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

Matthew N. Lyons is an anti-fascist author and researcher whose work stretches back twenty-five years.  Always at the front of understanding how the far-right shifts and reconfigures itself, he has developed deep historical and theoretical work that is directly intended to aid in antifascist organizing that sees results.

His book Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort, co-authored with Chip Berlet, looked through America’s history and dug into exactly what the elusive term “populism” means, and how it motivates working-class people to take up radical right-wing political movements.  He has been especially pioneering at the blog Three-Way Fight, named for the concept that in any revolutionary struggle you can have an insurgent force that is different that either the left and the ruling class, and it is at that point you can often find fascist ideologues building their own version of a revolutionary movement.

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In Lyons’ most recent book Insurgent Supremacists: The U.S. Far Right’s Challenge to State and Empire, he looks at the strains of fascism that appropriate anti-imperialist and other struggles often associated with the left, how the far-right is changing and creating new social movements, and how we can understand fascism’s future.

This is an interview with Matthew N. Lyons that asks some of these questions, how to understand populism and fascism, how fascists use anti-imperialist and anti-capitalist politics, and what we can do about it.

 

Your book spends a great deal of time discussing the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements that intersect with fascism.  What is the nationalist investment in these issues?  How does their perspective break from the left’s interpretation of these movements?

In the book sections you’re referring to, my focus isn’t so much on the intersection of anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war movements with fascism. Rather, it’s on the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist, and anti-war tendencies within far right movements themselves. These tendencies have taken various forms and have deep historical roots within both classical fascism and sections of American conservatism. In the United States today, far rightists believe that the U.S. government and many transnational institutions such as the United Nations are controlled by malevolent globalist elites, who are working to weaken and destroy traditional societies and homogenize everyone to help build up their own wealth and power. White nationalists define this supposed threat in racial terms, as Jewish elites versus the white race, while other branches of the U.S. far right (such as Christian theocrats and most Patriot groups) tend to define it as an attack on U.S. national sovereignty and western culture.

There are a couple of different things going on here. Fascists and other far rightists have a long history of offering distorted versions of leftist, radical politics, to help them capitalize on people’s rebellious energy and anger at the status quo. When I describe it this way, it sounds like political opportunism, and that’s definitely part of it. But on a deeper level, there’s also a genuine conflict here, between modern global capitalism and the traditional social hierarchies such as race and nation and gender that have served capitalism well in the past but now sometimes restrict it. Modern global capitalism depends on moving goods and services and workers and investments across old boundaries, national and otherwise. This threatens many traditionally privileged social groups, whose privilege is based on those boundaries and divisions. So then you get, for example, multinational corporations pushing to let in more foreign workers, and sparking an anti-immigrant backlash. And you also get multinational corporations pushing to project military power overseas to help protect their investments, and sections of the right, fascist and otherwise, lining up against them and saying our people has nothing to gain from these wars.

On a surface level, far right opposition to military interventionism or capitalist elites or imperialism can sound leftist. But there are basic underlying differences. Leftist politics is predicated – at least in theory – on promoting human equality and dismantling human oppression and exploitation. In contrast, fascists and other far rightists believe that human equality is a sham. They say that inequality is either unavoidable or a positive good to be protected. To them, global capitalist elites are evil because they see them as promoting equality, not opposing it. A related issue is that a genuinely radical critique of power focuses on systems of oppression and exploitation, whereas far rightists generally analyze power in terms of conspiracy theories, which blame social problems on a sinister group of outsiders (such as Jews) who supposedly distort the normal workings of society.

 

How do you define fascism?

In Insurgent Supremacists and other writings I offer a working definition of fascism as “a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while promoting economic and social hierarchy.” This is based on an effort to combine two different approaches. The historian Roger Griffin sees fascism as a political ideology that emphasizes a myth of national palingenesis, or collective rebirth out of a near-fatal crisis. In contrast to that, a series of independent Marxists (from August Thalheimer in the 1930s to J. Sakai and Don Hamerquist today) have analyzed fascism as having a contradictory relationship with the capitalist ruling class – attacking the left and promoting class hierarchy but also pursuing an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways. Both of these approaches regard fascism as a right-wing revolutionary force, but Griffin is strong on delineating fascist ideology while the independent Marxists are strong on fascism’s class dynamics. Both are important.

I draw a sharp distinction between fascism and what I would call conservative authoritarianism. Most repression in capitalist societies operates more or less directly in the interests of big business. I see fascism as a drive to wrest political control away from big business and establish a new political elite. Historically, fascists have cut deals with capitalists to help them win power, but capitalists’ assumption that they could then rein in fascists has proved wrong. Instead, fascists have set about trying to reshape all spheres of society according to their own totalitarian agenda and, in the case of German Nazism, undertook a profound and far-reaching transformation of the social order in keeping with their racist ideology. Many capitalist regimes have pursued genocide against subject populations, but Nazism is the only regime that has pursued genocide against a significant section of the industrial working class, an effort that directly clashed with capitalists’ economic interests.

In the United States today, fascist politics is still driven by a totalitarian vision to reshape society, but that can take different forms. White nationalists’ vision centers on race and their dream of creating an all-white nation. But I think it’s appropriate to use the term “fascism” also for totalitarian right-wing visions that don’t center on race. The most important example is the hardline faction within the Christian right – spearheaded by Christian Reconstructionists – that wants to impose a full theocracy. That vision centers on religion, of course, but also on male supremacy and gender conformity – much more than race. Also, some fascist currents, such as the Lyndon LaRouche network, carry forward classical fascism’s vision of a large centralized state, but many fascists now want to impose their totalitarian vision in a decentralized manner – through “tribal” networks or segregated “ethno-states” or local churches and patriarchal families. I’ve used the term “social totalitarianism” to describe this kind of politics that is simultaneously authoritarian and decentralist.

 

How do you see the Trump administration in relationship to insurgent white nationalism?  Has your opinion of it changed in the time that Trump has been in office?

White nationalists – not just people with racist politics but people who specifically want to create an all-white nation – played a bigger role in electing Donald Trump in 2016 than they had in electing any of his predecessors. More specifically, alt-rightists’ skillful use of internet activism was a significant factor in defeating Trump’s Republican rivals and to a lesser extent in defeating Hillary Clinton. After the election, Richard Spencer proclaimed that alt-rightists were the vanguard of the Trump coalition. At the same time, alt-rightists were clear that Trump was himself not a white nationalist – he was useful to them, but he was not one of them. He would do some of what they wanted, and he would buy them time and space to spread their message, but he did not share their long-term goals.

Since Trump’s inauguration, alt-rightists have had very mixed feelings about his administration. They have liked his demagoguery and scapegoating and his moves against immigrants of color and Muslims, but wish he would go a lot further. They like some of his foreign policy actions, like challenging free trade orthodoxy and criticizing NATO and reaching out to Kim Jong-un. But to varying degrees they also think he has capitulated to (or maybe is being blackmailed by) the conservative establishment. They don’t much care for the staunchly conservative positions he’s taken on tax policy and destroying Obamacare. They hate his support for Israel and his missile strikes against Assad’s government in Syria. Some of them still look on Trump positively, while others think he is beyond redemption.

In Insurgent Supremacists, I argued that Trump’s administration represented a coalition between conventional conservatives of various kinds and “America First” nationalists, some of whom had ties with the alt-right. I still think that’s accurate. Several of the America Firsters have left the administration, such as Steve Bannon and Mike Flynn, but there are several still there, such as Stephen Miller, Peter Navarro, and especially Jeff Sessions. They benefit from what seems to be Trump’s sincere contempt for most establishment politicians, but they’re limited by the lack of a coherent organizational base and the lack of a coherent base of support within the ruling class. The Mercers and Peter Thiel are scary, but it’s unclear to me whether they represent a larger organic tendency within the business community or just hardline right-wingers who suddenly happened to become billionaires. It’s clear there are business sectors that are happy Trump is dismantling industrial regulations, but that part of his agenda is just an extension of previous neoliberal policies. Which business sectors support America First nationalism? I’m very interested to learn more about that.

The periodic warnings that Trump is either a fascist or is moving in a fascist direction seem to be picking up momentum again. I don’t agree, although I agree with some elements of the argument. A lot of people use the term “fascism” much too loosely, to cover any and all forms of right-wing authoritarianism or repression. To me, fascism has to involve a drive to systematically transform all areas of society according to a totalitarian ideological vision. I don’t see any evidence that Trump has such a vision or has the drive to implement any such systematic change, and he certainly doesn’t have the kind of independent organizational base you would need to carry it out.

What I do think is true and is quite serious is that Trump is making the U.S. political system more authoritarian. Part of that is continuing the process of incrementally expanding the government’s repressive powers and machinery, a process that has been going on for decades under both Republican and Democratic presidents. But Trump and his supporters are also dramatically changing the political climate, ratcheting up the scapegoating and demonization of political opponents, even mainstream ones, to levels we haven’t seen since the early 1950s. Trump and his supporters have vilified news reporting to the point that the New York Times can publish a major expose of his family’s tax crimes and he doesn’t even bother to deny it. These moves don’t add up to anything close to fascism, but they do significantly weaken the liberal-pluralist framework (it’s not democracy but it’s not a dictatorship either) and make it significantly easier for some kind of systematic, organized, ideologically driven authoritarianism to emerge and impose itself. I don’t think Trump is part of that but it could come quickly.

 

How do you define populism? Why do you think that there has been an upsurge of populism around the world right now? 

I see populism as a type of politics that aims to rally “the people” around some form of anti-elitism. That’s how Chip Berlet and I defined it in Right-Wing Populism in America, and it’s based on political scientist Margaret Canovan’s work. Populism can be broadly divided between left-wing and right-wing varieties. John Judis in The Populist Explosion gives a good succinct explanation of the difference. He says that left-wing populists define the struggle in dualistic terms – the people versus the elite – while right-wing populists claim the elite is manipulating one or more out-groups – such as immigrants or Muslims or welfare mothers – so that “the people” are being squeezed from above and below.

There are serious problems with both left-wing and right-wing populism, but the problems are different. Left-wing populism can be a framework for attacking real inequity and disempowerment, and to that extent it can play a positive role, but it oversimplifies social conflict by reducing everything to the people versus the elite. So it tends to gloss over – and thereby reinforce – other forms of oppression that don’t coincide with that simple dividing line.

 

Right-wing populism glosses over lots of stuff as well, but the bigger problem is that it directly targets oppressed and marginalized groups for scapegoating and demonization, because its concept of “the people” is as much about defending privilege as it is about anti-elitism. In addition, the way right-wing populism defines the elite is itself based on a kind of scapegoating, which focuses either on a specific subset within the elite or on people who aren’t elite at all. So even though right-wing populism feeds partly on people’s anger at being beaten down, it channels that back into attacks that strengthen and intensify hierarchy and oppression and institutionalized violence.

As you say, there’s been an upsurge of populism lately in many parts of the world, and that includes both left and right versions. In very broad terms I see two big contributing factors. One is a crisis in the global capitalist system – highlighted by the 2008 financial crisis but going far beyond it – and a widespread recognition that the conventional policies that have dominated most governments for decades really only serve a tiny minority. The other big factor is the weakness of the radical left – brought about by a combination of external repression and its own internal failings – and the radical left’s inability to rally major segments of the population in most countries. So, many people are hungry for alternatives, hungry for a way out, and a lot of times populism seems like the best option.

 

Are there any examples of organized resistance happening currently that you think are a good model for combating the far-right?

I don’t know that there’s any one example where I’d say, “here’s the model of resistance for us to follow,” but I think there have been a number of very positive developments. I think the principle of “diversity of tactics” is very important – meaning actions organized so that there is room for people to take a variety of militant and non-militant approaches, and where those are understood as complementing and supporting each other, rather than competing or in conflict. I know that folks in the Bay Area and in Portland, for example, have worked hard over the past year or more to build coalitions based on this approach, and have had some important successes as a result.

I also really like the principle of “community self-defense,” as advocated by the Twin Cities General Defense Committee of the IWW and others, meaning that antifascists should not look to the state to protect us, because the state is really not on our side, but rather should look to build connections with, and base themselves in, working class communities. Another positive example I would cite is the network Solidarity & Defense Michigan, which is one of a number of groups that helped to halt the alt-right’s mobilizing drive in 2017-2018, and which has emphasized the linkages between resisting far rightists and combating institutionalized oppression in the form of housing evictions, police violence, deportations of immigrants and refugees, and so on.

I also particularly appreciate when people approach antifascist activism in a spirit of humility and willingness to learn from mistakes. I think an example of that was the article “Tigertown Beats Nazis Down,” which is a self-critical reflection on the April 2017 mass protest against Richard Spencer in Auburn, Alabama. I can’t speak to the specific events that happened there, but I thought the spirit of the article was really constructive and positive.

 

How can the anti-imperialist movement insulate against the far-right?

First, leftist and liberal anti-imperialists should have a strict policy of non-collaboration with far rightists. That means not attending their political events and not allowing them to attend ours. It means not giving them a platform on our media to air their views, and not legitimizing their media by accepting invitations to publish our articles or be interviewed.

Second, let’s recognize and combat oppressive dynamics within the left that resonate with far right politics – dynamics such as authoritarianism and transphobia and sexual violence. And more specifically let’s combat the elements of far right ideology that have influenced sections of the left itself. In the 1980s, the Christic Institute borrowed “anti-establishment” conspiracy theories from the Lyndon LaRouche network and other far right sources and repackaged them for progressive audiences. Today, groups like the Center for Research on Globalisation play a similar role. Let’s develop strong radical analyses of institutionalized power systems and reject fake-radical conspiracy theories, many of which are rooted in antisemitism.

And we need consistent radicalism specifically with regard to Israel. I’m an anti-Zionist Jew: I reject Israeli apartheid rule over Palestinians and Zionist appropriation of Jewish identity for racist and imperialist ends, and I reject smear campaigns that equate criticism of Israel with antisemitism. But it’s disturbing and dangerous when we see self-described leftists portraying Zionists as some kind of super-powerful force controlling U.S. foreign policy or global capitalism, or dismiss any concerns about antisemitism on the left as Zionist propaganda.

Third, I think we need to reject simplistic left analyses that celebrate any perceived opposition to U.S. international power as “anti-imperialist” – and that automatically equate anti-imperialist with “progressive.” The Assad government has implemented neoliberal economic policies, collaborated with the CIA’s rendition program, and murdered thousands of Palestinians, but somehow it’s supposed to be anti-imperialist now. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to celebrate the 9-11 attacks against the World Trade Center and the Pentagon? Those attacks hit the centers of imperialist power more forcefully than anything Assad and his allies have ever done, but they also killed 3,000 people and were carried out in the name of a deeply reactionary ideology. And if all anti-imperialism is automatically progressive, are we supposed to join forces with the neonazis who did in fact celebrate the 9-11 attacks as heroic blows against globalist Jewish elites? What’s needed here, again, is a recognition that there are more than two political poles in the world, and – as radical antifascists have been saying for years – my enemy’s enemy is not necessarily my friend.

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Unions Against Fascism

 

Patriot Prayer isn’t known for its good taste.

 

The far-right organization, known for linking up “Patriot” militias with Alt Right white nationalists, became notorious for taking up the “free speech” rally model started by Lauren Southern in the “Battle for Berkeley.”  In Portland, Oregon, and the surrounding suburbs, their organizer, Joey Gibson, instigated violent clashes with leftist protesters as he refused to tone down the “America First” rhetoric.  In May, Jeremy Christian, a man who eagerly joined Patriot Prayer’s events, murdered two on Portland public transit in an Islamophobic frenzy.  Gibson’s response was to hold his June 4th rally just a couple of weeks later in a federal park, which drew over three thousand protesters in a show of unprecedented antifascist unity.

On August 26, in the wake of the savage race riot and vehicular murder in Charlottesville, Gibson decided to bring his act down to the Bay area, where a number of far-right provocateurs were intending to join him.  This would start with a “Freedom Rally” along the waterfront, which activists countered with a mass “poop in” by bringing their dogs to the beach without waste bags.  The following day they the “anti-Marxist” message would be brought to the streets, picking up on the white supremacist conspiracy theory that modern “progressive” values are actually the result of subversive Jewish “Cultural Marxism.”

Patriot Prayer’s plans sparked one of the quickest engagements of mass organizing in years as coalitions formed around the city with everything from radical art shows to a mass marches to disallow Gibson access to the streets or city parks.  While the Bay’s progressive line-up began their plans, it was the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) Local 10 that stepped out in front to lead this community revolt.  Just days before the Alt Right was to descend on the city, Local 10 passed the “Motion to Stop the Fascists in San Francisco,” calling for “all unions and anti-racist and anti-fascist organizations to join us defending unions, racial minorities, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and all the oppressed.”  ILWU was instrumental in raising the antifascist coalition’s profile enough to force Gibson to cancel the event, and when he tried to move it to San Francisco’s Alamo Park, the union took to the streets and helped form a block to prevent entry.  

Right now, labor in the United States is being pushed to a state of execution.  With the political power in the hands of the beltway right, attacks on public sector unions, collective bargaining, exclusive representation, and the rights of workers to organize, are forcing labor to look past immediate contractual gains and to the larger contradictions the working class faces.  Capital’s attack on unions is happening at the same time as a radical right populism is sweeping the U.S., with Trumpism ushering in what the Freedom Party brought to Austria, Brexit offered to the UK, and what Le Pen could have leveled on France.  With the Alt Right as the militant fascist edge of this movement, organized labor is placed where it is often put in times of crisis: uniquely targeted and decisively necessary.

 

“Then they came for the trade unionists…”

Looking at the historical fascist movements that rose to power in interwar Europe, labor is crushed swiftly and decisively.  As the Nazis rose to power in Germany, the SS took control of the trade unions in 1933, banning them as working class institutions and molding their organs into the German Labor Front.  With 7 million members, Germany had one of the largest labor movements in the world, bolstered by the social democrats and the revolutionary German Communist Party (KPD).  In Italy, Mussolini took a different approach and captured the unions entirely, creating large Fascist Trade Unions with over four million members.  These organizations were extensions of the fascist state, losing their ability to fight for workers interests as Mussolini gained power by cruelly crushing socialist and anarchist partisans.  The attack on unionists was, largely, an extension of the fascist attack on the organized left as leaders rightly understood that both sides had the ability to pull heavily from the experiences of the working class.  While Hitler and Mussolini appealed to the bourgeois classes by suppressing worker movements, it was an appeal to the broad masses that gave fascism its power.  The class conflict implicit to capitalism is then suppressed in favor of mediated class collaboration; the fire for change the fuels class struggle then rechanneled into reactionary battles between identities, racial, sexual, and otherwise.  

The unions themselves were, at the time, the largest and most successful results of social movements, a hundred years of struggle to create massive organizations that took on the interests of the oppressed classes.  That strength, rooted in the ability to withhold labor, could bring the country to its knees, and its nature is rooted in the working class unity that necessitates antiracism.  If the unions are weakened, removed as militant vehicles for the desires of working people, then mass movements lose one of their key strategic vessels.

Unions today are often defined by their concessions, what was allowed to them by the state during the 1920s and 1930s.  But a union is more that Collective Bargaining Agreements and grievance procedures.  It is simply an expression of unified class power, the ability of a group of workers to exert power through solidarity.  For workers today (and throughout the history of organized labor), their subjective experiences of class and identity are more than just pay scales, but include everything from racial discrimination by management to the fear of violence they have leaving their houses in the morning.  For non-white workers, that violence continues, both from the state as police murders continue unchallenged, and through vigilantes, from the KKK in earlier generations to the Alt Right terrorizing campuses and city centers today.  Unions can expand their conception of working class struggle to take on issues not only at the bargaining table, but also throughout the world that workers inhabit, something that is only becoming more necessary as those traditional rights are legally eroded.  With a larger financial infrastructure than most left organizations and the growing injection of labor into broad coalitions, they have the tools and membership to be active in directly undermining the radical right surge.  

 

IWW General Defense Committee

For many syndicalists, the IWW has been a centerpiece of this radical experiment for a century, starting as an alternative to the increasingly compromised AFL models of negotiated labor.  The IWW continues to explode at moments of contradiction, organizing that stretches models to the point of redefinition.  The non-contract campaigns of the Burgerville Workers Union, the prison organizing of the Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, and solidarity networks are windows into what is possible when the strictures shackling organized labor are ignored and the basic principles of organizing are opened up to the imagination.

It is no wonder that the IWW then looked to the past to rebuild a project that could extend the reach of the organization into the increasingly caustic world of tenancy, police violence, and insurrectionary racist threats.  The General Defense Committee (GDC) was first started in 1917 as a technically-separate organization from the broader IWW to take on issues like state repression of members around anti-war protests and during later red scares.  Because it was a legally separate entity, it could take some shelter from state attacks on the IWW that seemed imminent.  The GDC was brought back to take on issues that were not strictly workplace derived, and antifascist work has become the brand it is best known by.  The Twin Cities branch chartered a GDC in 2011, yet their antifascist committee started long before that as members had previous experience as founders of Anti-Racist Action in the 1980s and the Torch Network that is known for linking up Antifa organizations.  The GDC has grown to over 200 members with committees being chartered across the country.  

The Twin Cities GDC Local 14 started by confronting a 2012 appearance of David Irving, the notorious WWII historian turned Holocaust Denier, building the praxis that would instruct their later work.  As opposed to the close-knit and highly secretive format that describes most Antifa organizations, the GDC has used a “mass antifascist” approach.  This means focusing on bringing in large coalitions of people, generally being public about their image, and trying to do popular education and engagement.  This still results in the battle over “contested spaces,” music venues, public arenas, and college campuses.  This can also mean in direct engagement, forcing the neo-Nazis out of their speaking event or meeting spaces, but it is done through appeals to huge community contingents.  Mixing a radical analysis, direct action, and broad community involvement are the same principles that have made the Wobblies such a success in workplace organizing, and it those winning methods that they are using to turn entire neighborhoods and social networks into mass antifascist forces.  Since the rise of the Alt Right starting in 2015, the GDC has been present in almost every major action, from shutting down far-right agitator Milo Yiannoupolous in Seattle, De Paul, and the University of Wisconsin, challenging Infowars at the Republican National Convention, and shutting down fascist neofolk artists like Blood + Sun.  

 

Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective

In Portland, a group of trade unionists whose roots in militant antifascism went back thirty years came back to that anti-racist organizing by looking exactly at where they work.  In places like the Carpenters Union, workers were regularly forced to interact coworkers who were openly adorned with neo-Nazi iconography, such as portraits of Hitler in visible tattoos.  For many neo-Nazis who had been involved in skinhead gangs and were felons, building trade unions provided a pathway to a good and stable job that often shielded them from political fallout and did not penalize them for criminal histories.  Organizers from the Carpenters Local 1503, Ironworkers Local 29, International Union of Painters and Allied Trades (IUPAT) Local 10, and antifascist organizers came together to form the Pacific Northwest Antifascist Workers Collective (PNWAWC) to confront the influx of the far-right from inside of the labor movement.

One of PNWAWC’s key strategies was to put through antifascist resolutions in union locals whose membership may actually have some allegiances to white supremacist formations.  IUPAT Local 10 and the Carpenters Union Local 1503 passed this resolution, next attempting to build antifascist committees internal to the local.  IUPAT went as far as forming an Anti-Racist Mobilization Committee that will be used to get union members to support antiracist community actions and to reach out to other trade unions to do the same.  

Their work extends to antifascist strategies that are often well known to Antifa and Anti-Racist Action groups, which many of their members started in.  This includes organizing as a coalition with groups like Rose City Antifa to confront far-right assemblies, especially in “contested spaces,” refusing access.  Doxxing, information dissemination, and popular education are all a part of this, as well as committing many of their members to act as community defense and security in situations that could result in fascist intimidation.  After a local public-sector union had been hosting antifascist events from groups like the Portland Assembly and Demand Utopia, threats began coming down on the union hall.  When several alleged far-right agitators showed up, donning masks, the collective coordinated unionists and organizers to surround the building, refusing to allow them on the property.

 

Portland Labor Against Fascists

Many organizers with some relationship to PNWAWC came together to form the Portland Labor Against Fascists coalition to have a labor presence at the growing number of collisions between far-right rallies and the public.  When Patriot Prayer announced its June 4th rally despite the pleas of the city, including the Mayor’s office, multiple groups organized to surround the event.  On one side was a more mild-manner coalition of progressive groups brought together by the International Socialist Organization, while adjacent to the in the park was the united Antifa block.  On the south side of the far-right rally was the labor coalition, organized, in part, by Trotskyist organizations like the Internationalist Group and Class Struggle Workers, and with members from the various building trades as well as Amalgamated Transit Union 757, CWA 7901, and different AFL-CIO affiliates.  

The rhetoric here was simple: destroying the narrative that the Patriot militia and blue-collar white power groups have, that they are acting in the interests of the white working class.  With Ironworkers and IBEW electricians on the megaphones, they were able to speak to worker exploitation, not from “mass immigration” or affirmative action, but from mega-corporations that are crushing wages and collective bargaining.  Since some participants in the Alt Right come from those represented trades, hearing from people in the same professions and workplaces makes a difference. This has been the strategy of non-labor specific organizations like Redneck Revolt, who use the language of gun-rights and government mistrust to speak to the same crowd that the militia movement recruits from.

 

Labor’s Turn

As the cultural wave of reactionary anger turned into a Trump presidency, many in the broad labor movement were forced to speak up out of the crisis of circumstance.  With the heavy focus of Alt Right groups like Identity Europa on campus recruitment, student and faculty groups have found common cause in confronting their threat.  The Duke Graduate Student Union and the University of California Student Workers have come out to endorse student projects like the Campus Anti-Fascist Network, which is using a nationally coordinated approach to long-term mass antifascist movement building.  As Patriot Prayer’s event loomed on the horizon in Berkeley, a large coalition formed for the Bay Area Rally Against Hate that would link up a huge swath of community and labor organizations.  This again drew from unions with an association with education and college campuses, including the Berkeley Federation of Teachers, AFSCME Local 3299 (a UC Berkeley local), SEIU Local 1021, and UAW Local 2865, as well as a contingent of Berkeley student workers.  The Alameda Labor Council and San Francisco Labor Council both signed as endorsers, a success for such a highly partisan affair.  ILWU Local 10 was a leader in the effort to block Patriot Prayer, bringing out retired members who had joined the movement against South African apartheid in the 1980s.   IUPAT Local 10 voted in a resolution and public statement that put their full support behind the ILWU’s decision in the bay, saying that they take from their example “in the struggle for workers’ rights against racism, war, and police repression.”

While many large unions have avoided using the language of antifascism, there has been an impetus for many to rise up on the primary issues of racial victimization in the Trump era.  AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka joined the Canadian Labour Congress President Hassan Yussuff in a “categorical rejection” of Islamophobia, and after the comments Trump made after the Charlottesville violence he decisively pulled out of the American Manufacturing Council.  Trumka is far from a radical unionist, but it shows the tone that is shifting inside large labor institutions.  In years past, the rhetoric of “America First” echoed into union halls as jobs were being offshored.  This attempt to stoke a subtle racism while mobilizing workers against de-industrialization lost them the ability to effectively fight the experiences of racism that workers face, and there are signs this decision is being reversed as they continue to lose ground with their attempts at class collaboration.  The movement by many unions, from UNITE HERE Local 2850 to National Union of Healthcare Workers, to become “sanctuary unions” is another turn, acknowledging the horror of ICE deportations that are entering into their member communities.  Local 2850 has been working to add protections for immigrants into contracts as well as going for local and statewide resolutions in support of their immigrant workforce.

The role of large labor organizations is more mixed than militant unions, but with their large memberships and financial infrastructure there are opportunities they can lend to antifascist movements.  This may end up more passive than anything, the allying of resources, buildings, and participation in coalitions, while leaving the more open antifascist work to organizers free from the strictures of non-profit status.  As unions have increasingly diverse membership, they will be pressured to stand up for the issues that fascist ideologues have owned, confronting mass deportations, the victimization of racial and gender minorities, and the increased threat that far-right politics represent to their membership.

The position of unions as a conceptual force is even more central as its mechanisms of class power are some of the most profound in history.  The ability to use solidarity to dethrone the authority in a workplace can be expanded to the community, and the mass base, the ability to strike and worker empowerment can all be pivoted to see not only institutional injustice, but also the insurrectionary violence of white supremacy, as a target.  Fascist politics splits the working class, a fragmentation that spells defeat in even the most class reductionist sense, and there is every reason for union members to be on the front lines.

Originally Published in the Anarcho-Syndicalist Review

Be Aware: Fascist set to Mobilize on College Campuses April 23rd

White Supremacists under the banner of “The Alt-Right“, a term made popular by Richard Spencer, are attempting to recruit sympathetic student-body members of local college campuses by the use of flyers adorned with flashy graphics and hate rhetoric. They use images depicting their irrational fear that the “white race” is under attack and facing extinction. These flyering incidents do not seem to have been organized events, rather they have been carried out by a few emboldened racist idealogues sourcing their propaganda from Neo-Nazi websites promoting flyering actions.

There is now a nationwide mobilization scheduled for April 23 calling for a mass distribution of racist flyers that appears to be well organized and is being promoted by Neo-Nazi groups such as Identity Evropa, American Vanguard and their sympathizers who are broadcasting information and sharing propaganda flyers ready for printing. Based on recent attacks, it is believed by local organizations, at least in the mid Atlantic region, that college campuses such as George Washington University, Towson University, University of Maryland College Park as well as the Baltimore County campus are likely targets. White Supremacists plan to cover college campuses, community centers, and high traffic areas with racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant posters and stickers (examples below). These hateful groups are operating on multiple chat sites to organize this event.

This planning is being monitored by multiple, diverse anti fascist groups including but not limited to Mid-Atlantic General Defense Committee of the IWW, Baltimore Antifascist Community Defense, One People’s Project, NCP and Anti Fascist Action. We are concerned about the members of hate groups using misinformation and propaganda to recruit and organize. It is necessary that the public is aware of the alt right’s “Day of the Flyer” as we have recently observed an increase in, not only racist and hateful propaganda but also hate related incidents, shootings and other attacks.

In the interest of community safety and defense, students and their school administrators should be vigilant and raise awareness prior to April 23 and during the morning hours after 2am. Campuses and surrounding communities should be on alert of this pending assault.

Contact for more information or concerns: baltimore.gdc.research@gmail.com