Category Archives: Social Movements

When the Riot Cops Attack: Repression and Solidarity in Portland’s May Day

By Black Rose – Rosa Negra Anarchist Federation – Portland

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.

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On the Question of Nonviolence and Violence As a Tactic and Strategy Within the Social Protest Movement: An Anarchist Perspective

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.

 

Conclusion
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.

White Nationalist ‘Daily Shoah’ Calling For Mass Campus Propaganda Weekend After Election

It is well known that white nationalists/Alt Right are some of the worst organizers on the planet. In general, just successfully getting a meme or poster into the public is considered a win for them, while their left wing opponents are carrying out complex organizing campaigns with thousands of participants.

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Flyer from UM Campus.

The Daily Shoah, and its website The Right Stuff, is not calling for an “agit prop” attempt at propaganda the weekend after the election. Following Alt Right posterings at the University of Michigan and the Iowa State University, who most assume the Daily Shoah was behind even though they persist they were not, they are calling for posters to be put up at major universities after the election. If Trump is to win, then it will gloat, if he does not, then it will scale up the revolutionary call for “white identity.”

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Flyer from UM campus.

Mike Enoch and Seventh Son (Sven) from the Daily Shoah cite the multi-million dollar to commitment the University of Michigan made after the Alt Right posters showed up as a victory. In response to the racialist content they university extended a huge investment in diversity training and inclusionary policy developments, something that the Alt Right is claiming victory on even though anti-racist organizers have been campaigning for it for years. Since, statistically, these diversity trainings actually lower community feelings of bigotry, equalize educational outcomes, and generally work against white nationalist interests, we are going to allow them to continue their “victorious campaign” by inspiring more universities to confront racism.

What is likely to occur is many college-aged Daily Shoah insiders are going to go on campus with these posters during that weekend, attempting to get them up in the cover of night. The Daily Shoah has worked hard to develop a community around their message boards, and that is spilling out into actual community groups like the Houston Goylers in Houston, Texas, the New York Forum, in New York City, and groups in Dallas, Portland, Oregon, Detroit, and other cities. They have given the Alt Right a huge organizational boon, and they seem to have a great deal of crossover with Identity Europa.

Many of the flyers that will be used are found on Alt Right and Right Stuff commentator Reactionary Tree’s, A.K.A. Charles Lyons, website.  Here he has been putting up some racially charged propaganda.

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Identity Europa poster from a San Francisco suburb.

For those who want to confront this behavior on campuses, then groups of students and anti-fascist supporters could do late night campus patrols looking to capture these people on camera. Since they thrive on anonymity for their racism, exposure will shut down their attempts at organizing. This is likely to take place on campuses that have seen this behavior before, especially where Identity Europa propaganda posters have appeared.

 

Some potential schools are (Based on where Alt Right and Identity Europa materials have recently appeared.):

 

Iowa State University

Portland State University

University of Michigan –Ann Arbor

California State University – Stanislaus

California State University – Berkeley

Charlotte, North Carolina area schools

University of Colorado at Denver

Houston, Texas area schools

Utah State University

Colorado Mountain College

Los Angeles, California area schools

University of Washington

Seattle University

Portland Community College

Washburn University

University of Pittsburgh

Minneapolis area schools

Mainstreaming Racial Nationalism: Brexit, Meta-Politics, and the Consequences of Left-Right Alliances

“No borders, no nations! Stop deportations”

 

The crowd of over two thousand protesters chanted as they marched through East London, an area that is notable for its history of multicultural inhabitants.  The crowd donned Anti-Fascist Action flags, many with faces covered for fear of further police repression.  The voices echoed a complexity to the “Brexit” vote that those outside of the European Union (and even those inside of the EU) attempt to grasp with what this decision means and symbolizes.

This week, a majority of 51.9% of voting United Kingdom residents voted to leave the European Union, a project that they have been a part of for over forty years.  This is the first country in the EU to do this, a zone that was intended to both reconcile political tensions and to smooth over neo-liberal capitalist expansion.  This is the first vote since the 1970s, and, at the time, the vote was not even close.  Today, the force to leave toppled over the edge and is forcing a push away from the united continental project.  Even after a Britain First affiliate and advocate of Brexit killed a pro-immigrant British MP, the vote still passed through with a slim majority.

While it has been largely acknowledged that the Brexit campaign was a xenophobic and racist push from the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) and Britain First, there has also been a reasonable Lexit (left exit) side to the campaign.  Internationally, left circles have been debating the merits of this position, debating the role of a left contingent inside of a hard right campaign.  Groups in the United States like the International Socialist Organization have showed a certain admiration for the Lexit contingent, while most mainstream progressives are standing back in horror.

The primary impulse for many on the radical left is to look at the vote as a series of component parts that have meaning, while the politics themselves will largely play out as business as usual.

 

Britain First
Britain First

Donald Brexit

A comparison to the Donald Trump campaign stateside is useful, especially as it has often been used by the British left to put the recent events in England in context.  When comparing the realities of the political choices of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump it quickly reminds us just how little a vote allows for real decision making as it retains ruling class power no matter the distinction.  Though there are great differences between the candidates, they are minor when it comes to large-scale social systems, and do nothing to challenge systemic inequality.  You will never be able to vote the rich out of their wealth

But what does the Donald Trump candidacy really represent?

It has mobilized a revolutionary wing of the far-right to begin crossing over into the racialist undercurrent of the right-wing segment of the white working class, creating a populist-right block that is as frightening as it is large.  This has shifted the politics in the country to the right on social issues and race, and has created an open space to transform “dog whistle” racist politics into blunt racial nationalism.  The possible Trump presidency and the right-populist community, only reinforced ideologically by the Alt Right, could act reciprocally, as Trump’s call for banning Muslim immigration has mobilized their Islamophobia, which will then further push Trump to live up to his promise

This effect is largely meta-political: it effects the underlying values, philosophies, and impulses that drive political decisions.  For those of us on the anti-fascist left, this both mutates the working class and creates a violent reactionary force of Stormtroopers against any left revolution.  This is the most destructive turn a society can take, the barbarism promised as the endgame of global capitalism.

 

Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP
Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP

Meta-Proxy Politics

When it comes to Brexit, this is the largest victory in decades for the far-right, who are growing across all sectors in the country.  Given a state of economic turmoil since the global financial crisis, as well as coming after decades of neo-liberal austerity, the white working class of Britain have been pressed to the point of rupture.  That angst is painted racially as the right has played on tensions from the “refugee crisis,” attempting to shift the blame from the rich to the immigrants.  The targeting of immigrants, especially Islamic immigrants, has been the signature of the far-right since the earliest rumblings of the National Front in the 1970s up through the brief rise of the British National Party.  Now that the English Defense League(EDL) and PDGIDA have tried to expand Islamophobia beyond the narrow neo-Nazi crowd, they have been able to sow a deep fear of immigrants in a public that normally would not have been touched by the British nationalist movements.  Likewise, the growth of the Alt Right and movements like National Action have brought in a younger generation of educated neo-fascists who are hoping to use the social turmoil to capture a working class who may have had their discontent channeled into the radical left.

This has come together like a neutron star with the Brexit vote, a crossover issue that has given their rhetoric a place in the general public.  They were given access to the minds of the people and were able to push through an exit vote not just on the issues of economic “free trade,” but on British identity.

It is less important what the vote was, and more central about why it was.  The exit of Britain from the EU was due to a massive campaign with racial undertones, even if the left-wing of that vote came for economic reasons.  For immigrants living in the UK, especially those of color, are speaking out en masse right now about the fear they are experiencing, and that racial attacks and harassment have gone through the roof.  Right now the streets of London are a scary place for all but a white British base, exactly what Britain First was hoping for.  No matter what the ideal economic effects of the vote were for socialists and progressive in Britain who supported the exit, it is having the effect of tossing a massive victory to the far right and allowing the racist undercurrent to bubble to the surface.

The real question here is if there will be any substantive gains for working people in Britain from the vote that would outweigh the social wave of the far-right that they are going to see from this victory.  Organizations like Britain First, UKIP, the EDL, BNP, PEGIDA, and others are only going to grow at this point, gaining power not in the ballot box, but in the streets.  They will further co-opt the righteous anger of the working class, turning it back on itself and dividing ranks further.

In a world where proxies work as a side-channel for larger meta-political goals, Brexit acts as a shift to the right even if the politics do not divert greatly from standard neo-liberal expansion or if they are even to fit into the larger goals of the anti-globalization movement.

This left-right alliance owes, to a large part, to the vagueness that has permeated from the anti-globalization movement since the 1990s.  While Americans often associate it with the hard left/post-left turn of things like the Battle for Seattle.  The war against the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank were, in essence, the battle against the all-encompassing power of Late Capitalism, where the issues of “globalization” were the issues of unregulated capitalism feeding off of the Global South.

This is the kind of campaign that UKIP ran for Brexit, using images of refugees to trigger a racist response in England.
This is the kind of campaign that UKIP ran for Brexit, using images of refugees to trigger a racist response in England.

Lexit?

This is where the terminology of “imperialism” fails to recognize what was/is actually taking place in global capitalism, where the term lends itself to traditional empires that ravaged the world through colonialism up to the earliest days of capitalism.  Today, it is multinational corporations and institutions of market exploitation that run the world, not monolithic super states.  When the UK’s economy dominates the world, that is capitalism running the state, rather than imperialism of the traditional aristocracy(though that aristocracy certainly graduated to the capitalist class when the politics shifted).  The use of imperialism rhetorically on the radical left is more of an attempt to maintain continuity to political ideology of the past rather than an accurate description of most nation’s behavior, but one thing is true: whether it is traditional imperialism and colonialism or the unrestrained carnivorous passions of corporations, the Global South always loses.

The anti-globalization movement was a mass action against that, one that united artists and the black bloc and unions and immigrant rights organizations, and which saw the solution to these global problems both as the repudiation of capitalism and the use of localization for economics, food production, and community.  This created strange ideological bedfellows as the far-right also saw a certain opportunity in the logic of “going local,” of bioregionalism, and of keeping out of foreign wars.  This was old nationalism repackaged in hippie aesthetics and food politics, and they could oppose “globalism” since it also imported cosmopolitan multiculturalism.  In a way, this helped to further develop the far-right’s Third Positionist anti-capitalism, since modern capitalism cared not for their “traditional” life and instead looked to commodity and reproduce.

The problem is that, philosophically and meta-politically, the anarchist core of the anti-globalization movement and the eco-friendly fascists crowding their fringes were the core opposite of one another.  To help draw this distinction, terms like “para-globalization” began to be used, drawing on anarchist communist notions of “internationalism.”  This was meant to say, clearly, that it was not so much globalization that we opposed, but “this globalization.”  The globalization of capital.  Instead, we support the international struggle of the working class against capital, even if we support decentralized federalism as a more responsive and successful way of organizing society.  This rhetorical battle was never primary, however, and a lack of clear politics, both implicit and explicit, allowed the far-right to bloom inside of spaces thought to have radical left hegemony.

In anti-globalization, the issue of “globalization” was always a proxy for capitalism and the racial, sexual, and national oppression that comes along with its expansion into the Third World.  For the far-right, globalization was a proxy for the “destruction” of nations, race, gender, and sexual boundaries.  If they both see a victory, then it can strengthen the far-right as it mobilizes the radical left.  In many ways, many of the more fringe elements in places like AdBusters and in eco-anarchist circles reveled in this murky ideological waters, and flirted with the far-right, not because they were sympathetic to them, but because they needed a broad coalition.  This “linking up” with the far-right has never bloomed anything of value, and instead has always been the hallmark of a revolutionary fascist movement that attempts to draw elements of the far-left’s politics into a value set of the far-right.  This means that fascist often oppose capitalism, and sometimes even the state, for reasons that they are not sufficient in propping up nationalism and inequality.  They want a society more rooted in inequality, where a market does not just produce inequality as a side-effect, but that the inequality perfectly reflects their ideas about race and gender and are reinforced through whatever system of social coercion they see fit.

When Brexit is looked at as a proxy, the reality is that for the right it was a vote on immigration.  UKIP ran billboard ads with large pictures of streams of refugees, dog-whistling that they are the “brown hordes invading Britain.”  The vote was painted as one about immigration from the start, even when UKIP made promises that this exit will save the country money that they could then put into the National Healthcare Service (a promise they have already backed away from).  In this way it draws on the isolationism of the Old Right, where they are saying that we can better take care of ourselves by forgetting everyone else.  The Alt Right in the U.S. has also jumped on board to sing their praises, with the Daily Shoah, Fash the Nation, the Traditionalist Youth Network, the Daily Stormer, American Renaissance, and Counter-Currents all claiming a major victory for nationalism.  The only real dissent came from Richard Spencer of the Radix Journal, who, while also reveling in the “success” of Brexit, thinks that it could further “divide white people.”

While Lexit may have sided with the removal from the EU for different reasons, they still have created a right-left alliance that has emboldened the far-right through their proxy politics.  Since the vote does little to change the actual politics of the country, yet does a lot to fuel the far-right, what does Lexit actually hope to gain out of this?  At the same time, while the EU was still an infrastructure for global capital to exploit workers, how did the exit do anything to challenge that dynamic?  What it certainly did was guarantee a large number of workers being laid off, foreign employees being deported, and pensions to be sacked, all of which for no tangible gains.

The left of Britain, beyond the few Lexit supporters, were largely united on staying.  Neo-liberalism does not depend on the EU; it depends on capitalism as a system.  Labor was almost universally aligned, with unions seeing an economic downturn that could effect membership.  This turned out true as the markets opened the day after the UK’s vote, with over $5 billion in wealth disappearing and Britain dropping from the 5th largest economy to the 6th.  Many laughed for ages about this on social media, especially the fact that the British ruling class is taking a dramatic hit financially.  The problem is that this hits pensions and investments of working class families around the country, and will be felt economically through the lowest sectors of the population.  This is not an isolated financial problem, nor is the coming recession, and the shudders could mean massive austerity both inside and outside of the country.

The discourse about imperialism has returned in this discussion, especially the idea of “breaking up the empires.”  There is a certain logic to this, but it is also important to look at the dominated nations inside of the United Kingdom.  Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay, despite Donald Trump’s embarrassing statements upon landing in Scotland to promote his bourgeois golf club.

This exit vote presents further problems for Northern Ireland as it will be even more difficult to transfer between the Northern province and the main country of Ireland.  Currently, EU member nations are easy to travel between.  This is actually part of the strange inter-European xenophobia at play in the Brexit decision, where Polish immigrants are specifically seeing a backlash against them and may have a difficult time staying in the UK in its post-EU form.  For the Irish, this further blocks up the nation.  On the one hand, this is re-igniting the possibility of Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the UK to become sovereign nations.  At the same time, this Brexit vote does not do much to mobilize that leaving since it essentially puts their identity within Britain only rather than the EU at large.

The question now is if this decision will collapse markets in such a way that working people will take another hit, and if revolutionary movements will actually gain anything from the crushing recession.  The answer is likely no since inside or outside the EU, the class positions remain largely the same.  The only difference is that remaining would have seen economic stability last slightly longer.  For working families in the UK who are barely surviving as it is, this could be the last push towards poverty.

LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 28: Protesters hold up signs and flags as they demonstrate against the EU referendum result outside the Houses of Parliament on June 28, 2016 in London, England. Up to 50,000 people were expected before the event was cancelled due to safety concerns. In the early evening a crowd still convereged on the square to vent their anti-Brexit feelings, before the protest moved to the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND – JUNE 28: Protesters hold up signs and flags as they demonstrate against the EU referendum result outside the Houses of Parliament on June 28, 2016 in London, England. Up to 50,000 people were expected before the event was cancelled due to safety concerns. In the early evening a crowd still convereged on the square to vent their anti-Brexit feelings, before the protest moved to the Houses of Parliament. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Against Corporate Nationalism, In and Out of the EU

Instead of focusing on the politics of Brexit, it may be worth looking at exactly how this decision reflects the social climate of the country, how the far-right is going to mobilize, and what the left’s actual goals are inside of the larger EU situation.  This often comes off as a “fuck both sides” argument, which, given the nature of the corporate EU on one side and the reactionary nationalists on the other, makes sense. Christopher Hayes of MSNBC posted a position that sums up our feelings perfectly:

I don’t want a future in which politics is primarily a battle between cosmopolitan finance capitalism and ethno-nationalist backlash.

It is impossible to ignore the violence and racism that has permeated the country in the wake.  Thousands of people have reported harassment, chants of “we voted for you to leave,” and threats on people of color and immigrants around the country.  Violence has increased so quickly that people are hiding indoors, frightened that their family is going to be murdered by white racialists patrolling immigrant neighborhoods with guns.   Right now, the UK is a scary place to be in.

The battle after Brexit will not be to bring the UK back into the EU, event though a reversal referendum may come through and Scotland will fight tooth and nail to remain.  The fight will be to confront the racism that was once subdermal and has now been brought to the surface, given a pass by the semi-respectability of UKIP and the populism behind Brexit.  As their economy continues to fall, and working people get a financial attack that was unwarranted and unnecessary, the discontent could further feed the Britain First movement.  Those on the radical left cannot stand for this, and instead should develop a strong movement that takes that righteous anger and channels it back where it belongs: in the direction of a financial elite who will do whatever it takes to make the non-rich lose.  Crisis is the perpetual state of capitalism, and it is time for the reality of social inequality to obliterate the victim-blaming racial narratives that have divided working people for centuries.

Fascist Entryism: AdBusters and the Problem of Hazy Politics

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.

adbusters-list_400px

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.

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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.”

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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.

 

 

 

Punching Peter to Pay Paul: How to Avoid Shooting Yourself in the Foot When Building Movements

During the 2014 mid-term elections, Oregon became the third state to finally legalize marijuana for recreational use. Following behind Colorado and its neighbor Washington, Oregon’s bill will now treat marijuana into a similar way as alcohol with standard restrictions for age and driving. This is a major victory in a lot of sectors, no matter how you look at it. It will lower incarceration rates, especially in communities of color, while stripping one of the most common excuses to racially profile. In Oregon, it is going to significantly lower the rates of youth arrested for drug possession, which can stop them from getting federal loans for school(this in combination with Oregon’s public school funding makes college a much more realistic possibilities for low income students). What may temper this is that marijuana has actually been legal for “medical” use for years now, operating “members only” clubs all around the cities of the state.

Medical Marijuana had been one of the most targeted political issues of the past decade, and the one in which the Marijuana legalization camp had thrown the most energy towards. By focusing on arguments related to Marijuana’s various possible health claims, this has been a strategic choice on the road to full de-criminalization. The problem is that the rhetoric and organizing strategy chosen ends at Marijuana, and will go nowhere else. Medical Marijuana, while obviously helpful for many conditions, does not really match the conventional wisdom for “medicine.” This is fine, but what the Marijuana legalization advocates have argued time and time again is that it actually does fit within this framework. For years and years they have continually argued that Marijuana works like regular medicine, and it is not nearly as bad as “all of those other drugs.” This means that for people looking to decriminalize all substances, shift the conversation about the purpose of intoxication, and change the way that the culture relates to medicine, the campaigns have set them back immeasurably. The reality is that Marijuana should be available for people not because of supposed health benefits, but because intoxication is a regular and consistent part of life and all societies. The arguments being made never went after the foundational issues that create a cultural fear of drugs, and have instead kept the drug-law enforcement apparatus completely in tact. The Drug War, radicalized implementation of drug laws, and the criminalization of people who choose to alter consciousness, all are still there. In many ways, these values have even been reinforced by the Marijuana legalization campaigns. This may be fine for people whose endgame is just the decriminalization of Marijuana specifically, but for those of us who want to move beyond this one issue into a more nuanced and revolutionary perspective on drug issues, it left us cold. To top this up, the Marijuana lobby in Oregon has reverted to the same set of tactics when it came to their legislative strategy, including union busting low-wage canvassers in the Campaign for the Restoration and Regulation of Hemp who helped to get the bill on the ballot. This is not a good precedent for those who claim that legalized Marijuana in the state are going to create a surge of “good jobs.”

This tactical issue is one that comes up in movement building constantly, where by an immediate goal can often be gained by making choices that could harm long-term progress. During a campaign I was working on many years ago, we were working towards the city putting a moratorium on foreclosure-based evictions. This would essentially mean having the mayor’s office order the police department to stand down for evictions, and refuse to enforce the Marshall’s office’s orders. In one group discussion we were working on some of the rhetoric we would use to make arguments for this. One of the primary ones is the effect that empty houses can have on a block, or a whole community. They often become areas for criminal activity and drug sales. They bring down property values. They are an obscene eyesore. As we were jotting these down someone quietly held and objection. Suggesting the issues about crime and drug use both have a racialized component and a drug-fear trigger. The point being is that by referring to these issues, we continue to stigmatize drug users as well as the houseless folks that often use these vacant homes. When people complain about the “criminal element” in the neighborhood brought on by vacant houses, this is often what they mean. When it comes to property values, we again reinforce the values of middle-class property owners as a substantial reason.

The issue that was actually at hand was that there are too many vacant homes that get destroyed, become unusable, and there are growing numbers of houseless people that can make good use of them. It is absolutely true that there can be gang and drug issues around vacant houses, and the communities that are concerned about these issues are not just doing so out of racial tension, but we need to be aware of avoiding “dog whistle” language when we are working on these campaigns. This specific reform is not our end goal, instead we want a world where housing is seen as a basic right and even the most basic human needs are guaranteed by the collective society. This means both a structural and a value change, and therefore we need to keep those ideas present as we build towards large reforms.

This can create a difficult set of issues where by people over critique and deconstruct all rhetoric, which creates a culture of inaction. Instead, an option is to simply be open and honest about what the endgame really is about these movements and what the values are that drive them. In the case of housing, this really is fundamentally an issue about capitalism. While we do not want to alienate the more liberal elements of the movement, it is fine to bring that perspective as a valid point in the myriad of views that make up the pro-housing movement. Likewise, it is important to continue to point out the ways in which the foreclosure crisis did not break evenly across all groups. People of color faired much worse across all other demographics, while; in general, this was not a crisis that was shared equally across all socio-economic strata. What this means is that we are going to bring a structural analysis to issues of crime and drug use, and make sure that these ideas are implicit during decision making. Instead of going after the “seedy element” that empty houses attract, we should really look at just the reality that happens to communities when only half of the homes are actually occupied by people. At the same time, we should keep central the reasons for getting involved. We did not enter into the housing justice movements because of how bad empty houses affect property values or that they create locations for drug sale. We got involved because we find this fundamental contradiction, that there are empty homes while there are people without homes, intolerable. These different arguments make up the total tapestry of the argument for a more equitable housing, but the unequal access to housing has to be at the center.

What we decided to do is just temper the language a bit so that we did not target houseless people or drug users as individuals. Instead of just focusing on the financial aspects of “property value,” we looked instead at how the empty homes actually do drive other houses on the block into foreclosure. This is conjuring the image of the housing as a place to live rather than a piece of equity. We also noted that since working people often only hold any wealth in their home and their pension, it is an incredible attack on working people’s lives when banks force houses on their block into foreclosure and then lower the value of the only piece of wealth they have (their home). In terms of the drug use in the community, we simply note that while this may become an issue among empty houses, it is less that drugs and houseless people are the issues but instead that these empty houses are never used for community building purposes. We added that empty houses often get so destroyed that they can never be rehabilitated and used for the community.

It should be noted that none of the above arguments above are inherently problematic, but instead should just be considered when thinking about the long-term vision. A lot of this can then be mitigated, to a degree, when we have a generally idea of what total victory would look like far past this individual campaign or series of campaigns. This does not mean that we should immediately jump just to radical and systemic rhetoric entirely, that would be a large mistake, but it is good to lay a foundation for the radical critique early on. This is true in terms of the foreclosure crisis more broadly, where by many people have focused their organizing messaging around foreclosure fraud and criminality. As has been mentioned before, this has been a powerful tool to mobilize Middle America against the banks, but it fails at being able to see the fundamental issue around foreclosure is class and social inequality. While we should use the issue of bank manipulation as an icebreaker and flash point, we need to make sure to draw some of the critiques back to their fundamental core.

Many of these choices are somewhat commonsensical in that we should avoid reactionary rhetoric that demonizes the opposition with bigoted characterizations, but we need to also continue to think of the structural inequalities that, down the line, create the inconsistency we are fighting for in the short term. Forcing the city to stand down on evictions was common sense to most people on the terms that were presented to them, but we need to use that bit of public leverage to drive deeper. It is only when we can link the immediate with the revolutionary that we can effectively use reforms as a stepping stone rather than the end of the path.