Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

March 7, 2018

The alt-right and antifa: way past their shelf-life

Filed under: anarchism,anti-fascism,Fascism — louisproyect @ 7:53 pm

Richard Spencer (l) with his lawyer and fellow fascist Kyle Bristow (r), who has retired from politics

Despite the meltdown of Newsweek, there is still some decent reporting going on. In a piece dated March 5th, Michael Edison Hayden poses the question “Is the Alt-Right Dying?” and provides ample evidence to the affirmative. Needless to say, this will have consequences for the adventurist-prone elements of the anarchist movement that takes its cue from Mark Bray’s “Anti-Fascist Handbook” rather than the Marxist classics. Among Hayden’s findings:

–Kyle Bristow, an attorney and key ally to Richard Spencer was dropping out of politics a day before he was slated to host a white nationalist conference in Detroit, Michigan.

–Richard Spencer was only able to attract an audience of 30 to 40 people at a talk he gave at Michigan State on March 5th. As expected, the antifa people came there spoiling for a fight and got one. Perhaps the arrest of 24 antifa activists, 12 on weapons felony charges that carries a five year prison term, might persuade others of a similar inclination that another approach is needed when seen in cost-benefit terms. After all, Spencer got media coverage that a talk to a tiny audience ignored by the left would have never generated.

–After Spencer aligned with the Traditionalist Workers Party led by Matthew Heimbach, the Daily Stormer began to deride the alliance since it saw Heimbach as “good-natured but socially awkward fat kid” whose “communist” rhetoric would turn people off from the fascist cause. Heimbach is consciously modeling himself on Gregor Strasser, not likely the sort of thing that will draw the average bigot into his ranks. As for Spencer, it seems that he is a huge fan of Chapo Trap House.

Remember when an appearance by Milo Yiannopoulos at Berkeley provoked the kind of fighting that some viewed as a precursor of a virtual civil war of the kind seen in Weimar Germany in the late 20s? His appearance on the Bill Maher show convinced some that we had to get ready for some kick-ass street-fighting (at least if you were under 25 and had an excess of testosterone.)

Now, Yiannopoulos is yesterday’s news. To a large extent, the cancellation of a big book contract by Simon and Schuster had something to do with that. Unlike Bill Maher, Yiannopoulos’s editor was not particularly taken by him as his feedback to the half-wit would indicate:

Comment [A3]: Avoid parenthetical insults—they just diminish your authority. Throughout the book you’re [sic] best points seem to be lost in a sea of self-aggrandizement and scattershot thinking.

Comment [A185]: This is definitely not the place for more of your narcissism.

Comment [A293]: …You can’t just toss out poorly thought out theories about “going back into the closet,” as you might in a college lecture.

Comment [A407]: Tiresome and off the point.

Comment [A418]: The whole chapter is a problem in tone. Your usual style NEGATES any value your information might have.

Comment [A424]: Ego and self-aggrandizement backfire in book.

(For other editorial comments, read here.)

Perhaps the biggest factor in the marginalization of both the alt-right and antifa is how clearly the focus has shifted toward the “normal” functioning of the state rather than any fascist movement that by its very definition aims at the overthrow of the state. One can understand why the Krupps would have funded Adolf Hitler in 1925 but why in the world would the Kochs fund Richard Spencer when Trump and company are doing such a great job at smashing what’s left of the welfare state? Keep in mind that Hitler was needed to destroy the Weimar Republic, which despite all its flaws was far to the left of the DSA’s most utopian dreams of socialism.

Another thing to keep in mind is that anybody with their head screwed on right recognizes that the embryo of mass resistance to Trumpism was on display in West Virginia this week when schoolteachers inspired by the legacy of militant coal miner resistance to the bosses went out on strike and won a 5 percent pay raise that is almost unheard of in today’s austere economic environment. I worked 21 years at Columbia University and never got more than a 2 percent raise.

It is funny to see how the anarchists reacted to the strike. On the It’s Going Down website, you can read an article about the strike by an IWW member who after writing several thousand words about how important it was decides to distinguish his revolutionary purity from the ordinary resistance of ordinary people:

Though, this may not be my idealized idea of struggle, I recognize that this is a working-class struggle, unique in its moment while also deeply rooted in the militant class struggle that West Virginia is famous for. I encourage us to explore the use of churches and other cultural structures that make up the fabric of sometimes rural and sometimes geographically isolated communities that many workers come from as avenues for revolutionary networking.

Maybe this person should realize that his or her “idealized idea of struggle” (idealized idea? Talk about redundancy) should be laid to rest. Struggles grow organically out of the lived experience of the people who take part in them, not by reading Bakunin.

Finally, the teachers strike might drive home the reality that armed groups like Redneck Revolt have passed their shelf life. The real struggle in West Virginia is not having shoot-outs with a practically non-existent neo-Nazi movement but trying to figure out ways to build the mass movement. That takes brains, not trigger fingers.

September 8, 2017

Could Punching Nazis Have Prevented Hitler From Taking Power

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 11:49 am


Street-fighting between Nazis and Communists, 1933

On November 28, 2006 Alexander Cockburn wrote an article titled “The 9/11 Conspiracists and the Decline of the American Left” that interpreted the rise of conspiracism as the result of a dwindling number of leftists learning “their political economy from Marx via the small, mostly Trotskyist groupuscules.” This created a theoretical and strategic void that was filled with “a diffuse, peripatetic conspiracist view of the world” that understood historical change as driven by CIA skullduggery rather than the class struggle or inter-imperialist rivalry.

Although I totally agree with this assessment and would even go a bit further by adding the RT.com zeitgeist to the mix, there is another problem bedeviling the left that is the product of Marxism’s decline and that dates roughly close to 9/11. I speak of the elevation of street-fighting tactics over theory and strategy, symbolized by the black bloc and antifa. Starting with the Seattle protest in 1999, the occurrence of some spectacular altercation became a litmus test on whether a protest was successful. A peaceful protest in which people only marched down the streets making a demand on the state is seen as tame and “liberal”, even though that describes most of the movements that occurred in the last major period of radicalization in the USA prior to 1999, from the Vietnam antiwar movement to the fight to legalize abortion.

Ever since Charlottesville, I have seen repeated references to how Nazism could have been stopped by street-fighting with almost no attention paid to the concrete socio-political conditions of Germany between 1920 and 1933, when Hitler took power. For many of those who think that physical force was the key to stopping Nazism, the viral video of Richard Spencer getting punched in the face was far more important as a guide to action than understanding the tragic history of the German left. On January 22, 2017 Natasha Lennard wrote a Nation magazine article titled “Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer Got Punched—You Can Thank the Black Bloc” that saw little need for tame mass actions. All we had to do was passively applaud the self-appointed saviors: “You don’t have to fight neo-Nazis in the street, but you should support those who do that day.” Unfortunately, Lennard had little to say about the consequences of the black bloc adventurism that day. The cops arrested innocent bystanders who are now facing up to 75 years in prison, all because some people felt the need to take part in a empty ritual as if capitalism could be undermined by a broken bank window.

I would ask CounterPunch readers to forgive me for the length of this article that will try to tell the story of the German left’s failure to stop the Nazis from taking power. As a survivor of what Alexander Cockburn called a Trotskyist groupuscule, this was a topic that all new members paid close attention to, especially since Hitler’s triumph was one of the primary motivations for Trotsky founding a new International. For him, the key to understanding Hitler’s triumph was disunity on the German left. In some ways, despite the entirely different set of circumstances we face in 2017, this remains our continuing problem. My hope is that this bit of history might have some provide some insights on the kind of movement that needs to be built today since punching Nazis in Charlottesville was not the solution to an intractable problem that will take millions of Americans acting on their own class imperatives to solve.

Continue reading

September 4, 2017

What in the world ever happened to Richard Seymour?

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 8:03 pm

At one time Richard Seymour was someone who had a penetrating class analysis. However, in recent years he writes less and less on his blog based on historical materialism and much more in the Lacanian psychoanalytic vein. I don’t know how much interest there is in the Lacanian stuff given his Alexa rating of 850,507 worldwide. He has set himself up on Patreon where for $3 per month and up you can get the a-list Seymour. With articles like “Make cry-bullying kill itself”, I am not sure if $3 per month is worth it.

Over on Lenin’s Tomb, you can also find the same kind of article. For example, there is one titled “On Fetish”, which sounds like the kind of paper delivered at the yearly American Language Association conference:

This estrangement of the visual order, this conversion of attention into alienated labour, is what Beller calls the ‘cinematic mode of production’. True to the paranoid, psychotic structure of the theory, he can do no other than offer us a cinematic image by way of explanation. We are in The Matrix, the life-energy we put into the world converted into energy to run the image-world, “imprisoned in a malevolent bathosphere, intuiting our situation only through glitches in the programme.”

Good grief.

Most of this stuff has little interest for me but recently Seymour posted a link on Facebook to a May 19th article titled “Is Fascism on the Rise”  that shows how much damage this kind of psychoanalytic Social Text malarkey can do when the matter at hand requires a sober class analysis rather than the sort of prose that Alan Sokal parodied. I hadn’t noticed the article when it first showed up but thought it was worth some commentary since Seymour has become one of antifa’s PR men.

These are the opening paragraphs:

It was the Martinican poet and anticolonial fighter, Aime Cesaire, who tried to point out to Europeans that what they called Nazism, they had been practicing with a free conscience in the colonial world for decades. And that this relationship was not incidental.

In fact, the conscience of the European was never free. Octave Mannoni, the French psychoanalyst who famously psychoanalysed the colonial situation, once suggested that there was a surprising pervasiveness of the colonised, in the dreams of Europeans who had never left the continent and never seen such a person. Today, one wonders if provincial, sedentary English men and women dream of the Muslim.

Okay, spend a minute studying these paragraphs and try to figure out what is wrong.

Is the minute up? I hope that you would have noticed that the word “Europeans” is not rooted in a class analysis. Which class was practicing something like Nazism on the colonized peoples? When your unit of analysis is the nation or the continent, that goes out the window. It was the capitalist class, not the French workers, who were oppressing and exploiting Algerians.

“Today, one wonders if provincial, sedentary English men and women dream of the Muslim.” What sort of nonsense is this? Who could he possibly be writing about? Colonel Blimp? This is a reductionist attempt to characterize an entire people, something that would never appear in a serious Marxist analysis. It evokes an op-ed piece in the NY Times, where someone like Thomas Friedman would pontificate on the “Europeans” versus the “Asians”. What a sad decline from the sharp analysis he used to deploy.

After a couple more paragraphs of this kind of gaseous air-borne prose, Seymour finally lands on the ground:

There is a traditional schema according to which economic crisis equals polarisation equals extremism. Things are more complicated. There’s a particular sequence which we should pay attention to.

Yes, they are more complicated but it was economic crisis, after all, that precipitated the rise of fascism historically. Furthermore, Golden Dawn is the only powerful fascist movement in Europe that has the same kind of social weight as the 1920s version. How can you not connect that to economic crisis? Impossible. Furthermore, even with the deep crisis in Greece, there is no section of the bourgeoisie that has aligned itself with Golden Dawn, unlike Germany where the Thyssens were funding Hitler early on.

Explaining how conditions today can produce a new Adolph Hitler, Seymour is not exactly lucid. He writes:

Yes, economic crisis is important, but it has to be metabolised by the state somehow. A crisis of capitalism, has to be a crisis of its political institutions and of its ideological claims. That crisis must manifest itself in a deadlock of political leadership of the ruling class. If, typically, one of its sectors leads (say, the City of London) and imposes its imperatives as being for the good of all, that leadership will come into question.

Does anybody understand what it means for an economic crisis to be metabolized by the state? I don’t have a clue. To metabolize means to convert food into energy in a living organism. I gave up trying to understand what this might have to do with the Trump White House except maybe that his addiction to red meat and Coca-Cola might be producing baleful psychological effects that will condemn us all to concentration camps.

But is Seymour right that the fascism of today won’t look anything like the Nazis?

But the fascism of the future doesn’t have to be traditional. Nor does it have to respect the sequences observed in the interwar years, or reanimate old cultures. It could even adopt a patina of edgy cool, as with the alt-right: we should never underestimate the erotic glamour of fascism and its appeal to the death-drive.

The erotic glamour of fascism? The appeal to the death-drive? Lacan is now in the driver’s seat, not Marx. Not being versed in Freudian psychoanalysis, I have no idea what this means. I guess I am a Marxist moldy fig. I believe that people join fascist movements because they support a total war on the left and the creation of an absolutist state that will govern in their interests, at least based on the demagogy of the fascist leader. And primarily this meant solving the economic crisis. To the middle-class, Hitler promised eliminating the Jews who were ruining it. To the workers, it was job security and social benefits. To the bourgeoisie, it was a promise to put an end to working-class power.

While Seymour’s article barely mentions the USA, it does join with the leftist consensus in early 2017 that Trump was capable of imposing a fascist dictatorship: “The attempt by Bannon and Miller to force a rupture in the American state was premature and voluntaristic. A more competent germinal fascism would take its time, patiently exploiting the fascist potential within the liberal state, to incubate and nurture the fascist monster of the future.”

I generally bristle at the word “rupture” since it smacks so much of the academic leftist prose that refuses to use a simple Anglo-Saxon word like “break” or “split”. What kind of split was Bannon trying to force? You’d think that Seymour regarded him as a latter-day Kurt von Schleicher who was a close adviser to Paul von Hindenberg. In 1930 he helped to topple the Social Democratic government, the first step in a series that would lead to Hitler becoming the German Chancellor. It was Schleicher who whispered in von Hindenberg’s ear about the need to make Hitler Der Fuhrer.

Does anybody in their right mind think that this was what Bannon was about? To whisper in Trump’s ear about the need to arrest the leaders of the Democratic Party and to pare down the Republican Party to the narrow base that continues to back Trump? What then? Arrest the editors of the NY Times, Washington Post, MSNBC and CNN and put them in prison where they would be tortured or killed? What about the universities? Round up George Ciccariello-Maher, Jodi Dean and even Paul Krugman? That is what fascism would look like, after all.

None of that was on the agenda. Instead, Bannon and Miller only hoped to use the power of the executive, their legislative majority and rightwing judicial figures to ram through a program that was the same old shit that the Republican Party has been pushing for 25 years. It is the Koch Brothers, Sean Hannity, et al. Just because Trump has cozied up with crypto-fascists like Alex Jones, there is no reason to cry wolf. As someone who lived through the Reagan years and read about the meetings that his top officials were having with Lyndon LaRouche’s cult members, I tend to be a bit more cautious about the F word. The US ruling class prefers to rule though bourgeois democracy and there is little need to take the kind of drastic action that Nazism represents.

It should be understood that Salvage Magazine that includes Richard Seymour on the editorial board views Donald Trump as a fascist. In an editorial titled “Lèse-Evilism: On the US Election Season”, they obviously demonstrated a poor grasp of American presidential politics:

If Trumpism is not fascist, it is clearly not not-fascist in the same way that mainstream Republicanism is not-fascist. Given its insurgent nativism, its overt racism and performative misogyny, its spectacular glorification of violence, including racist violence – as when Trump described as ‘very passionate’ a Boston supporter who severely beat a Hispanic man with an iron bar – its refusal to condemn overt white supremacist support, its sadistic and resentful authoritarianism, its populist denunciations of ‘big finance’ and ‘the system’, its willingness to suspend constitutional-legal norms in the interests of resolving a supposed emergency, and given our hard- and painfully-won perspective that things, particularly in these bad times, can get worse, Salvage is not complacent about the trajectory of this movement.

By these standards, we would have been facing a fascist threat under Reagan. In 1980, Ronald Reagan gave a speech openly endorsing “state’s rights” at the Neshoba County Fair. The fair was held in Philadelphia, Mississippi where 3 civil rights activists were murdered by the KKK in 1964. He broke the airline controllers’ strike. He used illegal methods to support the Nicaraguan contras in collaboration with fascist groups like the World Anti-Communist League. Was any of this an indication that a “rupture” was pending? No, it was a reflection that a right-wing Republican was in power, not that much different from others that had preceded him. Fascism was not required to make life hell for workers and Black people. The American government has been doing that for the past 200 years.

Finally, I would refer you to an article by Nathan J. Robinson, the editor of Current Affairs, a magazine that has been doing yeoman work rebutting the supporters of antifa like Richard Seymour. In a piece titled “Response to Critique On Free Speech and Violence”, Robinson replies to Seymour’s FB critique of his views on antifa. Seymour, who is referred to as Psmith throughout, wrote a boiler-plate defense of the antifa adventurists:

But Robinson ends by worrying that readers, who might be thinking of punching Nazis, would be “giving up” their principled commitment to “free speech” and “nonviolence” and should think twice before doing this. This is strange: personally, I do not have any commitment to a principle of free speech that says blocking talks is “intrinsically” or “in principle” wrong. Free speech is always provisional and contingent. If you use your speech to incite against migrant or trans students, as Yiannopoulos did, I have no obligation to defend your freedom to do that.

That is par for the course.

Robinson replied:

I might add here that those who endorse a highly contingent view of free speech rarely engage with the most important questions surrounding it. They don’t even seem to understand the reasons why people support robust open forums. It’s not because we believe that Nazis who “incite” hate are a legitimate part of the dialogue, it’s because we believe that once you start determining who can speak based on a “legitimacy/illegitimacy” framework, you are beginning to impose restrictions that will ultimately hurt everybody. Yes, everything is technically “contingent.” But the more we embrace that contingency, instead of seeing it as a very narrow and reluctant set of exceptions, the less free people generally will become. That’s because words like “contingent” and even “incite” end up being squishy and slippery, and we lose the kind of clear limiting principles that will help us maintain as open of a forum as we can. This is true whether we’re speaking of private or public action. In terms of the First Amendment, the more you empower courts to make exceptions for “hate speech” or “fascist speech,” the more you have built in a dangerous exception to your own civil liberties that now depends on you convincing a judge that you aren’t hateful. “Incitement,” without a clear and limited definition of what it does and doesn’t mean, is worryingly broad. (Yes, the Supreme Court adopts an “incitement” standard, but it’s “incitement to imminent lawless action,” with the imminence question being crucial, which is why mere advocacy of lawless action is permitted, and the qualification is crucial for safeguarding the right.) People like Psmith never seem to want to tell us how the limits of what constitutes an “incitement to hate” will be determined.

I urge you to read the entire article and to look for any others written by Robinson on the antifa question. I also recommend Carl Boggs’s article in today’s CounterPunch that is superlative. Here is an excerpt:

Antifa screams about racism and fascism on the right, which of course exists, while ignoring those same tendencies – not to mention warmongering – among liberal Democrats.  The group seems blind to far more consequential fascist interests at work within the power structure itself.  Despite a well-cultivated radical image, Antifa rarely focuses on the growing ultra-nationalism, militarism, and imperialism that lies at the very core of American politics – tendencies in fact more dangerous than the rhetoric of Yiannopoulos, Coulter, and Shapiro.  Beneath its ultra-leftism is a modus operandi riddled with the worst of identity politics.  And since its violent tactics are not aligned with any popular movement, its opposition to fascism (such as it is) turns hollow, empty.



September 1, 2017

Photographers beware of violent antifa protesters

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 12:03 am

Photo by Thomas Hawk of photographer attacked by masked antifa goons.

Opinion: Photographers beware of violent antifa protesters

While I understand people not wanting to be photographed, if you to a rally at a free-speech park where there are media and photographers there should be no expectation of privacy.

By Thomas Hawk

Thomas Hawk is a photographer and blogger based in San Francisco. This piece was first published on PetaPixel.

This past Sunday, I photographed the “Rally against Hate” protests in Berkeley, California, which was organized to oppose a “Say No To Marxism” rally that had been planned. There was very little representation of the so-called alt-right at the park on Sunday. However, there were 100 to 200 antifa (or anarchists, or whatever they are called) who showed up dressed in all black to the protest.

The vast majority of the people protesting were anti-hate, peaceful protesters. But this group of black-clad masked protesters assaulted several photographers at the event. I personally witnessed photographers having their cameras stolen and smashed and damaged.

I also personally witnessed photographers being physically assaulted.

At one point, while a photographer was being assaulted the Berkeley Police Department had to rush into the black bloc crowd to fish a guy out who was being beaten on. That is the guy whose face is bloodied and the photo I took where the police are escorting him.

Continue reading

August 29, 2017

A boom market in antifasplaining

Filed under: anti-fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

Mark Bray: a hot commodity in the antifa marketplace

Almost every month a new antifa book or feature article comes out written by some young professor. As night follows day, publishing houses love to sell books and magazines love to sell articles. Luckily for them, there seems to be no topic more marketable right now. A lot of it has to do with the Trump presidency that many pundits considered to be the second coming of Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini. When it turned out that Trump was thwarted repeatedly, especially over immigration and Obamacare, and that leading Republicans began to disavow him, it hardly made sense to act as if it was 1933 all over again. Although I have little in common with Stanfield Smith politically, he made essential points in a March 21, 2017 CounterPunch article titled “First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump”:

Little over two weeks in power, the Brownshirts had been handed the license to bully, beat, even kill leftists and Jews. In contrast, the two week old Trump presidency found its first anti-Muslim executive order blocked by a judge.

Three weeks in power, 50,000 Brownshirts were made part of the police. They began unauthorized arrests, broke into public building and homes and made nightly raids to seize anti-Hitler opponents. Those seized were typically put in newly set up “camps.”

This has not stopped professors from churning out books that make it sound as if we faced a similar threat. This can only be done, of course, by ignoring crucial historical differences. In the German elections of 1928, the Socialist Party received 9,152,979 votes, which at 29.8% was the highest number of any party. Meanwhile, its rivals in the Communist Party received the fourth highest vote total–3,264,793, which was 10.6%. If the two parties had been able to unite, there never would have been a Third Reich nor World War Two. For that matter, the USSR would have continued until now, with likely a more enlightened leadership. As it happened, the SP ruled Germany in about the same way that Obama ruled the USA while the CP was criminally ultraleft—supporting a Nazi referendum in 1931 to dissolve the SP-dominated parliament in Prussia. I would only say that if the American left can’t get its shit together when the big battles begin, the results will be even more catastrophic.

Are we anywhere near the DSA and Bob Avakian’s RCP—the closest thing to the insanely ultraleft German CP today—getting the vote of over 40 percent of Americans? That was the situation facing the German bourgeoisie in 1928, not the low ebb of the class struggle in the USA that despite the brief “resistance” hiccup in the immediate wake of the Trump inauguration has remained on life support.

You wouldn’t have a clue that this was the state of America today reading the febrile accounts of the junior professors who are getting even more attention than Bhaskar Sunkara.

My first encounter with these antifasplainers was on Facebook, where many of them spread their gospel. Ex-FB friend Alexander Reid Ross is a geography professor at Portland State University, a city where ultraleftism was hegemonic. I hadn’t paid much attention to his posts until after Charlottesville, when they began to strike me as pure antifa nonsense. Ross had written a book for AK Press titled “Against the Fascist Creep”, a natural outlet since AK Press is to anarchism what Haymarket, Monthly Review or Verso are to Marxism.

Ross gave an interview to It’s Going Down, the voice of the antifa movement, where he splained what “creeping fascism” meant. He stated that he decided to write the book after people on the left began to say things like “white people deserve their own place because people of color are naturally inclined towards one another.” This included “some of the left wing issue based movements where Marxists were more prevalent.” Funny, I never ran into anybody like that on Marxmail but then again maybe they are just lurking. Or maybe they don’t exist. I suppose all this is splained in Ross’s book but somehow the motivation to spend money on it is lacking.

Ross tells his interviewer that he is a fan of NYC Antifa. Do these people really exist? I have never heard a single word about them doing anything here but then again there’s not much in the way of fascism here as well. Mostly NYC is like Weimar Berlin but without the class struggle. I’d prefer some class struggle but then again I’d prefer the dictatorship of the proletariat.

He concludes by stroking the ego of the website that has interviewed him, stating that It’s Going Down “picked up a lot of slack in terms of analyzing Trump, analyzing the alt-right, and actually using intelligence to shut them down.” Intelligence? I thought it was smacking the fascists with big sticks like in a Punch and Judy show that they were pushing.

Moving right along, we next meet Max Haiven, the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Northwest Ontario.

Haiven has a rather startling article in today’s Truthout titled “What the Abolition of the British Slave Trade Can Teach Us About Free Speech”. Since I had done a fair amount of research on this topic when reviewing a biopic about William Wilberforce, I was curious to see what Haiven had to say.

Looking back at the debates that took place in Parliament about abolition, Haiven tells his readers that abolitionists must have been sickened by the “civil discourse of the men who had themselves murdered and raped other human beings whom they claimed to own.” Who could blame them if they decided to bar the doors and set Parliament on fire?

With this as a premise, Haiven asks why we should allow fascists and white supremacists to speak in public. People like Noam Chomsky, Robert McChesney and Chris Hedges who defend that right are likened to the parliamentarians that should have been burned alive. It is too bad that this snot-nosed bastard doesn’t have the guts to name names.

Haiven reminds us that “Enslaved Africans abolished slavery through rebellion, riots, subversion and conspiracy”. Yes, who would be opposed to that? But the notion that a self-appointed anarchist vanguard (more arrogant than any Leninist vanguard) has anything in common with Quilombo, Nat Turner or John Brown for that matter is an insult to history. That a joker like Haiven can maneuver his way to the top of left academia in Canada is just another symptom of the malaise of higher education where such people can be taken seriously.

Finally, we arrive at the apex of antifasplaining. Mark Bray, an associated visiting professor at Dartmouth (a rather tenuous position), has come out with a book titled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook”. That book has made him the go-to guy on antifa. He has been interviewed or profiled on Meet the Press, NBC News, NPR, the Washington Post, The Guardian and The New Yorker magazine. Wow!

I thought the New Yorker magazine article was quite useful in showing how close punching Nazis and the passing laws against them are in Bray’s eyes:

The book’s later chapters, such as “Five Historical Lessons for Anti-Fascists” and “ ‘So Much for the Tolerant Left!’: ‘No Platform’ and Free Speech,” which are adapted from essays published elsewhere, are more focussed and persuasive. Here Bray explicitly deals with the philosophical and practical problems of Antifa: violence versus nonviolence; mass movements versus militancy; choosing targets and changing tactics. Bray concedes that the practice of disrupting Fascist rallies and events could be construed as a violation of the right to free speech and assembly—but he contends that such protections are meant to prevent the government from arresting citizens, not to prevent citizens from disrupting one another’s speech. Speech is already curtailed in the U.S. by laws related to “obscenity, incitement to violence, copyright infringement, press censorship during wartime,” and “restrictions for the incarcerated,” Bray points out. Why not add one more restriction—curtailing hate speech—as many European democracies do? [emphasis added]

Perhaps the visiting Dartmouth professor is not aware that in 2015, France’s highest court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for breaking laws against hate speech. They had worn t-shirts with the words “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” The judges ruled that this would violate a law that banned “discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.” Twelve pro-Palestinian activists had to pay a collective fine of $14,500.

Despite the massive popularity of antifa right now among the more soft-headed elements of the left, there is one journal with a fairly impressive academic pedigree that has called out the bullshit of Mark Bray and company. I am referring to Current Affairs, the new magazine founded by Harvard PhD student Nathan J. Robinson.

In an August 20 article titled “Thinking Strategically About Free Speech And Violence”, Robinson calls attention to the lack of long-term strategic thinking among antifa activists who prioritize if not fetishize tactics. Robinson writes:

This lack of focus on long-term strategy and concrete consequences is dangerous. If one concludes, say, that “Nazis do not deserve rights” but has not carefully examined whether taking away Nazis’ rights will help or hurt the Nazi cause, it might turn out that the seemingly justified course of action and the “most likely to stop the Nazis” course of action do not coincide.

Turning his attention to Mark Bray, Robinson questions the remarks he made to Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press”: “Historically, we can see that Nazism and fascism was not stopped by polite dialogue and reasoned debate, it had to be stopped by force. And unfortunately, self-defense is necessitated in the context we’re seeing today.” Robinson writes that there are a number of unanswered questions posed by Bray’s analysis, such as “What do you mean by ‘self-defense’? Does that mean that if protesters are physically attacked by neo-Nazis they can fight back, or that physical attacks on neo-Nazis are themselves an act of self-defense?”

That, of course, is the most important question. Anybody who consults It’s Going Down, as I do after downing some Kaopectate, understands that there are no clear lines drawn between self-defense and offense. In the 1930s and 40s, socialists formed workers militias to defend trade union headquarters and even went so far as to build massive picket lines in front of theaters where people like Gerald L.K. Smith were going to appear. However, those actions were carried out by men who were democratically chosen by the trade union rank-and-file who were in a fight for survival. To conflate this with the adventurism of masked youth accountable to nobody except themselves is a travesty.

In an earlier article titled “How to Write About Nazis”, Amber A’Lee Frost argued along the same lines. Basically, she warns against writing articles that serve the propaganda aims of people like Richard Spencer by exaggerating their importance. She takes a Guardian reporter to task:

Don’t: take a righteous or panicked tone—this drums up sensationalism and sublimates reality to pathos. For example, after Charlottesville, a Guardian reporter wrote that it had “[become] clear that a surging far right has created the rudiments of an organised, effective street-fighting force.” This, however, is not necessarily true. The fact is, we don’t know just how organized the far right are; information like that would require the sort of serious investigative journalism that is sorely lacking at the moment. But we do know that the (inaccurate) image of roving bands of violent Nazi street gangs will haunt readers’ imaginations. One has to be very, very careful before coming to these conclusions.

This reporter became incensed and demanded a retraction from Current Affairs. Nathan J. Robinson’s reply was written yesterday and is a real jewel. Titled “Why We Don’t Like Hysterical Journalists”, it takes apart all those antifasplainers who have a vested interest in making the alt-right appear much more threatening than it really is. The entire article is a must-read as this excerpt would indicate:

Frost’s original article singled out the phrase “organized, effective street fighting force.” The reason this is a misleading phrase to use is that there is nothing resembling an organized, effective Nazi street fighting force in the contemporary United States. If you don’t believe me, go and look outside. Go and wander the streets of every city in America and look for Nazis. Unless you happen to show up at one of the rare times at which white supremacists are holding some (usually pitifully small) rally, what you will see is… nothing. Where’s the street-fighting force? The problem is that Wilson is extrapolating from what happened in Charlottesville one weekend (which required assembling far-right groups from all over the country, since their individual local numbers are so tiny) to draw sweeping conclusions about the United States a whole. He is committing a logical error, which is to take a highly unrepresentative incident as the sign of a broader trend. It’s exactly what journalists usually do, and it turns people stupid and makes them pay much more attention to lurid but uncommon harms than to ongoing and more widespread but less sensational harms.

Where’s the street-fighting force? That’s a good question. I have been in the largest city in the USA since 1991 and I have not seen a single fascist demonstration of any significance. This is a city with a massive immigrant community that has not suffered any of the violent xenophobic raids so common across Europe. In fact, the biggest threat to the immigrant community is the legally sanctioned ICE raids that these antifa numskulls have no answer for, just as they have no answer for fracking, union-busting, racial profiling, evictions or any other social ill that late capitalism is imposing on our city and our country.



August 27, 2017

No platform for fascists?

Filed under: anti-fascism — louisproyect @ 8:14 pm

Recently two important figures on the left said that they opposed the antifa tactic of using violence to silence white supremacists. In an interview given to the rightwing Washington Examiner, Noam Chomsky stated that “blocking talks” such as those given by Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos was wrong in principle and “generally self-destructive.” In some ways, this might have been expected given Chomsky’s defense of Robert Faurrison, a holocaust denier whose right to continue teaching at the University of Lyon was defended in a petition he signed. Also, during the time Chomsky was involved with protests against the war in Vietnam, he was always hostile–like Theodor Adorno–to on-campus protests that interfered with research even if it was in service of the war.

Meanwhile, Robert McChesney, a U. of Illinois professor of communications and one-time co-editor of Monthly Review, raised eyebrows when he told NPR that he sided with Richard Spencer against various Internet companies that have effectively banned neo-Nazi websites like Stormfront and Daily Stormer. McChesney’s interest in these measures has a lot to do with worries that they will also be used against the left: “What’s to stop them from turning around and saying, ‘Well, we don’t like these people who are advocating gay rights. We don’t like these people who are advocating workers’ rights’?”

There are already signs that this is exactly what is happening. Two days ago the NY Times reported:

An influential website linked to violence at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Hamburg last month has been ordered to shut down, in the first such move against left-wing extremists in the country, officials in Germany said Friday.

Thomas de Maizière, the interior minister, said that the unrest in Hamburg, during which more than 20,000 police officers were deployed and more than 400 people arrested or detained, had been stirred up on the website and showed the “serious consequences” of left-wing extremism.

“The prelude to the G-20 summit in Hamburg was not the only time that violent actions and attacks on infrastructural facilities were mobilized on linksunten.indymedia,” he said, referring to the website.

The Interior Ministry said the website was the “most influential online platform for vicious left-wing extremists in Germany,” and noted that it had been used for years to spread criminal content and to incite violence.

Ideologically, Chomsky is a far cry from Marxism. McChesney is a lot closer but his emphasis is primarily on corporate control of media. He wrote about the sea change that took place in the 1920s when radio stations were no longer publicly owned in a book titled “Rich Media, Poor Democracy”. It meant that a handful of powerful corporations could set the political agenda just as they would do later on for television. The same model exists today with the Internet, even though it is nominally public and open to all. Nobody would likely prevent the Stormfront webmaster from using email, especially if it is a fake name. But when ISP’s refuse to host his website, you are silencing him.

Obviously this is not just a question of Internet freedom or the right of a Richard Spencer to give a talk on a campus. It is much deeper than that and requires an engagement with the relationship between Marxism and “no platforming”. While the largely anarchist base of antifa has little regard for free speech niceties, there are some groups on the Marxist left that see things the same way.

The Spartacist League is probably the most prominent group on the American left that shares the antifa perspective. In 1975 it organized a protest at San Francisco State that was indistinguishable from the one that took place in Berkeley against Yiannopoulos despite their presumed ideological differences:

On March 10 some 150 people responded to a clarion call for a mass demonstration to protest the scheduled appearance of Nazi party members on the San Francisco State University campus. Students as well as workers from the area joined the militant picket line which was organized by the “Ad Hoc Committee to Stop the Fascists,” a united front initiated and energetically built by the Spartacus Youth League. The angry demonstrators not only physically confronted the Nazis, but succeeded in driving the fascist vermin off campus.

Although they are far apart in terms of their understanding of Trotsky, the SWP in Great Britain also supports “no platforming” even though there is some evidence that the International Marxist Group of the 1970s led by Tariq Ali pioneered the tactic and even coined the term in the September 18th issue of The Red Mole, the party’s newspaper. In what appears to be 64 point type, the paper exclaimed: “No Platform for Racists” (i.e., the National Front and the Monday Club) and advocated tactics identical to those on the “It’s Going Down” website.

The National Front and the Monday Club were “mortal enemies of the working class” that had to be “stopped in their tracks”. The newspaper argued that these groups needed to be confronted, were “not going to be convinced by rational argument”, and called for “a concerted counter-attack” against both groups. The only way to deal with them was to “break up their activities before they grow to a size where they can begin to smash the activities of the working class.”

While the National Front was clearly a fascist group, the Monday Club was arguably nothing more than the British equivalent of the Reagan wing of the Republican Party. Would Tariq Ali and company have tried to bust up a rally just of the Monday Club? By the same token, would the antifa activists feel justified in busting up a meeting held for Ann Coulter? As it happens, Berkeley told her that a meeting sponsored by the Young Republicans would be rescheduled for a day when there were no students on campus—something she considered a form of censorship. If she had gone ahead and spoken on the originally scheduled date, would this have prompted antifa to organize (or disorganize) the same kind of adventure that made Milo Yiannopoulos appear as a victim, so much so that he earned a spot on the Bill Maher show where his repugnant ideas reached millions?

For some leftists the “no platform” net can be spread rather wide. Over the weekend of  July 2-4, 1971, the National Peace Action Coalition held a conference to organize mass actions that year. At the Friday night rally, Senator Vance Hartke and Victor Reuther, a United Auto Worker leader, were scheduled to speak but dozens of SDS’ers aligned with the Maoist PLP faction teamed up with a smaller number of Spartacist League members to prevent the meeting from going forward. They had brought bullhorns with them and as Reuther got up to speak, they tried to drown him out with chants opposing “the sellouts”. They were escorted out by the scruff of the neck.

Even within anarchist ranks, there have been indications that offensive speakers must be silenced even when they are anarchists themselves. At a 2014 conference held at Portland State University, members of the audience tried to shout down Kristian Williams, an anarchist author who had made statements agreeing with Laura Kipnis about “sexual paranoia” coming to campus. At least they didn’t punch him in the face.

When it comes to the question of “free speech for fascists”, Marxism and the ACLU part ways. For free speech absolutists, protesting fascist events would likely be considered out of bounds but for Marxists there is an obligation to confront fascist rallies and meetings on a principled basis. For example, the students at Berkeley made the right choice to show up on the doorstep of the Student Union where Yiannopoulos was scheduled to speak. If their numbers were so massive that it would have been impossible to get inside the building, that would have been just fine. Instead what happened was a small group of antifa dictated tactics that made it easy for the entire protest to be stigmatized as violating democratic rights.

Above all, tactics have to be dictated by the reality on the ground. For example, there was a massive protest against fascist leader Gerald L.K. Smith’s talk in Minneapolis on August 21, 1946. When trade unionists began marching toward the hotel where it was supposed to be held, Smith’s goons attempted to break up their line. This led to a pitched battle that moved inside the hotel with chairs flying everywhere until the fascists were routed. It is important to note that this march was organized by trade union leaders who had been democratically elected by the ranks. This was a time before the witch-hunt had taken its toll. It is the model for the kind of movement we need today, one based on accountability, transparency and democracy—something sorely missing from the antifa adventurism.

If it is important to build mass actions against fascist rallies, etc., it is just as important to oppose bans on such groups by the government. In the late 50s, George Lincoln Rockwell launched a career as the American Fuhrer that drew enormous media attention, much more so than Richard Spencer today. Like Spencer, Rockwell had very few followers and relied on TV and newspaper coverage to help him recruit the sort of sick and ignorant rabble drawn to an openly neo-Nazi cult. Like antifa, the state hoped to shut him down except with legal action rather than fists. As expected, the ACLU always took his case when he was denied a permit to speak and fought against legislation that would put his party on the government’s “subversive” list. The SWP, which had helped to organize the protest against Smith, also opposed such laws but for the same reasons as McChesney: “Such infringements of anyone’s rights, no matter who it may be, inevitably put in question everyone’s democratic rights. Didn’t America learn that to its cost in the witch-hunting days of President Truman and Senator McCarthy?”

I would caution my Marxist comrades to think deeply about these questions no matter their visceral satisfaction over seeing Richard Spencer getting punched in the face. There are clear signs that the authoritarian in control of the executive branch will be exploiting antifa adventurism to crack down on the entire left just as Berlusconi did in Italy in the 1980s. The adventurism of the autonomists, who are really the forerunners of antifa in the USA today, gave him just the excuse he needed to clamp down on democratic rights.

Like the Spartacist League and SDS/PLP, the Italian ultraleft sought to shut down events organized by those they considered “counter-revolutionary”. In 1977, there was a nation-wide student occupation protesting an education “reform” bill that prompted the Communist Party to intervene on behalf of the government.

On February 17 a two thousand strong detachment of CP trade unionists accompanied their leader Luciano Lama to the campus of the University of Rome where he intended to deliver a speech against the occupation. Not long after his talk began, ultra-leftists donned masks and led an assault on Lama and his supporters.  At least fifty people were seriously injured in the fracas. This violent attack gave the government the pretext it needed to launch an assault on the university. Two thousand cops raided the campus and used tear gas and clubbed everybody in sight.

A revolution in the USA will be a violent affair. Make no mistake about it.  But in the stages leading up to that epochal event, force has to be used intelligently and most of all on behalf of defending the existing movements. Right now with so much emphasis on shutting down the likes of Richard Spencer, whose naked fascism has very little purchase, aren’t more important struggles being neglected? In New York City, workers at Spectrum (a cable provider once known as Time-Warner) have been on strike for 5 months and are suffering. A NY Times article described how strikers have been affected:

Walter Smith, a cable technician at Spectrum for six years who lives in the Bronx, received an eviction notice in July after falling behind on his bills, he said. The father of two has not worked since early October, when he had surgery to remove a benign tumor on his head. When he was ready return to work in April, workers had just gone on strike.

“The strike has lasted longer than anybody could have imagined,” Mr. Smith, 48, said. “Emotionally, dealing with the tumor and then this financially, it has been tough. I have a strong family that keeps me grounded.”

With strikes being undermined for the past twenty years, a trade union resisting the bosses is something that the left should get behind. Maybe we should put punching fascists on the back burner for a while and spend more time punching a corporation like Time-Warner instead, the corporation that owns Spectrum Cable, the ever-so-progressive HBO, and CNN, the 24/7 enemy of Trumpism. After all it is capitalism that is the enemy, not just fascism.


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