Saturday, December 20, 2014

Interview with an Antifascist Prisoner in Sweden


The following interview is being mirrored from Kersplebedeb at http://kersplebedeb.com/posts/interview-with-an-antifascist-prisoner-in-sweden/


sthlmantifa
Joel is an antifascist prisoner in Sweden. In July 2014, he was sentenced to five and a half years in prison for attempted murder, violent disorder, and carrying an illegal weapon. The sentence followed a collective defense against a Nazi attack on an antifascist demonstration in Stockholm. The interview was conducted in the fall of 2014. Explanatory notes have been added.

You were sentenced in connection with an antifascist demonstration in Kärrtorp, a suburb of Stockholm, in December 2013. Can you tell us about that day?

During the weeks before the demonstration, there had been trouble in Kärrtorp and the neighboring suburbs. The Swedish Resistance Movement (Svenska motståndsrörelsen, SMR) had tried to establish itself in the area. They went through the usual Nazi routine of spraying swastikas on the local school and attacking people who have no place in the world they envision – in some cases with knives.

I'm not sure, but I think Network Line 17 already existed before the demonstration. In any case, it was this network that organized it. (1) There were indications that Nazis might show up to disrupt the event, but when I checked in with people in the morning it seemed that everything was going to be fine. Since there was a solidarity benefit for an imprisoned antifascist the same night, I thought I would only stop by the demonstration for a short while before heading into town to help prepare the evening event. When I got to Kärrtorp with a few friends, we were about ten minutes late.

Five minutes later, the Nazis came. (2) We saw them from about 200 yards away. Everything became very chaotic; we weren't prepared and spread out across the square. We also had very little to defend ourselves with. The Nazis began to shower us with bottles. It didn't seem to matter to them that there were many children and pensioners among us. They advanced onto the square while we retreated.

One of the strongest memories I have from that day is a policewoman standing between us and the Nazis and then suddenly running away. When I read the police report later, I understood that she went to get her helmet because of all the flying bottles, but at the time it felt like this was going to get really dangerous, even life-threatening. Everyone knows how happy SMR members are to use their knives. (3)

Once the initial confusion was over, we managed to gather and start a counterattack. We stopped the Nazis' advance but that was not good enough. A front line formed. The police didn't have a clue what was going on and beat us at least as hard as the Nazis. It was still chaotic, but now we were at least coordinated. We pushed back the Nazis further, and this is when I first saw one of them with a knife. I started heading towards him but lost sight. Meanwhile, the Nazis tried to regain ground. There were serious skirmishes and I saw another Nazi with a knife. If, at that point, the Nazis had gotten the upper hand and one of us had fallen to the ground, it could have been fatal. That's when the Nazi closest to us got stabbed.

A number of demonstrators who had first left the square now returned. With their help, we managed to push the Nazis from the square to the adjacent bus station, then past some buildings out into the forest. More police arrived only when we were already at the bus station. I had hurt my knee in the melee and didn't go with the others. Soon, the police shielded off the Nazis and protected them. (4) I waited for my friends to return to the square, then I went, as planned, into town to help prepare the evening event.

You said that it wasn't "good enough" to stop the Nazis' advance. What do you mean by that?

It is important to understand that the Nazis came to attack us. They didn't come to have a counter-rally, as they claim. Had it been up to them, they would have chased everyone from the square and, ideally, hurt some folks in the process. The attack was not just about preventing people from taking a stand against them, it was also about propaganda. The goal was to prevent any resistance to their recruitment efforts in the area and to use the action itself as a recruitment tool. Anyone who doesn't understand this, chooses to ignore reality. Kärrtorp isn't unique, that's how it works everywhere. If we don't fight on the streets, where are we going to fight?

I'm digressing, but it's really important to point out how crucial it was to not only stop them but to chase them out of Kärrtorp. If you want their activities to end, this is needed.

You also mentioned that everyone knows how happy SMR members are to use their knives. Can you give examples?

The readiness of SMR members to use knives is well documented. About a year before the Kärrtorp attack, a person was stabbed to death by SMR members in Vallentuna, just outside of Stockholm. Only a few days before the Kärrtorp attack, someone was severely injured just a few suburbs away. And at least one of the people who murdered the union activist Björn Söderberg (rest in peace) was connected to SMR. (5) There are more examples, but these should suffice. SMR tries to attract people – mostly young ones – with revolutionary romanticism and a sense of community that builds more on violence than ideology.

When did you get arrested?

About a week later. I was picking up my son from school.

It seems that you've been active in Sweden's antifascist movement for quite some time. Can you tell us a little about this?

I grew up in Linköping during the 1980s and '90s. Just like in the rest of Sweden and Europe, Nazis were on the rise. In Sweden, the "Laser Man" wreaked havoc, and the band Ultima Thule topped the charts. (6) Linköping was strongly affected by this. It was a center for the production of White Power music and several leaders of the different Nazi organizations that existed in Sweden at the time were living in or around the town.

I was born in Chile, so I have personally experienced the everyday racism that still exists in Sweden. When I was little, I was physically attacked by Nazis. Once I got older, I started to fight back and defend myself. I realized that this made things much easier for me.

When I was 13 years old, I started going to hardcore punk shows. At the time, the hardcore punk scene was much more political than today. At a gig in 1995, someone asked me if I wanted to travel with him to Denmark to protest a march celebrating the German Nazi Rudolf Hess. I didn't hesitate a second.

It was during this trip that I really embraced antifascism. I hadn't known that there was a real antifascist movement out there. Everything in Denmark seemed so organized. There were lots of people from all ages at the demonstration, and this didn't change even when we got into skirmishes with the police trying to keep us away from the Nazis. You could call it an initiating experience. It took some time before I got organized myself, but it was during this trip that I really understood that I was an antifascist.

Was the antifascist movement in Denmark better organized at the time than in Sweden? Has this changed?

I can't really say how well antifascists were organized in other parts of Sweden at the time, but in Linköping there was no organization at all, or at least you didn't notice it. In the late 1990s, however, an extraparliamentary left developed in Linköping as well.

I don't want to go into details regarding antifascist organizing in Sweden, but once I had gotten involved myself, I noticed that things were really progressing. All aspects improved: research, recruitment, infrastructure. We only dropped the ball in one respect, and that was tactics. While the Nazis experimented successfully with new forms of politics, we didn't make that leap.

Is the far right a big danger in Sweden? What does the movement look like today?

That depends on how you define the far right. The Sweden Democrats are now the country's third biggest party. I reckon that is a big threat. (7) It seems that the political situation in Sweden mirrors that in the rest of Europe. Far-right parties are gaining ground everywhere.

With respect to Nazi organizations, there is little risk that they will enter parliament. (8) But Nazis will always pose a physical threat to anyone fighting them. Whenever Nazis are left alone, they grow. This is evident if you look at what has happened in Sweden during the last ten years: in towns where antifascists were strong, Nazis pretty much had to abandon their efforts. Those who deny that connection don't know what they are talking about.

Antifascist activism can sometimes feel tough and unrewarding, but in a town like Örebro, for example, where Nazis were very active just a few years ago, there is now basically no activity at all. Other towns where militant struggle on the street has brought results are Linköping and Gothenburg. For different reasons, Stockholm is a difficult town to work in, but even there Nazis have been pushed back several times.

Internationally, Sweden is still seen as an open and liberal country. How does this go together with the far-right currents that you're describing?

I think that whenever Nazis go from talk to action, that is, when they kill immigrants or rob banks, it is usually swept under the carpet. And whenever this is not possible – for example in the case of Malexander (9) or Kärrtorp – the politicians make a big media circus out of it, full of condemnation and outrage. So either Nazis aren't seen as a problem, or, when they are, the politicians give the impression that they will take care of it.

What are the perspectives for the country's left?

I assume you mean the extraparliamentary left. Not sure if I'm the right person to ask since I'll be out of the game for some time, but I think there needs to be better collaboration between different leftist groups and we need to establish more common goals.

Can you give examples for such goals?

I think we should be active in the areas that concern us all, especially in those where the underclass is attacked most heavily – this concerns, for example, the privatization of council flats or precarious labor relations. I also think that it is important to engage in small projects where you can actually experience victories and see that it's possible to change things. That's crucial for our morale. A good example was the campaign against JobbJakt.

What was it about?

JobbJakt is a website offering jobs. Some years ago, they wanted to introduce a bidding feature where the person ready to do the job for the lowest wage would get it. So, say, someone wants his bathroom redone, and then one person offers to do it for 150 crowns an hour, another for 100 crowns, etc. This is clearly wage dumping and hostile to the working class. It was important for us not to let such practices take root in Sweden and so we campaigned against the website – successfully.

You've been stressing the importance of organization in political work. Can you elaborate on this?

The importance of organization speaks for itself. If we do things together we are stronger. How exactly we are organized is secondary. It can be in a band, a union, a militant group, a pacifist group, a cultural center, a social center, a publishing house, a bookshop, or whatever. It doesn't need to be die-hard activism either. But it's important that organizing doesn't stop with your own project. We need to make use of our movement's diversity. Networks and umbrella organizations are important. At this point, the extraparliamentary left hardly feels like a movement at all.

What is your personal situation like? As a prisoner, what kind of support do you consider most important?

Right now, I'm at the prison in Kumla waiting for an evaluation. Kumla is a "Class 1 Prison" in Sweden, that is, a maximum security facility. Once the evaluation is done, I will probably be transferred to another maximum security facility. (10)

Support? I'd be very happy if more people got active and, especially, organized.

Some final words?

Let me quote Madball: "Times are changing for the worse / Gotta keep a positive outlook / Growing up in such violent times / Have some faith and you'll get by."

If you want to send mail to Joel, please check the current address at the Facebook page "Free Joel".


Notes:

(1) The Network Line 17 (Nätverket Linje 17) is a network of community groups along the southern end of Stockholm's subway line 17.

(2) There were about thirty SMR members involved in the attack.

(3) During the attack, there were only about a handful of police officers present. Reinforcements took several minutes to arrive.

(4) Twenty-eight SMR members were arrested. So far, sixteen have gone to court, seven of whom have been sentenced. The highest sentence so far has been eight months in prison for violent disorder.

(5) On September 21, 2012, Joakim Karlsson was murdered in Vallentuna. On December 7, 2013, Fidel Ogu was severely injured in Hökarängen. On October 12, 1999, Björn Söderberg was killed outside his apartment in Sätra in southern Stockholm.

(6) From August 1991 to January 1992, the "Laser Man" John Ausonius killed one person, the Iranian student Jimmy Ranjbar, and severely injured ten more in a series of shootings targeting people he considered "foreign" (in the beginning, Ausonius used a rifle with a laser sight, hence the name). Ultima Thule was a popular Swedish rock band with ties to the neo-Nazi milieu.

(7) At the 2014 parliamentary elections, the far-right Sweden Democrats (Sverigedemokraterna) received 12.86% of the vote.

(8) The Party of the Swedes (Svenskarnas parti), which until recently was called the National Socialist Front (Nationalsocialistisk front), also participated in the elections. It received 0.07% of the vote.

(9) On May 28, 1999, two policemen were shot dead by neo-Nazis in the small town of Malexander in southern Sweden following a bank robbery.

(10) Shortly after the completion of this interview, Joel was moved to the maximum security prison of Tidaholm. For updates, please see the Facebook page "Free Joel".

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Philadelphia march against racists and rapists: September 6


Philly Antifa is organizing a march against two white supremacist groups that have been active in Philadelphia: a Ku Klux Klan group (East Coast Knights of the Truly Visible Empire) headed by William Walters, and the Keystone State Skinheads (KSS), which is also known as Keystone United or the Be Active Front USA. The march will take place on Saturday, September 6th, in the Tacony section of Philadelphia.

The organizers write: "Like Walters’ Klan group, KSS claims to not be racist or violent.  But like the KKK, members of KSS have been involved in assault, rape and murder, often purely because of the victims race. In fact, the head (and co-founder) of KSS, Steve Smith, is a former Klansman himself."

Read more

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Anti-State Politics on the Far Right: audio and readings


I gave a talk on "Anti-State Politics on the Far Right" at the A-Space Anarchist Community Center in Philadelphia, 9 June 2014. An audio recording of the talk is available here. (Thanks to Suzy S. for recording it!)

This is the description of the talk from the A-Space calendar:
"In the era of Hitler and Mussolini, fascists glorified strong nation-states and highly disciplined, top-down organizations. But today, many far rightists advocate political decentralization. Some neo-nazis argue that any law enforcement above the county level is illegitimate, while others promote a strategy of “leaderless resistance” to establish an all-white society. Some far rightists even call themselves anarchists, notably the National-Anarchists, who call for a decentralized system of separate ethnic groups. Meanwhile, one of the most hardline branches of the Christian Right, known as Christian Reconstructionists, wants to impose a theocracy based on biblical law, which would be enforced mainly through local institutions, especially the church and the patriarchal family.



"Matthew Lyons will discuss how anti-state politics became so popular on the far right, what the main versions of it look like, and how it relates to the far right’s commitment to social hierarchy and exclusion. He will also address efforts by some far rightists to build alliances with anarchists and other leftists, and how leftists have responded."
Here is a short list of readings that I used in preparing the talk:

Leaderless Resistance
"Selected Timeline: Amoss's 'Leaderless Resistance,' Beam's Revised Version, & White Supemacist Insurgency in the U.S."

Louis Beam, "Leaderless Resistance"

Posse Comitatus
Chip Berlet, "Christian Identity, Survivalism & the Posse Comitatus"

Southern Poverty Law Center, "Sovereign Citizens Movement"

Christian Reconstructionism
Fred Clarkson, "Christian Reconstructionism: Theocratic Dominionism Gains Influence"

Kathryn Joyce, "Arrows for the War"

Michael J. McVicar, "The Libertarian Theocrats: The Long, Strange History of R.J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism"

Rachel Tabachnick, "Rushdoony and Theocratic Libertarians on Slavery"

National-Anarchists
Graham D. Macklin, "Coopting the Counter Culture: Troy Southgate and the National Revolutionary Faction"

Sasha, "The New Face of the Radical Right?"

Spencer Sunshine, "Rebranding Fascism: National-Anarchists"

National-Anarchist Movement, "N-AM Manifesto"

Troy Southgate, "The Case for National-Anarchist Entryism"

Attack the System
Matthew N. Lyons, "Rising Above the Herd: Keith Preston's Authoritarian Anti-Statism"

Far right overtures to leftists
Matthew N. Lyons, "Rightists woo the Occupy Wall Street movement"

NYC Antifa, "NATA Unwanted at Anarchist Bookfair, 4/20 Conference, or seemingly anywhere else"

Spencer Sunshine, "The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street: From Libertarians to Nazis, the Fact and Fiction of Right-Wing Involvement"

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Mythologizing the Holocaust

"[The Israeli leadership] draw[s] an analogy between the Nazis and the Arabs, with the corollary that Jewish destiny is the same everywhere, in Israel or in the Diaspora, like a mark of Cain branded on Jewish brows from the beginning of time by mysterious, supernatural forces: We are always an object of hatred and the urge to annihilate, here and everywhere, now and always. The only difference between Israel and the Diaspora is that in Israel we can fight back, whereas in the Diaspora we have no alternative but ‘to be led to the slaughter like sheep'" (18).

          --Boaz Evron, "Holocaust: The Uses of Disaster"
I first read these words in 1983, when they appeared in Radical America. Since then, others have written cogently about Zionism and the memory of Nazi genocide, but Boaz Evron's essay is the one that first spoke to me as a young radical Jew, and it remains a classic that's well worth revisiting today. As the Israeli military bombs homes, schools, hospitals, and playgrounds in Gaza, as Israeli politicians call for Palestinians to be killed and mutilated or refer to Palestinian children as "snakes" whose mothers should be wiped out, one of the core rationales that Israel's apologists offer is the need to protect Jews against the danger of "another Holocaust" -- whether from Hamas or rising anti-Jewish incidents in Europe. Even when this argument isn't stated explicitly, it's often just below the surface, a core tenet of post-1945 Zionist ideology. It's a powerful argument not because it makes sense, but because it draws on real human fears and an immense memory of suffering.

In this blog post I want to draw out some of the main points of Evron's 1983 essay, most of which remain directly relevant. This discussion is well suited to ThreeWayFight, because our blog is concerned not only with fascism and the struggle against it, but also with the ways anti-fascism gets misused to bolster oppression and repression (such as the U.S. government's mass imprisonment of Japanese Americans during World War II). The most glaring example of such twisted anti-fascism today is the exploitation of Nazi genocide to justify Israeli apartheid, settler colonialism, and murderous forced displacement of Palestinians.

(A PDF of Radical America vol. 17, no. 4, which contains Evron's article, "Holocaust: The Uses of Disaster," is available through libcom.org. All page references in this blog post are to that article.)

Evron's core argument is that Zionism treats the Nazi mass murder of European Jews -- a specific historical event that had specific historical causes -- in non-historical, mythological, even mystical terms, in order to manipulate both Jews and non-Jews into uncritically supporting the State of Israel and its policies. This mythological treatment is encapsulated in the term "Holocaust," which takes the event out of history by removing any specific reference to time or place, murderers or victims. (Arno Mayer has also pointed out in Why Did the Heavens Not Darken? that the standard meaning of "holocaust" is "a sacrificial offering wholly consumed by fire in exaltation of God." The idea that Auschwitz is somehow imbued with religious meaning is to my mind utterly obscene.)

More specifically, Zionists have (a) treated Jews as almost the only victims of Nazi mass murder, (b) treated annihilation (or the desire to carry out annihilation) as the benchmark for non-Jews' treatment of Jews in all times and places, and (c) argued that the only way Jews can protect ourselves against the threat of annihilation is by having a state and military of our own. Evron rejects all of these claims. He argues that while the Nazi program of deliberate extermination targeted Jews first and foremost, it also killed many other people, including some three million non-Jewish Poles and millions of Russians, a fact that belies the Zionist belief that the Nazi genocide simply expressed timeless hatred of Jews. "The events can only be understood in the context of German and European history and ideology. We may find food for thought in the fact that genocide had been practiced by the Europeans in the non-European world for centuries (in the Americas, the Congo, etc.). The Nazi innovation was the introduction of these practices into the family of European nations" (9).

As for using the Nazi genocide to "prove" the need for a Jewish state,
"Objective analysis and description would have demonstrated that if even the Poles and the Russians, well-rooted territorial nations both (the latter actually one of the world's mightiest military powers), are liable to extermination, then sovereignty and military prowess are no security against it. Objective reflection would have brought us to the further fact that the Israeli Jews were not saved by Zionism but by the unrelated fact that the Nazis failed to conquer Palestine…. It would therefore have transpired that this central Zionist tenet is meaningless, and that the ultimate guarantee against extermination (if such a guarantee is possible) lies in the eradication of ideologies which exclude any human group from the definition of humanity. This implies joint struggle and international cooperation that seek to overcome differences and barriers, not to heighten and strengthen them, as urged by powerful elements within Israel and in the Zionist movement" (10).
Evron also counters Zionists'
"continuing effort to blur the decisive differences between Arab hatred and Nazism, such as the fact that the Nazis invented the myth of the ‘Jewish Conspiracy' for the purpose of inflaming an irrational, psychotic hatred of the Jews in the German people, whereas the Arabs are engaged in a struggle against a real enemy whose might really threatens them, who has already caused the flight of more than a million of their brethren from their homes, and who is now subjugating another two million. Moreover, Arab hostility is directed, rationally enough, against the Israelis, and not against all Jews wherever they are (although the support most Jews extend to Israel does tend to spread the hostility to all Jews) (19). [More on this last point below. -- ML.]
Mythologizing the Holocaust relieves the Israeli state of moral constraints:
People who believe themselves to be in danger of annihilation consider themselves free of any moral qualm which might tie their hands in their efforts to save themselves…. They are, therefore, uninhibited in advocating the most drastic steps against the non-Jewish population of the country" (20).
The same mythology has helped the Israeli state to cultivate a sense of moral debt to Israel among Diaspora (especially American) Jews and non-Jews alike, for their failure to save Europe's Jews during World War II:
"Israel is presented to US Jews as being under a constant threat of annihilation by the surrounding Arab countries, in spite of the fact, which is not publicized, that it is several times stronger, and that in the foreseeable future it is in no military danger. This provides an opportunity for the Jews to assuage their guilt feelings by their economic and political mobilization ‘for the prevention of a second Holocaust.' Any war is therefore represented as a menace to the State's very existence, and the ensuing victory is then represented as a miracle, due, among other things, to Jewish support, thus providing the Jews with a sense of achievement and participation in the heroic events. Israel is also presented in this light to the non-Jewish world, in an attempt to silence criticism of its policies with an unanswerable argument: 'You, who stood idly on the sidelines during the Holocaust, may not tell us what we should do to prevent another Holocaust'" (15-16).
There's a fundamental inconsistency in this mythology. On the one hand, Israel is constantly in danger of being wiped out, a magnet that attracts Gentiles' murderous hatred. On the other hand, Israel is the state that's supposed to keep us safe from antisemitism. In other words, "Israel is presented as a refuge in a storm, as insurance against the future--the same Israel which at the same time is pictured…as a candidate for annihilation. It would be useless to argue that this is a contradiction in terms, for we deal here with utterly irrational attitudes" (17).

Evron points out that Holocaust mythology not only helps Israel rationalize its racist and murderous policies toward Palestinians -- in the long run, it also has consequences that will come back to haunt those who created it. For one thing, treating Jews as timeless victims in a class by themselves sets Jews apart from the rest of humanity. This is not exactly a good strategy for combating antisemitism. (However, extending Evron's point, the strategy makes sense if you believe that antisemitism is inevitable whenever Jews and non-Jews live together, which is one of political Zionism's founding premises.)

In addition, for Israel to base its relationship with other countries (at least in the West) on Holocaust guilt and moral pressure is not going to work forever:
"The net result is that the State of Israel, established ostensibly to enable the Jews to lead a 'normal existence as a nation-state among other nation-states,' deliberately adopts a policy which puts it outside the system of power relationships normal among nations. It insists upon being treated as an abnormal nation, it avoids direct economic and political involvement in a world of power and interests, in the historical world, and tries to maintain a non-historical existence as a sect divorced from the historical process.

"Needless to say, such a policy, successful as it has been in the short run, is doomed to fail in the long, having been initially based on a sense of past guilt…. The reserves of guilt feelings are being steadily depleted: fewer and fewer people remember the Holocaust, in spite of the reiterated harping on it…. It would be a hard day for Israel when it is called upon to perform in the real world, after the final exhaustion of its 'moral credit,' and when all of its structure and outlook have been formed under hothouse conditions" (14-15).
None of this is to deny the continuing reality of antisemitism -- in Europe, the Middle East, and elsewhere. Supposed acts of Palestine solidarity sometimes amount to anti-Jewish bigotry and violence; Hamas's 1988 charter really does repeat bullshit Jewish conspiracy theories and treat the forged Protocols of the Elders of Zion as true. Up to a point, I agree with the argument by Evron and others that Palestinian and Arab antisemitism reflect Zionism's equation of Israel with the Jewish people as a whole. But as I've argued, for example, in a 2006 debate about Hezbollah, this is not the whole story, because anti-Jewish bigotry was present in Arab and Muslim communities long before Israel or the Zionist movement were created.

But Hamas's charter (even coupled with rocket attacks against civilian areas) doesn't justify bombing children. Israeli (and French) Jews are not under threat of annihilation from Palestinians or their supporters. We need to address antisemitism in concrete historical terms -- not mythologize it to defend the Israeli state's own institutionalized bigotry and mass violence.

Photo credit: By ilya ginsburg from berlin, germany (remembering the holocaust, making another genocide), CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Reading "The Solstice" -- Kasama on right-wing mass movements


Rightist mass movements around the globe have made several dramatic advances recently. In India, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won a massive victory in the April-May 2014 national election. (The country's new prime minister is Narendra Modi, who as chief minister of Gujarat state oversaw the 2002 Gujarat pogrom, in which well-organized Hindu nationalist mobs murdered some 2,000 Muslims, often with police collusion.) In the May 2014 European parliamentary elections, right-wing populist parties made big gains in Britain, France, Denmark, and Austria. In Thailand, months of right-wing demonstrations against the elected liberal populist government succeeded in sparking a military coup. In Iraq, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), a group that has been repudiated by al-Qaeda as being too extreme, conquered much of the country's northwestern region, including Mosul, Iraq's second largest city. And let's not forget Ukraine, where far rightists have been playing key roles on both sides of a bitter and growing conflict.

Protesters on motorcycles in Bangkok, 1 December 2013CC BY-SA 2.0
All of this makes it an opportune moment to read "The Solstice: On the Rise of the Right-Wing Mass Movements." This essay by "NPC" was published in February on the Maoist website KasamaProject.org in three installments [and now available in one document on the website Ultra]. I don't agree with all of "Solstice," but it offers a lot of useful information and an innovative analysis that can help leftists take a fresh look at the right. In this blog post I will outline some of the essay's main points and offer a few critical comments.

In her/his overview discussion, NPC highlights the tendency of far right movements to combine rightist and leftist political themes:
"The new right-wing has become skilled at consuming and incorporating the most useful components of the last few decades' dead left-wing movements--many of these far-right groups actually clothe themselves in the aesthetics, theory and, to a limited extent, the practice, of autonomy, decolonization, and anarchism....

"Bratstvo [in Ukraine] are Christian orthodox national anarchists, CasaPound [in Italy] founds squatted social centers and fights the police to defend them, Santi Asoke [in Thailand] runs autonomous rural communes, has a national network of co-operatives and talks of ‘decolonization' in much the same way as west-coast anarchists here in the US. All of these groups portray themselves as ‘neither' left nor right, or ‘beyond' left and right. Meanwhile, their post-left, post-Marxist aesthetic and post-colonial intellectual treatises act as a veil covering a fundamentally far-right ideology and deeply conservative political practice. Similarly, all invoke a mythic ‘community' to be found in tradition and regained through moral discipline, accompanied by the absolute destruction of all who oppose this ‘mystical unity,' whatever form it might take" (Part 3).
I agree that this dynamic is important, and that when you combine leftist and rightist politics, the result is right-wing. But this really isn't new -- fascists have been parasitizing leftist politics from the beginning, a point that would have strengthened NPC's argument. Also, it's too simple to see the incorporation of leftist political themes as a veil or an aesthetic maneuver. It also embodies genuine changes in the far right, such as the shift by many rightists from advocating highly centralized nation-states to advocating various decentralized forms of authoritarianism and ethnic exclusivism.

The essay's central case study is Thailand, whose right-wing mass movement, NPC argues, is "in many ways far more advanced than those of Ukraine or Italy" (Part 3):
"Thailand is... one of the few places where national-anarchist and effectively third positionist far-right organizations have had significant time to build up a social base, obtaining limited backing from the monarchy, historical backing from the US military, and intellectual justification from the country's ‘radical' intelligentsia. Some of these organizations, such as the Buddhist Santi Asoke group, are authentically anti-capitalist, utilizing leftist language and tactics, promoting autonomous self-governance and the rejection of international financial institutions like the IMF, all within the framework of a socially conservative, ethnically nationalist and neo-feudal political-economic program. Many of these groups draw their leadership from both the far-right paramilitaries of the 1970s as well as leftist NGOs, which often include demobilized Communist Party of Thailand (CPT) cadre. They thus represent not only the combination of leftist political imagery with a rightist core, but also the limited fusion of Thailand's left-wing and right-wing histories, with the latter subsuming the former." (Part 1)
NPC interweaves this analysis with a detailed historical explanation of the recent "increasingly violent anti-democracy protests...in Bangkok, led by the Peoples' Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC), whose Thai name more accurately translates to the ‘People's Committee for Absolute Democracy with the King as Head of State'" (Part One). "Solstice" traces the complex shifting of political and class forces in Thailand over the past two decades that brought this movement into being. This includes the rise of the left-populist Thai Rak Thai party, spearheaded by telecommunications mogul Thaksin Shinawatra, who advocated "a revitalized Keynesian development model for the country, investing in schools, basic transportation and agricultural infrastructure, as well as instituting a universal public healthcare system" and loaning money to villages to encourage small business formation (Part 2). Thaksin was overthrown in a 2006 military coup, but his supporters regrouped as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), known as the Red Shirts, which brought together liberal capitalists aiming to regain political power and popular forces struggling for social justice. Opposing them were the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD), or Yellow Shirts, who supported the 2006 coup and were the precursors of the recent right-wing protestors.

I know little about Thailand, so I can't assess the specifics very well, but I found this section especially interesting and informative. For example, there's a whole discussion of how some 1970s Marxists turned to a kind of cultural nationalism that glorifies traditional Thai village culture, which they see as the site of resistance to western consumerism and global neoliberalism. It's an agrarian myth that is most popular among upscale city dwellers. The parallels with western fascist politics are striking. (For a different leftist discussion of Thailand, see Louis Proyect's "What's Going on in Thailand?" and the useful comments on it by Michael Karadjis and others. Proyect's article fills in many of the reasons why the anti-Thaksin movement has attracted real popular support, but doesn't substantively call NPC's analysis into question.)

After presenting the Thai case study, NPC uses it to develop an analytic model of how such far-right movements relate to other political forces. The model is based on Alain Badiou's discussion of "three types of subjectivity: faithful, reactionary and obscure" relative to a political "event" that opens the prospect of revolutionary change. (All quotes from Part 3.) The terminology here is a bit cumbersome, but bear with me:
  • The faithful subject equals "organized bodies that seek to preserve, consolidate, develop and extend the communist potentials embedded within the mass movement itself." In plain terms, the radical left. In Thailand "in 2010 and its aftermath, the forces in and around Red Siam most visibly played the role of the faithful subject."
  • The reactionary subject "attempts to deny and foreclose the eventual opening, to suffocate its communist potential and to ‘return to normal,' which really means the forcible implementation of capitalist discipline... Normally the role of reaction is filled by the state, the police, the military, etc." (Part 3). Politically, this can include forces ranging from hardline conservative to social democrat. In Thailand, this role has been played by the right wing of the Red Shirt movement, under the leadership of Yingluck Shinawatra (wife of Thaksin Shinawatra), who was Thailand's prime minister from 2011 until the 2014 coup.
  • The obscure subject "occults" the event "through the generation of a mystical, ahistorical unity that dissolves the present into the mythic image of some lost, prelapsarian past." (Part 3) In other words, rightist forces that divert popular unrest into false solutions -- specifically, in Thailand, "the anti-democracy protestors, and the right-wing populism they are a part of, [including] fundamentalist sects such as Santi Asoke and Pitak Siam."
This is in fact a kind of three-way-fight analysis. Like this blog, NPC treats far right forces as an autonomous player that may be "in violent opposition" to both the left and the established power structure:
"In the terms established above,... we have to recognize that the anti-democracy protestors are not simply ‘the party of order' [i.e. the reactionary subject] contra the ‘party of anarchy' [the faithful subject]. In fact, the ‘party of order,' represented here by Yingluck and the liberal-democratic capitalist factions she represents, sees the obscure subject as itself fundamentally ‘terrorist,' and very much a part of what it perceives to be ‘the party of anarchy.' There is some truth to this, as the obscure subject does not, at least initially, have to take a state form -- it can be earnestly anti-state, especially when it affirms a religious order against a secular one. In traditional liberal fashion, the party of order mushes together the far-right and the far-left until they appear to be nothing but a vague, terrorist ‘totalitarianism' evacuated of all sense or reason" (Part 3).
But NPC's conception of this autonomous far right is more rigid than ThreeWayFight's. For one thing, NPC is confident that if or when the far right comes to power, it will behave in a predictable way:
"[T]he obscure subject can be thought of as simply the ‘anti-party,' imagining itself ‘beyond left and right'.... When in power, the anti-party can generate nothing but warlordism or a dry technocracy gilded in religion, war and spectacle. Its mode of rule is, by necessity, military and religious, though even its state forms can be administered in a quasi-stateless fashion at the lowest levels through a combination of indoctrination, self-organization and mercenary force wielded by local gentry" (Part 3).
I appreciate NPC's point that the far right doesn't necessarily rely on a traditional strong state to enforce order, but may instead rule through warlordism or "in a quasi-stateless fashion." This is consistent with the rise of decentralist politics on the far right, from the U.S. paramilitary right's leaderless resistance to the newer doctrines of national anarchism and autonomous nationalism. But I think we should be cautious about thinking we know how far rightists will behave in power. Leftists have made this mistake repeatedly and have suffered for it. In particular, we should not underestimate the far right's capacity to remake society in radical ways. Witness German Nazism, which brought settler-colonialism into the heart of Europe and created a horrific new system of industrial slave labor.

A related point is that we need to go beyond old school left ideas about fascism,  which are represented in the concluding section of "Solstice" by a quote from Marc Saxer:
"Against the vertigo of change, fascism promises to restore unity and order. The ‘disease of plurality" must be healed by uniformity. ‘The Other' outside and inside must be ‘rooted out' to heal the societal body.

"Contrasting the ‘decay' of the present against an imagined golden past, fascist movements aim to turn back the wheel of history. The fascist utopia is basically the anti-thesis to the modern, pluralist and capitalist society. Fascism seeks to overcome the divisions of a fragmented society and the noise of a pluralist culture by melting all differences into a homogeneous, ‘people's community'" (Part 3).
Yes and no. Fascism has always been about creating a "new order" as much as restoring a mythical past -- it represents a different conception of modernity, not a rejection of modernity in total. That's part of its appeal. And today the most dynamic fascist currents, notably those influenced by the European New Right, don't attack pluralism but embrace it, and say that they are defending cultural diversity against the oppressive effects of a homogenizing global economy and "totalitarian humanism." This isn't just a smokescreen -- it's a substantive reworking of fascist ideology that we need to understand and confront.

Thankfully, the concluding section of "Solstice" does in fact go beyond old ideas, warning that we need to be prepared for "the frightening possibility of a directly politicized, far-right populism of a different form than we might expect" -- for example, one with "a techie-leftist branding," support from the infotech section of the ruling class, and "targeted expansions of quasi-socialist welfare programs in particular ‘creative class' urban enclaves. This would entail some degree of fusion with US progressivism, particularly the leftovers of the anti-globalization era (the ‘99ers,' many of whom went on to become the right-wing of Occupy), now distributed across NGOs, universities, municipal governments and union bureaucracies" (Part 3).

NPC concedes that this specific scenario is "highly speculative," but argues that in one version or another, "such seemingly ‘left-right' syntheses are not only possible, but probable." "And these syntheses will not necessarily arise from the ‘usual suspects.' Any reactionary movement with real purchase in the US will not be based, like the Tea Party, among the predominantly conservative white Baby Boomers, [but rather] much closer to home, very much sharing its social base with any potential communist movement" (Part 3).

While I wouldn't discount the "real purchase" of movements based among conservative white Baby Boomers (given that white evangelical Protestants alone number in the tens of millions), I agree that we could easily face right-wing populist movements with a very different demographic.

As far as I can tell, "Solstice" has elicited little discussion among leftists so far. This is disappointing. It's a serious effort to grapple with important political developments in a new way. More and more, right-wing movements are not going to fit leftist preconceptions. We ignore this at our peril.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Frazier Glenn Miller, Nazi violence, and the state


In the 1980s, Frazier Glenn Miller was one of the most prominent white supremacist leaders in the United States. Lately he's been in the news again -- sometimes identified as Miller, sometimes as Frazier Glenn Cross -- charged with shooting dead three people at two Jewish centers in the Kansas City metro area on April 13.

Miller’s story -- even the fact that he goes by two different last names -- dramatizes the profound shift in government security forces' relationship with the the U.S. far right over the past few decades. This issue has received little or no attention since Miller's April 13th arrest.

Miller is a Vietnam veteran and former Green Beret who was kicked out of the Army in 1979 for distributing racist propaganda. As a member of the National Socialist Party of America, Miller helped to organize a coalition of Klansmen and Nazis in North Carolina called the United Racist Front, which carried out the Greensboro massacre on November 3, 1979. That day, a caravan of URF men drove to an anti-Klan rally organized by the Communist Workers Party, unloaded their guns, and shot five people to death. URF members were twice acquitted for the massacre by all-white juries. Miller was present at the scene and later declared, "I am more proud of the 88 seconds I spent in Greensboro on November 3, 1979, than I am of the twenty years I spent in the U.S. Army" (Martin Durham, White Rage, p. 44). He was never indicted for his role in the killings.

The Greensboro massacre was a pivotal event for the U.S. far right in two ways. On one hand, it was a high water mark of far right violence carried out with the involvement or sponsorship of government security services. An agent of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms was part of the URF and in later court testimony about the massacre "characterized his role as an undercover agent as one that gave people with a known propensity for illegal activity the ‘opportunity to violate the law.'" (This was under a Democratic administration, by the way.)

The URF also included a man who was an informant for both the FBI and the local police. As Joanne Wypijewski reported in a 2005 article for Mother Jones, "At the time of the killings, the police special agent in charge of the Klan informant was at the back of the [URF] caravan, having trailed it to the site. He did not intervene, or radio for help, or trip a siren, or pursue the killers as nine of their vehicles got away. Arrests occurred only because two police officers broke ranks and apprehended a van."

I've seen several news reports since Miller's recent arrest that note his involvement in the Greensboro killings, but none that mention the role of federal agencies. (For more on the federal security services' history of involvement with the paramilitary far right, see my 2012 post, "Liberal counterinsurgency versus the paramilitary right."

The Greensboro massacre was also pivotal because it broke the suspicion and animosity that for decades had kept Klansmen and Nazis at odds with each other. After this event, collaboration, cross-over, and interchange between the two branches of the far right became much more common. As a result, the movement's ideological center of gravity shifted from segregationism to fascism -- away from restoring the old racial order, to new dreams of creating a new whites-only homeland or overthrowing the U.S. government entirely.

Glenn Miller was in the thick of this change. A few months after Greensboro, he formed the Carolina (later Confederate) Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, which in 1985 changed its name to the White Patriot Party. The WPP advocated an independent Southern White Republic. Leonard Zeskind reports that its activists "typically wore camouflage uniforms, regularly engaged in paramilitary-style training, and some illegally acquired weapons from nearby military bases…. [B]y 1986 Miller's White Patriot Party had over 1,000 members in North Carolina alone. Some reports indicated that 150 members had once been Special Forces soldiers."

The WPP formed a relationship with the underground paramilitary group called The Order, which declared war on the U.S. government, robbed banks and armored cars, assassinated a Jewish talk show host, and engaged in shootouts with the police. The Order gave $200,000 or more of the money it stole to Miller's organization. In 1986, Miller himself went underground and issued his own declaration of war against blacks, gays, Jews, judges, and "despicable informants" (Mab Segrest, "Deadly New Breed," Southern Exposure, Spring 1989, p. 60).

But in 1987 Miller was caught and turned state's witness. He fingered two of his former WPP assistants for the murders of three men in a Shelby, North Carolina gay bookstore. The next year, he testified for the prosecution in the Ft. Smith, Arkansas trial of fourteen white supremacist leaders for seditious conspiracy -- all of whom were acquitted. In exchange for his testimony, Miller spent only three years in prison, instead of the twenty-plus years he was originally facing, and entered the witness protection program. He got the name Frazier Glenn Cross and a new Social Security number when he was released in 1990.

Zeskind argues that the plea bargain deal with Miller was a bad choice for the federal government. "I believe that Miller was essentially playing a game with the feds. And I don’t think he had any intention of becoming a good witness. The guy was a stone-to-the-bone Nazi… He never gave that up. I am on the record as saying the man should have died in prison."

I certainly agree that Miller deserved worse than he got. But even if his court testimony was useless, that doesn't necessarily mean the federal government got nothing out of the deal. He may well have provided information that the feds used in other ways -- we simply don't know. [To clarify this point further, the feds are primarily concerned with keeping the far right under control as a potential political threat, not necessarily with preventing or punishing acts of violence. -- ML 6/10/2014] In any case, by turning him the feds hurt morale and fueled dissension among white supremacists. Thirty years ago, Miller was one of the most admired people in the movement. Now, his former comrades loathe and despise him as an FBI informant: "human garbage," "a RAT," "a man who deserves the time honored penalty for treason."

And at this point, we also have to remember the Greensboro massacre. Because it's absurd to ask whether the federal government prosecutes Nazi violence "effectively" unless we recognize that this same government has also aided and abetted Nazis in killing people.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Spencer Sunshine on rightists in the Occupy movement


Spencer Sunshine has a good article in the Political Research Associates newsletter (Winter 2014 issue): "The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street: From Libertarians to Nazis, the Fact and Fiction of Right-Wing Involvement." As Sunshine argues, a broad range of rightists got involved in the mostly left-leaning movement, raising serious questions about inclusiveness and decentralized organizing.

Three Way Fight addressed this issue briefly in a November 2011 post, "Rightists woo the Occupy Wall Street movement." But Sunshine's article is much more detailed and comprehensive. Here are a few excerpts:
"Certainly, Occupy was always a largely left-leaning event. But right-wing participation has been the norm rather than the exception within recent left-wing U.S. movements—including the antiglobalization, antiwar, environmental, and animal rights movements—and Occupy was no exception. Right-wing groups inserted their narrative about the Federal Reserve into the movement’s visible politics; used Occupy’s open-ended structure to disseminate conspiracy theories (antisemitic and otherwise) and White nationalism; promoted unfettered capitalism; and gained experience, skills, and political confidence as organizers in a mass movement that, on the whole, allowed their participation."
                     *                     *                     *
"While few right-wing actors see capitalism as a system to be abolished, many are harsh critics of finance capital, especially in its international form. This critique unites antisemites, who believe that Jews run Wall Street; libertarian “free marketers,” who see the Federal Reserve as their enemy; and advocates of “producerist” narratives, who want “productive national capital” (such as manufacturing and agriculture) to be cleaved from “international finance capital” (the global banking system and free-trade agreements)."
                     *                     *                     *

"The point it is not so much that the Left was significantly damaged by the Right’s presence in Occupy—though its presence did open the movement up to attacks in the mainstream media, which wasted the time and effort of organizers while turning off potential supporters. The deeper problem is that right-wing groups benefited from the Left’s willingness to give them a stage to speak from and an audience to recruit from."
                     *                     *                     *

"Are there any practical steps, then, that activists on the Left can take to minimize participation by the Right?

"The administrators at the OccupyWallSt.org forum, the main online location of internal discussions, took one small step after they were deluged by conspiracy theorists and Far Right propagandists. In October 2011, they banned anyone who posted about [David] Icke, [Lyndon] LaRouche, [David] Duke, or [Alex] Jones.

"A more proactive first step would be to endorse an anti-oppression platform at the very start, such as the one created at Occupy Boston. Unlike the relatively vague statement from Zuccotti, Boston’s statement explicitly named the types of oppression that it opposed, including White supremacy, patriarchy, ageism, homophobia, transphobia, anti-Arab sentiment, Islamophobia, and anti-Jewish sentiment."
To read more