaketh the Trump (“They’re made in America,” he reassures us). Sessions has declared that the opinions of climate scientists offend him, so in Trump’s world, he’s one of the good guys. Trump, however, is an unconventional leader, not a politician. In his speech, he calls for expedited elections. “Can we do that?” And then in his best manbaby impression: “I don’t wanna wait!”
Returning to the Pre-Reconstruction South
Someone brandishes an “original” copy of The Art of the Deal, one of Trump’s books, and he goes gaga; “That’s when they used real paper, right?” The crowd accepts the triumph of the paper mill—a great irony given the forest fires currently raging through millions of charred acres of Pacific Northwest rainforest, choking the air of hundreds of thousands of people. Unlike Portland, Oregon, however, the only scent of scorched earth in Mobile, Alabama, is that strange whiff of pre-Civil War nostalgia that still musters a tear for Old Dixie.
After insisting that “We’re going to build a wall” and warning that “seven and a half percent of all births are from illegal immigrants,” Trump rapidly moves on to issues of revitalizing the South by rescinding the Fourteenth Amendment. “The Fourteenth Amendment, I was right on it, you can do something with it, and you can do something fast.” What is Trump’s target here? The Fourteenth Amendment is the civil rights amendment drafted after the Civil War out of a compromise between supporters of abolition democracy and Northern industrialists who disliked the idea of racial equality. According to the Fourteenth Amendment, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
This amendment established the basis of citizenship and the right to vote for black people in the South. Before the amendment, a politician who supported Reconstruction by amendment named Alfred Ronald Conkling declared, “[the] emancipated multitude has no political status. Emancipation vitalizes only natural rights, not political rights. Enfranchisement alone carries with it political rights, and these emancipated millions are no more enfranchised now than when they were slaves. They never had political power. Their masters had a fraction of power as masters.” The Fourteenth Amendment sought to enfranchise black voters, and to be treated “like Magna Charta as the keystone of American legislation,” in the words of one of its framers. Still, the Fourteenth Amendment came as a compromise to afford blacks various rights without engineering a far more liberatory, systemic undertaking.
By opposing the Fourteenth Amendment, Trump represents the nefarious tradition of Northern Republicans who split with the Reconstruction-era movement to spread equal rights to all citizens of the US. These industrialists sided with Southern racists to undermine Reconstruction through extreme violence, sparking the menace of the Ku Klux Klan. Agreeing with Southern Democrats that those who believed in public education and abolition democracy were mere “carpetbaggers” and “scalliwags,” these Northern industrialists turned their backs on Southern black voters and the project of Reconstruction, which ended finally in 1876 when Rutherfurd B Hayes won the election by agreeing to withdraw US troops from the South and allow “states rights” governance. As historian Leonard Zeskind explains in Blood and Politics, the history of resistance against Reconstruction marks an important tradition for white supremacists, from the anti-civil rights movement to Humphrey Ireland (also known as Wilmot Robertson and Sam Dickson) to David Duke, who would have won the race for Governor of Louisiana but for the black vote. A former Imperial Wizard of the Knights of the Klan, Duke supports Trump for president, saying “he’s certainly the best of the lot,” and he “understands the real sentiment of America.”
Trump does not even have to mention black voters in the South; he merely points to the stopgap measures of the Reconstruction period as the problem that keeps the US from returning to its former glory. This position is presented on Trump’s new baseball caps, which proudly state, “Make America Great Again.” This sort of American Renaissance would occur by expelling immigrants and returning to pre-Reconstruction South. It is only after establishing these points that Trump moves to the global trade question, which he simplifies largely to the field of US-East Asia geopolitics.
“I’m a Free Trader”
The Chinese have stolen America’s future, Trump bleats, and it’s the US’s fault for allowing them to do it. The political careerists in power must be thrown out, and replaced with Trump’s “killers,” “mean” guys, economic hit men who know how to broker big, merciless deals with the Chinese. Trump presents himself as a “free trader,” but also states that he will reverse the economic order by applying a 35 percent import tax on all imports from Mexico to keep Ford and Nabisco in the US. This position of tariffs within free trade systems seems to fall close to what Nuremberg prosecutor Franz Neumann, in referring to the Nazi Party, called “a perverted liberalism.”
Most evident in his economic platform is Trump’s willingness to take shots at companies who have run afoul of his propaganda enterprise in the past. Trump tells us that Sony “has lost its way. Prices are too high,” which may have less to do with Sony’s balance sheet, and more to do with the feud that he got into with Sony late last year when Trump insisted that the multinational corporation based in Japan has “no courage, no guts” after they withdrew the film, “The Interview,” due to threats from hackers. The row went as far as Trump calling for Amy Pascal to quit her position of co-chairman due to “stupidity issues” when news came out that she consulted with Al Sharpton.
As he expands on his ideas, Trump’s outlook on international relations seems increasingly informed by similar personal beefs. He claims to appreciate the Saudis for spending tens of millions of dollars on real estate with him. However, he claims that “they wouldn’t be there without our protection.” Similarly, we receive little in exchange for “28,000 troops we have at the border between North and South Korea,” except for that “they take our trade. We loose a fortune with them. We loose a fortune with China.”
Confronting the flight of support from his campaign after he made racist remarks, Trump declares that he is suing Univision for $500 million after the Mexico-based media company for dropping Miss USA, which Trump co-owns: “I want that money!” He regrets, he tells the audience, that Univision’s audience will miss the beautiful women of Miss Universe (“summer girls, but beautiful,” he tells the audience, stealing a line from the late-’90s boy band, LFO). Trump tells us that he is “not bragging” when he gloats that he has over $10 billion dollars with an income over $400 million. “I want to put that energy,” he explains, into the American public. His main points are to “make our country rich, and to make our country great again.” How can we do the latter without doing the former? It is at this point, which would appear to many to be one of the more innocuous moments, that an audience member begins to shout, “White Power!” A cry which Trump seems to hear, but does not acknowledge (according to some reports, the slogan was heard more than once).
Flogging the Middle Class
In pinball fashion, Trump returns to China, which he claims is taking our jobs. “It’s almost as though they want us to just die,” he tells us with a faltering timbre in his voice. They’re his friends—those Japanese bankers who pay Trump rent—they’re “really smart,” but “we have dummies” who are “incompetent.” At the devaluation of the Chinese Yuan, Trump tells us that he hears “a sucking sound”—that noise discovered by Ross Perot in Mexico while NAFTA was in the works in 1991.
Like Perot, Trump makes a number of homages to the middle class. “I didn’t like ties so much, because they were made in China,” he tells the crowd, eliciting jocular approval. In other interviews, Trump has declared his disdain for hedge fund managers gutting the middle class, and called Hillary Clinton a “running dog.” Since Trump is independently wealthy, while Clinton is worth a mere $32 million, his candidacy is untainted by the special interest lobbyists in Washington, DC. “We’re a debtor nation,” the crowd is told, because the US does not negotiate well on the international stage. To fix this, Trump would use the “smartest, toughest, meanest, in many cases the most horrible human beings on earth. I know them all. They’re killers. They’re negotiators… I would put the meanest, smartest—we have the best people in the world, but we don’t use them, we use political hacks, diplomats[.]” Trump discusses his friend, Carl, who he characterizes as making “blood coming out of [his enemies’] eyes from hatred.” This macabre image was minted by Trump earlier this month in reference to his own feud with FOX’s Megyn Kelly, during which he stated that “there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her—wherever,” because she was so angry.
With these men in his charge, Trump declares, “I will rebuild our military. It will be so powerful that we won’t even have to use it. Nobody is going to mess with us.” Chants of “USA!” break out, and Trump silences the chorus with a jeremiad about “our vets” for whom “the senators up in Washington… have done nothing.” Responding to a commentator and referring to his standing in the polls, he insists, “We are tired of the nice people. I won on the economy; I won on jobs; I won on leadership by massive numbers. I won on all these categories. I said, ‘Why do we need an election? We don’t need an election. These are such important categories.’”
It’s in the Genes
In the final ten minutes, Trump surpasses all prior excesses. Describing a friend of his who “comes from a good family,” Trump asks the audience, “do we believe in the gene thing? I mean, I do.” A cry of “Yes!” comes from the stadium. Recalling the old eugenics comparison of stockbreeding, Trump states, “They used to say that Secretariat produces the best horses.” As Trump then goes through a list of accomplishments, including best-selling books and the show The Apprentice, he sticks his chin out in a move that can only be compared with a Mussolini. Trump then informs us that Generals Patton and MacArthur “are spinning in their graves,” because “we can’t beat ISIS.” Presumably, if anybody could “fire” ISIS, it would be the star behind The Apprentice.
At the end of the speech, Trump attunes his audience to anxiety: “We’re running on fumes. We’re not going to have a country left. We need to have our borders. We need to make great deals.” Regarding deals, Trump returns to the issue of Israel for which he asserts his love, but seems to believe is being abandoned by the US. Like numerous reactionary politicians, Trump avoids open anti-Semitism, throwing his support behind Israel while periodically getting in trouble with veiled anti-Semitic jokes like his recent gaff against Jon Stewart. He seems horrified that Iran “are doing their own policing.” This is “so sad,” he states, and then switches up the pace with one simple word: “Obamacare,” eliciting prompt roars of disapproval from the crowd.
After declaring his intention to rescind Obamacare, Trump begins to stump about “women’s health issues” bring about a couple of interesting minutes of awkward discomfort from the audience. He promptly switches to the lack of spirit, jobs, anything, and declares, “I am going to be the greatest jobs president that God ever created… The American dream is dead, and I am going to make it bigger, stronger, and more powerful than ever before… And you’re going to love it, and you’re going to love your president.” As Trump steps away from the podium to the tune of Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Going to Take It” having apparently reanimated a Frankensteinian monstrosity, he seems confident, and the crowd wildly applauds.
Analyzing the Speech
If we assess Trump’s political platform based on Cass Mudde’s rubric of the “populist radical right,” we can see both nativism and welfare chauvinism as the most important characteristics. If nativism is the emphasis on citizenship that traces familial lineage beyond simple birthright, and welfare chauvinism is the increase of the social wage for native citizens, then we’re inside Trump’s ballpark. While Trump is certainly a right-wing populist, there is more to his politics.
There can be no denying that Trump is nativist—in fact, he openly brags about mainstreaming the term “anchor baby,” forcing Jeb Bush to use it in order to keep up with xenophobia. However, Trump’s demonstration of a “free trade” platform with restrictive tariffs is anything but consistent, and he seems to paper over the awkward split with returns to the gimmick of “killer deals.” Tariffs would encourage companies to build factories in the US, he claims, putting more money and jobs into the working class, but would taxes go to public health care? Trump seems to indicate that increased revenue would go to the military, rather than the social wage. The military would then leverage its protection of Saudi Arabia and South Korea for financial support—in short, a protection racket. So the description of “welfare chauvinism,” or generating social programs for “native citizens” only, seems to be a stretch. Instead, Trump’s interesting mix of personalization of economic order and increased protectionism within a liberal, “free trade” framework seem to move more in kind with Mussolini’s framework.
“[Fascism] is not a matter of assembling any old government, more dead than alive,” Mussolini wrote. “It is a question of injecting into the liberal State— which has fulfilled tasks which were magnificent and which we will not forget—all the force of the new Italian generations[.]” This seems to keep with Trump’s insistence that he wants “to put that energy” of his own personal genius into the system that “is running on fumes.” Competitors like Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton are “low-energy people” and black youths have “no spirit,” but Trump is resilient and his cadre are high-impact killers.
When told that the two Boston men who urinated and beat a houseless Latino man with a metal pole were inspired by his words (“Donald Trump was right, all these illegals need to be deported”), Trump responded, “I will say that people who are following me are very passionate. They love this country and they want this country to be great again. They are passionate.” He later tweeted that “We need energy and passion, but we must treat each other with respect. I would never condone violence.”
Although he claims to disavow violence, Trump’s repeated calls for exceptions from the ordinary juridical order echo the famous fascist “state of exception.” He calls on the crowd to support his impulse for extra-parliamentary aims, such as holding the elections early or not even holding elections at all, because “We are tired of the nice people.” Regarding the Fourteenth Amendment, he insists that we can “do something fast.” These impulses, matched with his personalization of economic policy, mark an important kind of leadership principle focused on his own gimmick of “deal making,” which only “the smartest, toughest, meanest, in many cases the most horrible human beings on earth” can understand. Trump would replace the incompetent “political hacks, diplomats” currently in power with his own energetic, vigorous, and ruthless crew. This rhetoric is mirrored by the words of important early fascists like Giovanni Papini—“those who hold power are of three types: the old, the incapable, the charlatans.” Trump’s people are virile and impressive, like Trump, himself. They evoke “blood coming out of her eyes from hatred.” And most of all: they want to help “make America great again.”
Holy Palingenesis, Batman!
Although there are numerous characteristics of fascism, many of which are contradictory, a minimal definition is provided by Roger Griffin: palingenetic ultra-nationalist populism. In lay terms, that means a kind of ultra-nationalist politics that calls for a rebirth of a former glory of the State. If “make America great again” holds as its referents the following:
1) Xenophobic focus on high immigrant birth rates and roving migrants raping and sodomizing elderly women;
2) Anti-Asian economic stance calling forth the image of intelligent-but-thieving Asian nations;
3) Anti-Civil Rights position decrying the unconstitutional burden of the Fourteenth Amendment;
4) A strange focus on genetic, familial heritage;
5) Anti-plutocratic politics coming from an oligarch;
6) Militaristic protectionism masquerading as liberalism; and
7) A political rhetoric devoted to energy and coming “back from the dead”
then it lands quite clearly in the tradition of ultra-nationalism known as “Americanism.” Each of these reference played its own special role during the 1960s backlash against the Civil Rights and labor movements, which after the election of Richard Nixon moved from political participation through the Wallace campaign of 1968 into various critical fascist organizations like the National Alliance and Liberty Lobby.
Is Trump a paleo- or neo-conservative? Not really. Is he a leftist? Absolutely not. But in his syncretic platform, he takes planks from both sides, from economic protectionism and anti-plutocracy to anti-immigrant and anti-civil rights rhetoric. Is he nostalgic for a bygone era? Yes, he is expressly nostalgic for that era that passed away with the Fourteenth Amendment and Reconstruction. Trump does not so much have an ideological position as a position of personal force and energy. He seeks “passion” for a new regime to beat the stale one and fill the existing system with renewed energy by eliminating the specter of rapist migrants given carte blanche by civil rights, and of course, making great deals.
Hence, while noting the complexity of fascist movements throughout history, it would be accurate to characterize Trump’s candidacy as lying within the “Americanist” tradition of fascism. Americanism began with the “America First” anti-interventionist group whose spokesperson was Charles Lindbergh, and continued through the American National Socialist Party under the leadership of George Lincoln Rockwell. While the American Nazi Party wore armbands, carried swastikas, and looked like brownshirts, the Americanist movement moved into a more astute appraisal of US politics forwarded by William Pierce and Willis Carto after the 1968 Wallace Campaign. America and Americans First has since been the banner of multifarious fascist groupuscles in the US, including JT Ready’s National Socialist Movement in Arizona. Although he may be stumping for this tendency without being fully aware of it, Trump may just be the most quintessentially “White Power” candidate that the Republican Party has seen for some time.
In the last month or so, there’s been a rise in fascist and racist propaganda seen throughout the Seattle area. There’s been wheatpasted posters, stickers, and even graffiti in Ballard, the University District, the Central District, Beacon Hill, Leschi, South Lake Union and Capitol Hill. There have also been reports of posters and stickers seen on the campuses of Evergreen State College in Olympia, WSU in Spokane and WWU in Bellingham.
The propaganda belongs to at least three different groups, although we cannot be sure of how many people are actually involved. Those groups have been identified as American Renaissance, The Right Stuff, and Identity Evropa.
American Renaissance (AR or AmRen) is a publication that describes itself as a “race-realist, white advocacy organization” that was published in the 1990’s by New Century Foundation, a white separatist organization. AR has been active since 1990, and is listed as a white supremacist organization by the Anti-Defamation League. They have been wheatpasting and writing graffiti in Sodo and the Central District, messages like “AR will vote from the rooftops” and “Vote Trump 2016” with their emblematic AR logo accompanying it.
The Right Stuff is an alt-right blog and podcast that seems to have situated itself comfortably between respectability-aiming fascist politicos and meme-filled internet culture. Their wheatpasted posters have been seen in the UD, the CD, Leschi and Sodo, and consist of a link to their website along with slogans like “Looking for solidarity?” “White Pride Worldwide” “White and Unapologetic, Rediscover White Identity.” They seem to be friendly with Identity Evropa, both of which have hosted each other on their own podcasts.
Identity Evropa posters and stickers have been seen in Ballard, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, the UD, and as far south as Beacon Hill. This group seeks to shed the violent imagery and language that most racists and fascists are given, in favor for a respectable and presentable academic approach to uplifting and emboldening a so-called white European identity. One does not need to dig deep however to see them for what they really are; racist ideologues.
It is incredibly important to make sure that any kind of propaganda by these racist/fascist organizations are immediately disposed of or covered up. We cannot let them successfully have any space without some resistance on our part. Stay vigilant! Their propaganda is sometimes coded in strange symbology that doesn’t seem outright racist or fascist at first, but can be easily seen if you know what to look for. Carry a fat marker or small spray can with you when you walk around the city.
If you see any posters, graffiti, etc that belongs to or might belong to one of these groups or a sympathizer, take note and please emailantifa206 (at)riseup(dot)net so that we can continue to document and keep a record of their work and organizing.