Note: Before we get started, we want to unequivacably say that we do not think that AdBusters is a fascist or fascist allied publication. We enjoy a great deal of what they publish, support their project, and will continue to re-post articles, videos, and art from them. Instead, AdBusters is just an example where the left creates open points that fascists can infiltrate.
The conventional political spectrum often betrays the actual process for radicalization that takes places on what we call the “far-right.” The term far-right is often negated by comparative fascist studies scholars because it lacks clear boundaries. Is it right populism? Was Hitler on the far-right, or Ron Paul? What we generally mean is anything that is within the fascism spectrum, from racialist to masculanist to other forms of militant right-wing politics. The defining feature of fascism is that it adopts many aspects of the left, while maintaining the values of the far-right. This means it may critique capitalism, argue for protection of the environment, and be anti-war, yet do it for reasons that are racialized, based on hierarchy, and opposed to democracy and equality. It is because of this that they have found easy entry points into the left, often using a lack of ideological coherence or the willingness to be open to conflicting views if they share some political affinity.
Fascist infiltration in left spaces is reported reasonably often, from participation in Palestinian support work inspired by their anti-Semitism to points when the American Freedom Party or National Socialist Movement will join actions against the TPP. When we get to vaguer left spaces, where analysis is growing and reshaping, this can be the perfect place to slide in and create doubt and complicate the analysis.
AdBusters has been a left institution for a couple of decades now. Coming out of the “Culture Jamming” period of the 1990s, it was really founded on anti-globalization principles that were critical of global capitalism because of the way it destroys human interactions, replaces consciousness with vapid branding, and generally destroys the earth, communities, and free thinking through compulsive consumerism. This type of analysis has become less and less popular since the 2008 financial crisis, largely because it is a critique of the excesses of capitalism. Today, many people would love to have access to that kind of suburban wasteland, but as poverty and the inability to join the working middle class grows, the focus on capitalism’s effects at creating “boredom” and general affluence is less central. That being said, they have continued to be an incredibly relevant publication, and they were the rhetorical beginning of Occupy Wallstreet, even if they did not do any real organizing work.
While they are often criticized for using the same flashy style as the media organizations they critique, they have used a beautiful design model to subvert conventional communication. They also attempt to go beyond the analysis of the left at many points and forgo conventional political essays in favor of appeals that are often more emotional, narrative, and experimental.
Within this model, a clear political line is lacking, and they likely support having a diversity of voices. Inside of that model, however, there has been a lacking of discernment for how some voices have become present. Part of this comes from the willingness to include voices that would be controversial, even on the radical left, and part of it comes from a lack of understanding among the editors of what fascist crossover politics actually look like.
As is common in publications that deal with issues like American foreign policy, Palestinian oppression, and AIPAC, AdBusters has been accused of anti-Semitism. They would likely say that this is a buzzword used to denigrate supporters of Palestine, and it has been on occasion, but it is also incredibly accurate for many choices they have made. In a much publicized issue from March 2004, they ran a story called “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?,” which looked at the number of supposed Jews among the Neoconservative establishment of the time. This attempt to identify “Jewish power” is a major fascist talking point, and is often parroted by people like white nationalist academic Kevin McDonald, where they try and show that Neconservatism is a movement comes from former Trotskyists and is actually is a “far-left” and Jewish ethnic agenda. This comes from the idea that Jews operate on an ethnic interest collectively, and therefore they are actually allied with Israel instead of the U.S. The article itself outlines a key area of entryism: the inability to be discerning. Here, instead of having a clear analysis of Israel, its role in global capitalism, and then the politics key to the Bush administration, they focus in on something that has an incredible history of violent oppression: whether or not they are Jews.
A lot of ink has been spilled chronicling the pro-Israel leanings of American neocons and fact that a disproportionate percentage of them are Jewish. Some commentators are worried that these individuals – labeled ‘Likudniks’ for their links to Israel’s right wing Likud party – do not distinguish enough between American and Israeli interests. For example, whose interests were they protecting in pushing for war in Iraq?
Drawing attention to the Jewishness of the neocons is a tricky game. Anyone who does so can count on automatically being smeared as an anti-Semite. But the point is not that Jews (who make up less than 2 percent of the American population) have a monolithic perspective. Indeed, American Jews overwhelmingly vote Democrat and many of them disagree strongly with Ariel Sharon’s policies and Bush’s aggression in Iraq. The point is simply that the neocons seem to have a special affinity for Israel that influences their political thinking and consequently American foreign policy in the Middle East.
Here at Adbusters, we decided to tackle the issue head on and came up with a carefully researched list of who appear to be the 50 most influential neocons in the US (see above). Deciding exactly who is a neocon is difficult since some neocons reject the term while others embrace it. Some shape policy from within the White House, while others are more peripheral, exacting influence indirectly as journalists, academics and think tank policy wonks. What they all share is the view that the US is a benevolent hyper power that must protect itself by reshaping the rest of the world into its morally superior image. And half of the them are Jewish.
Again, in 2010 an issue had a cover comparing the Gaza Strip to the Warsaw Ghetto, which caused them to be pulled from shelves in different places. This may be a defensible point when discussing the open-air prison that Gaza had become, but it lacks a clear willingness to confront anti-Semitism as well when building a political analysis about the Palestinian people.
Lasn himself is fond of publishing 9/11-Truthers who blame the attack on the World Trade Center on “Zionist Jews.” This includes people like Bill and Kathleen Christison, who published their article “Elliot Abrams: Dual Loyalist and Neocon Extraordinaire.” Here they said that the former deputy national security adviser was behind the Nahr al-Bared refugee camp in Lebanon. We should look closely at their title, mainly “dual loyalist.” While they are trying to eschew direct connections, this is the kind of rhetoric that was employed for years in American anti-Semitism where it is said that Jews are actually loyal to Israel instead of the U.S. (hence they have “dual loyalties”). This is not a direct line, but more of a “dog whistle” to anti-Semitic images of Jews as secretive, diabolical, and using crypsis to hide in society.
AdBusters has also been supporter of Israeli writer Gilard Atzmon, who has often referred to his own anti-Semitism even though he is an ethnic Jew. He has written essays that say that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic forgery that claims to be a written account of Jewish leaders planning the destruction of the West, had “prophetic qualities.” Atzom has even gone as far as asking borderline Holocaust Denial questions, saying “if the Nazis ran a death factory in Aushwitz-Birkenau, why would the Jewish prisoners join them?”
We are ardent supporters of the Palestinian people, but to create a pro-Palestinian politic built on anti-Semitism rather than a clear political analysis is to inhabit the same racism and conspiracy theory that built the pogroms and Holocaust.
In response to the perceived anti-Semitism in AdBusters, the Canadian Jewish Congress created a campaign against Shoppers Drug Mart, that caries AdBusters, demanding that they pull the magazine from their 515 stores. This came after AdBusters ran a spread that compared the Warsaw Ghetto to the Gaza Strip under Israeli apartheid. This comparison is one more out of bad taste than anything, yet is a clear example of the paradox created in circles that discuss these issues without a clear understanding of the prevalence of anti-Semitism. What has happened over the past twenty years has turned the Gaza Strip into the world’s largest open-air prisons. What has been done to the Palestinian people, however, deserves no connection to the Holocaust unless your purpose is to undermine the trauma that the Holocaust imposed uniquely on the Jewish people. Instead, going after the assault on Gaza on its own terms is not only acceptable, but imperative. Memes that allege that “Zionists are the real Nazis” simply attempt to resurrect anti-Semitic caricatures of Jews so as to dismiss their humanity and to rob their suffering of importance.
Beyond their flirtation with anti-Semitism, much of what seems to be a problematic politic comes from a lack of political orientation, even broadly defined, that would filter out the more questionable voices. An example of this, which has been challenged in places like Alternet and Jacobin Magazine, has been the magazine’s promotion of Italian conspiracy theorist Beppe Grillo. He is labeled as “Italy’s Alex Jones,” a title that should reveal his M.O. right away. He is known especially for going after things similar to chemtrails, being an anti-vaxxer and 9/11-Truther, and providing false cures for cancer. He has provided manifesto-like works that argue for something like the Matrix, with virtual citizenship that is achieved through state coercion. He is backed by Bianroberto Casaleggio, who is known for allegiances with Italy’s far-right movements, including the Northern League separatist movement.
Despite these obvious issues, they labeled him “nuanced, fresh, bold and committed as a politician,” as well as being something of a performance artist and being opposed to austerity measures in Europe. “[C]ountries around the world, from Greece to the US., can loot [him] for inspiration.”
[Grillo] was planting the seed of a renewed-accountable, fresh, rational, responsible, energized-left, that we can hope germinates worldwide.
In a later May/June article they ran another piece supporting Grillo. Micah White, who is now labeled as being the person in AdBusters who created the Occupy Wallstreet name before it turned into a movement, put out a video saying that the Occupy Movement should take a next step by following Grillo’s strange 5-Star Movement, the same one funded by the separatist movements in Italy.
After the defeat of Occupy, I don’t believe that there is any choice other than trying to grab power by means of an election victory…This is how I see the future: we could bring the 5-Star Movement to America and have the 5-Star Movement winning elections in Italy in America, thereby forming an international party, not only with the 5-Star movement, but other parties as well.
As Jacobin reported, in the days after that video Germany’s Der Spiegel said that Grillo’s discussion of restructuring the parliamentary system was strangely close to Mussolini’s. Directly before that, the 5-Star Movement MP, Roberta Lombardi, was seeing media coverage after posting support for the early period of fascism in Italy.
A lot of comparison has been made between AdBusters and places like Info Wars and Prison Planet, mainly because of their “free your mind” rhetoric. Their line “neither left nor right, but straight ahead” is eerily reminiscent of the Third Positionist fascist rhetoric that attempts to unite political elements of the left and right behind a virulent far-right set of values. AdBusters itself is assumed to be an anarchist project, which could probably be considered true, but more than anything it is uneven. In an attempt to deconstruct “everyday capitalism” it often resorts to body shaming of fat people as signs of “cultural excess,” again body-shames thin people for being caught up in cultural images of beauty, and certainly revels in insulting the “sheeple” who do things like shop on Black Friday, not acknowledging that this is often due to a lack of means. In general, it represents a semi-elitist understanding of the political spectrum in these instances, though it would be incredibly unfair to reduce AdBusters as a whole simply to these cringe-inducing moments.
The term “mental environmentalism” has been picked up as central to the AdBusters project, which is also espoused by their editors. It is broken down as the way that capitalism and culture can jam your mind, confusing your sense of self, and can could be considered a form of sensory “pollution.”
Mental environmentalism is an emergent movement that in the coming years will be recognized as the fundamental social struggle of our era. It is both a unifying struggle – among mental environmentalists there are everything from conservative Mormons to far-left anarchists – and a struggle that finally, concretely explains the cause of the diversity of ills that threaten us.
To escape the mental chains, and finally pull off the glorious emancipatory revolution the left has so long hoped for, we must become meme warriors who, through the use of culture jamming, spark a wave of epiphanies that shatter the consumerist worldview.
Culture jamming is their answer to this, subverting branding and advertising to open up free space. This is the name for Kalle Lasn’s, AdBuster’s founder, book. This is an idea that was incredibly influential through anarchism of the 1990s and early 2000, and it is still an important component of struggle and survival in a capitalist world of simulacra and mental colonialism. That being said, the AdBusters project fails to make clear distinctions that do not allow this to go into a right-wing direction, which it easily could with the assumption that these same forces of consumer capitalism attack identity, nationalism, and create decadence.
This ability to shift to the right has been seen very clearly in their most recent issue in early 2016, that comes with the tagline “Rejecting Modernity.” This phrasing is incredibly telling, and it is perhaps the “go to” line for the esoteric neo-fascist Third Positionist movement. The term “Against the Modern World” comes from fascist philosopher and esotericist Julius Evola, who not only rejects the technology of the modern world, but also its equality, democracy, immigration, racial mixing, and other “degeneracies.” He believed the modern world to be in what the ancient Vedas called the “Kali Yuga,” or a Dark Age. This was the last in a period of ages, starting with the glorious Golden Age, after which there would be a destruction and the cycle would begin again. Some in this fascist interpretation of the Vedas saw this cycle of ages in terms of the Caste system, with each age being dominated by that caste. In the Golden Age we were controlled by the Brahmin caste, a priestly caste that maintained the hierarchies of the world’s spiritual traditions. Today we were ruled by the lowest caste, the worker, who, through ideologies like Marxism, have taken control of society from the natural aristocracy.
This rejection of modernity is the call in fascist cultural spaces like neofolk, racial heathenry, and other types of far-right, left hand path esotericism. Going after the modern world is also a somewhat sanitized way of speaking about their politics, where they instead focus on obsessions with things like the myths of pre-Christian Europe rather than just ranting about race mixing. They also end up finding some type of rhetorical crossovers with areas of the radical left, as we see in this case. This rhetoric is frighteningly close to what we see in parts of green anarchism and anarcho-primitivism, with people like John Zerzan. Zerzan, who is also published reasonably often at AdBusters, believes we should return to hunter-gatherer societies that were “unalienated” and non-hierarchical. He also would reject modernity, as well as appropriate much of the philosophy of Martin Heidegger. Zerzan also speaks about the problems of what he calls “mass cultural orientation,” a term that walks a very close line to “multi-culturalism.” He also chooses to publish his books at Feral House Press, a publisher known for the involvement of fascist writer Michael Moynihan and has the penchant for publishing many far-right tomes. In a review of Zerzan’s 2008 book Twilight of the Machines, anti-fascist writer Spencer Sunshine discusses this ideological closeness, but does note that Zerzan himself is not associated with those ideas.
For example, in a 1993 review of Tom Rockmore’s Heidegger’s Nazism and Philosophy, Zerzan writes that Rockmore “convincingly demonstrates that Heidegger’s Nazism was no mere contingency or accident.” But Twilight of the Machines contains a number of references to Heidegger, even though they are not always completely favorable. Adorno, in The Jargon of Authenticity, said that thinkers who championed the unmediated self (such as Heidegger and psychologist Carl Jung) forwarded intrinsically fascist perspectives. Adorno, along with many post-structuralists, also questioned the existence of any kind of complete social totality, as well as the possibility of an unfragmented self.
Zerzan rejects these views as reflections of our own alienated society, but the fact that fascists are drawn to Zerzan’s views, and that he is inspired by certain philosophers with ugly pasts, raises concerns. In fact, it is easy to see why Nazis see his attack on symbolic thought as the same as their attack on the Jews who they claim are the source of alienation, decadence, and abstraction. Nazis see his championing of the unmediated community as the same as their desire for a homogenous, racially-pure community, which they think will exist as a unified whole, free of fragmentation.
Zerzan is not sympathetic to Nazi ideas, but in terms of certain philosophical categories, there is a closeness. Because of this, and because he rejects Adorno’s path of separation from fascism, he needs to go further than denouncing fascist political actors; he needs to confront their philosophies directly. Zerzan needs to explain why his views are fundamentally different, and incompatible, with theirs.
Zerzan, as well as many other green anarchists and those on the anti-Civ post-left, are often appropriated by those on the far-right who reject the “modern world.” AdBusters seems willing to put itself in that camp as well, uncritically using phrasing and overlapping ideological critiques with this neo-fascist movement. The issue goes on to include the regular spread for AdBusters, such as the loneliness and impersonality of the “modern world.” This part of the analysis puts them directly on par with this wing of the modern fascist politic, and there is little present here that separates them substantially from those who see this modern world as basically a contemporary “Weimar” Germany where people are alienated from their true racial identity.
As they say in Jacobin, the “Battle for the Mind,” is at the center, rather than something that could be derived from a social view or politic.
Lasn might claim not to believe in leaders, but he believes in elites: marketing professionals with a higher calling, responsible for shepherding public consciousness to save humanity from brands, from themselves.
And by exaggerating the mass media’s ability to zombie-fy the public, jammers could imagine that they, too, had Svengali-like powers over ordinary proles. For all the “tools” Adbusters offered to sway public consciousness – stencilling, stickering, page defacement, supermarket trolley sabotage – there was never much emphasis on social skills, on persuading people with politics instead of bombarding them with theater or treating them like hackable machines.
More than anything, what sets culture jammers apart from social anarchism and weds them to the Grillo camp of quacks is a unifying emphasis on a theory called “mental environmentalism.” Mental environmentalism, Micah White explains, is “the core idea behind Adbusters, the essential critique that motivates our struggle against consumer society.”
For Adbusters, concern over the flow of information goes beyond the desire to protect democratic transparency, freedom of speech or the public’s access to the airwaves. Although these are worthwhile causes, Adbusters instead situates the battle of the mind at the center of its political agenda. Fighting to counter pro-consumerist advertising is done not as a means to an end, but as the end in itself. This shift in emphasis is a crucial element of mental environmentalism.
In this way, his project could easily shift over to technocratic control or the far-right, without the ability to actually utilize culture jamming with a social endgame. We would likely disagree with parts of the Jacobin analysis, as well as their counter-politic, but that does not mean that they are without a cogent criticism of what is happening with the culture jamming project. In a lot of ways there is an underlying elitism that happens in this project, with the “plebes” in the streets unable to differentiate the media images they are seen and in need of saviors like Lasn, and possibly other benevolent elites, to come and rescue them. This is starkly different than the ground-up revolutionary spirit in play with most anarchists, and instead harkens to much of the Conservative Revolutionary or Radical Traditionalist ideas that we literally need to be saved by an elite caste of rulers, ones bound by virtue to lead a revolution “from above.”
The revival of a hero aesthetic is also a central notion of resurrecting a fascist politic, one that comes in odds with the “homogenizing effects of egalitarianism.” In one issue, AdBusters decided to “jam” another culture jam, one by Barbara Kruger created in 1987. This was a billboard with a classic image of a girl feeling a boy’s arm as he flexes with the line saying “we don’t need another hero.” This image was critiquing what we now call “toxic masculinity.” As was outlined in by Max Haiven in the journal article “Privatized Resistance: AdBusters and the Culture of Neoliberalism,” Lasn and AdBuster’s critique largely undermines their larger project and reveals something else problematic about their politics.
By sharp contrast, AdBusters’ ‘jam’ of Kruger’s ‘jam’ is not only a refutation of Kruger’s intervention, but also a keen example of why hers was necessary in the first place. With the romantic image of two young male “radicals” in a violent protest situation, AdBusters has reclaimed the masculinized individualist hero problematized by Kruger’s socialist-feminist intervention. AdBusters seems to not only suggest that we need violent vanguardist leaders to confront global power, but, in a way, that revolution has been made effeminate by works like Kruger’s which do not meet consumer culture with the unmediated gestural action to which AdBusters aspires. Gone is the deep intentionality and cunning of Kruger’s work, which invited the audience to think of themselves critically and reflexively as participants in their own liberation. The AdBusters jam represents the politics of the gesture in which revolutionary acts and culture jamming are prized for their own sake. Here, the gesture is valourized both in the content of the jam, the two masked male youth whose target is unknown (for all we know that would be firebombing a mosque), but also in the jam itself which the history and politics of Kruger’s prior intervention is chucked out the window in favour of a gestural resistance of the petty little boys (and their regimes) she so ardently and cleverly critiqued.
Haiven goes on to compare AdBusters to films like Fight Club, where there is a “seductive yet problematic claim to ‘radical resistance.’
As a result, AdBusters resistance becomes coded in the figure of Tyler Durden, the hypermasculinized leader of an essentially fascist terrorist cell. Durden’s attitude, which valourizes the “mayhem”—causing gesture, devoid of a broader strategy or alliances, relegates any form of social critique or solution to social ills as ‘an act of bad-faith or the unacceptable whine of victimization.”
This mode of reverting to hypermasculinization as a form of resistance has been a problematic aspect of many radical circles, especially noted in the forest defense movement and in insurrectionary anarchist and ultra-left circles. This should not mean that those movements are guilty of those qualities as such, but that they have allowed for entry by those ideas and behaviors, just as AdBusters has. Lasn regularly valorizes his characters, such as his characterization of the Situationists in his book Culture Jam, saying they were “heroes” and were “unbridled and anarchical, pure vessels of poetic expression, living somehow out of time(pg 105).” While this image may share the description with Ernst Junger’s figure of the “Anarch,” this does not make it a fascist fantasy, but it does present a problematic dynamic.
Haiven goes on to note that not only do they lack a clear direction for what this revolutionary spirit should be, except to not be “wimpy,” but their analysis of the state is often directly in line with right-wing libertarian critiques.
Jacobin jumps on the “Scientology like” language used to describe Mental Pollution in much of their writing, which are essentially pseudo-science in the guise of revolutionary psychology. This is true, but when drawing on the writing of people like Naomi Klein it is hard to defend the idea that mass advertising is anything but harmful. That does not, however, justify an analysis almost completely centered on misreadings of psychology, which blame people for doing things like seeking conventional medical treatment. What culture jammers should do then is turn their criticisms back on AdBusters, illuminating the parts of their program that make little sense, draw on bigotries and reactionary ideas, and create a culture of self-blame rather than revolutionary politics.
It was even suggested by Jacobin that AdBusters would seek an allegiance with the Tea Party, and, in a sense, they have in that they have published Tea Party voices. What they point to is an interview with Lasn where he basically fawns over the Tea Party, and he sees their dissent as the key point rather than their political orientation.
People are coming up with the Optimist Party and all kinds of weird stuff, but nonetheless I feel that something serious could happen. We may well see something like the True Cost Party of America—a radical new way of looking at the global economy and the ecological future. It could well be a sort of strange hybrid party, a getting-together of the left and the right. If you look at the Tea Party, they are totally convinced that America is going in the wrong direction, that there is something fundamentally wrong with America, and that is a very similar feeling to what we have on the left. So maybe this third party will not be the usual kind of a clearly left or right party.
In one issue of AdBusters during this period, they posted the article of a World War II survivor who accounted the horrors of the Third Reich, except the only horrors were things like socialized medicine. The account did not include most of what is commonly understood to be the genocidal violence and discrimination of Nazi fascism, but instead was an opportunity to say that since everyone was getting free medical treatment, there was no money or time for medical research. Lasn continued this lack of discernment over whether or not the Tea Party could be a revolutionary force in his article “Regime Change in America.”
AdBusters anti-consumerist credentials have often been called into question, especially when they released their “Blackspot campaign.” This was an incredibly expensive shoe they sold that looked like a carbon copy of the then popular Converse All-Stars, with a black spot over where the logo would be. Critics have pointed out that this was simply another form of consumerist ploys, where they were using their cultural clout as a counter-cultural force and identity to share a product that would have its own brand appeal. In the earlier mentioned article by Haiven, they discuss the way that AdBusters and Lasn responded to criticism of the Blackspot campaign, including by people like Naomi Klein. Buy Nothing Day, another campaign they are famous for, is the object of almost complete derision on the left, where they seem to lack any strategic focus and instead create inter-class victim blaming so as to develop a completely ineffective attack on corporate capitalism.
It needs to be said that AdBusters has repeatedly ran anti-fascist articles, especially a popular one that begged the question as to whether or not right-wing America was turning fascist. They have repeatedly published articles on the “traits” of fascism by people like Umberto Eco, and often publish articles deriding reactionary ideas in things like “hipster culture.” Because of this, as well as the rest of their publishing trajectory, AdBusters should continue to be thought of as a radical left publication with incredible value.
What this instead brings up is what a lack of discernment and a willingness to publish some voices uncritically can do. Entryism is the primary tactics of the establishing radical right, and for those elements that attempt to co-opt parts of a left analysis, such as National Anarchists or neo-Tribalists, it requires a certain amount of depth and self-criticism to weed out their attempts to gain entry. This co-optation has happened either intentionally or ideologically all over the place, and the complexity of these ideas has created a smokescreen that makes onlookers often unable to see when a subcultural fascism is taking place. This was true in publications like Green Anarchist, is is true now in Olympia with Sadie and Exile, and it will be increasingly running along this paradox as fascists further try to infiltrate deep green, anarchist, and radical spaces. AdBusters has made themselves uniquely vulnerable to this type of discourse, and so we should continue to engage with them so as to create a dividing line as to what kind of voices we are willing to accept.