May 14, 2016

Racist Revolutionaries: The Alt-Right Uprising? (radio program)

The alternative right or alt-right movement is a new incarnation of white nationalism that has  coalesced in recent years. The alt-right has gained attention over the past year because of its support for Donald Trump's presidential candidacy and promotion of the #cuckservative meme to attack mainstream conservatives.

I was recently interviewed by radio journalist Dan Young for a program about the alt-right that he produced for WFHB-FM, a community radio station in Bloomington, Indiana. The program, entitled "Racist Revolutionaries: The Alt-Right Uprising?" was broadcast on May 10th on WFHB's Interchange series. It's available as a podcast here. Using clips from speeches and articles by alt-right figures such as Richard Spencer, Keith Preston, and Matthew Heimbach, the program offers an excellent analysis of the movement's ideology, branches, activities, appropriation of anti-colonial and anti-oppression themes, and relationship with the Trump campaign. Here's an excerpt from the description on the WFHB website:
"You’ll hear in what follows how the 'Alt-Right' often takes liberal or left terminologies and turns these upside down to serve a racist, segregationist, and white supremacist agenda. You’ll hear terms like 'race realism' and 'identitarian' and even 'peaceful ethnic cleansing'–words and phrases crafted to sound sensible, thoughtful, civil. At one point you’ll hear a 19th century canard coming out of the mouth of one of these 'conversos' to 'race realism'–that 'people of color' are not sufficiently advanced in civilization to 'handle' freedom. It doesn’t take a village; it takes a white master."
(My interview was mostly used as background for the segment, but there's a short clip of me speaking about 32 minutes in.)

For more about the alt-right, see the excellent coverage at AntiFascistNews.net, such as "Alternative Internet Racism: Alt Right and the New Fascist Branding" and "Going Full Fash: Breitbart Mainstreams the 'Alt Right'." See also my 2010 article "AlternativeRight.com: Paleoconservatism for the 21st Century," about the online journal that gave the alt-right its name. I didn't realize back then that AlternativeRight.com was already moving beyond paleoconservatism, but otherwise the article holds up pretty well.

Mar 15, 2016

Trump: “anti-political” or right wing?


[See new post-script at the end of this article.]

Some leftists have declared recently that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign is fundamentally “anti-political” rather than right wing. But the evidence they offer actually highlights the similarities between Trump and earlier right-wing populist candidates Patrick Buchanan and George Wallace. This debate also highlights the need to combat both Trump’s demagoguery and the political establishment he is railing against.
Protest at Donald Trump Rally in Chicago on March 11, 2016


A revolt against the political class
Tad Tietze on the blog Left Flank and James Robertson in Socialist Worker (newspaper of the International Socialist Organization) both argue that Trump’s campaign is anti-political in the sense that it centers on attacking the political establishment while ignoring conventional ideological categories. Robertson and Tietze acknowledge that on immigration and Muslims, Trump has staked out more vitriolic positions than any other candidate, but they contend that Trump is actually to the left of the other Republican candidates on a wide range of issues. More specifically, writes Tietze,
“Trump argues for: protectionist trade policies as part of massively reinvigorating industrial production to create quality jobs;… more funding for schools and health services; replacing Obamacare with a system that brings the insurance companies to heel (until recently he’d even supported single-payer); and rebuilding crumbling infrastructure. It’s a fairly traditional populist, government-led pitch of growing the economy (and the government) out of its problems…”
Robertson offers further examples:
“Take, for instance, Trump's unexpectedly aggressive attack on the Bush presidency for lying about ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to justify the Iraq War. Or his recent call for the U.S. to play a more ‘neutral’ roe in the Israel/Palestine conflict--a sharp (and controversial) break with the staunchly pro-Israel GOP.

“On domestic issues, too, Trump has been a volatile candidate. Upon the death of Antonin Scalia, he distanced himself from the judge’s attack on affirmative action. Likewise, on abortion, Trump has consistently marked himself as a moderate (relative to his competitors, at least).”
This mix of positions, Tietze and Robertson argue, doesn’t make sense in ideological terms, but is consistent as expression of Trump’s central message: that the current political class is (in Tietze’s words) “inept, bought-off, beholden to corporate donors, and too ineffectual to take the decisive action needed to fix America’s problems.”

Tietze thinks that we shouldn't take Trump’s racist rhetoric too seriously. He claims it's simply Trump's way of showing up the political establishment’s weakness and “attracting attention by causing an uproar,” and that Trump “has started to soften his pitch” as his campaign has gotten stronger. Tietze argues further that “Trump’s strongest support is from GOP voters who self-identify as ‘moderate/liberal,’” and that it’s a mistake to interpret his popularity as “some kind of significant radicalisation on the Right,” as many leftists and others have done.

Robertson's version of the argument is more sophisticated. He acknowledges that Trump has exploited racist and nativist sentiments and that “there does appear to be a general correlation between support for Trump and racist attitudes.” He notes further that “a hardcore minority of the crowd [at Trump rallies] supports and even revels in racist violence” and that “certain groups on the radical right have seen in Trump’s campaign an opportunity to amplify their messages.” But in the end, he says, “Trump's anti-politics are not an add-on to his racist ideology. Rather, his racist outbursts supplement his anti-political campaign.” In his view, identifying Trump too closely with the far right “underestimates the malleability of his anti-political strategy,” which sometimes involves taking anti-racist positions, such as support for removing the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina capitol building. It also risks “overstating the size and influence of the far right” in the U.S., which despite recent growth remains “marginalized and, on the whole, weak and fragmented.”

To Robertson, Trump’s ideological flexibility “highlights his lack of a social base. He has no significant institutional backing, no real roots in any broad social formations.” This “allows him to position himself in as most divisive a way as possible and so occupy the space of the ‘anti-establishment’ most effectively.” It also means that the “Trump phenomenon is doomed to be ephemeral” and has limited “capacity to fundamentally shift the political landscape.”

A backlash against noeliberalism
A related analysis comes from Thomas Frank, writing in The Guardian. Although Frank doesn’t use the term “anti-political” and doesn’t call Trump’s impact “ephemeral,” he agrees with Tietze and Robertson that racism isn’t the best way to explain Trump’s appeal. He argues that Trump’s popularity has more to do with his “left wing” ideas: such as calling for competitive bidding in the drug industry, criticizing arms industry lobbyists, and, above all, denouncing free trade — which seems irrational to the professional class but resonates for millions of working people hurt by deindustrialization:
“Many of Trump’s followers are bigots, no doubt, but many more are probably excited by the prospect of a president who seems to mean it when he denounces our trade agreements and promises to bring the hammer down on the CEO that fired you and wrecked your town, unlike Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.”
Frank cites a survey of white working-class voters in suburban Cleveland and Pittsburgh that was conducted by Working America, an AFL-CIO affiliate:
“Support for Donald Trump, the group found, ran strong among these people, even among self-identified Democrats, but not because they are all pining for a racist in the White House. Their favorite aspect of Trump was his ‘attitude,’ the blunt and forthright way he talks. As far as issues are concerned, ‘immigration’ placed third among the matters such voters care about, far behind their number one concern: ‘good jobs / the economy.’”
Frank has no illusions that Trump actually cares about workers, but argues that his criticisms of free trade “articulate the populist backlash against liberalism that has been building slowly for decades.” Reducing Trump’s appeal to the single issue of racism obscures this reality.
“We cannot admit that we liberals bear some of the blame for its emergence, for the frustration of the working-class millions, for their blighted cities and their downward spiraling lives. So much easier to scold them for their twisted racist souls, to close our eyes to the obvious reality of which Trumpism is just a crude and ugly expression: that neoliberalism has well and truly failed.”
Echoes of Buchanan and Wallace
These articles raise issues that need to be addressed. As Tietze, Robertson, and Frank contend, Trump’s message and popularity can’t be reduced to racism alone. The articles are helpful for focusing attention on Trump’s hostility to the political establishment and for detailing some of the ways he doesn’t sound like a conservative.

But it’s frustrating that all three of these authors write as if conservatism is the only kind of right-wing politics, and that all three of them treat Trump’s anti-establishment rhetoric as separate from, and at odds with, his racism. In reality, combining crude or distorted anti-elitism with scapegoating and attacks against oppressed communities is the very essence of right-wing populism. That’s not a new idea, and it’s certainly not a new phenomenon.

To take this further, the specific ways that Trump combines overtly right-wing and “moderate” or “liberal” positions closely track earlier right-wing populist presidential candidates, specifically Pat Buchanan and George Wallace. Both Buchanan and Wallace ran campaigns in which ethnoreligious bigotry and reasserting white dominance played a major role. But both of them combined this with anti-establishment positions which, in different ways, broke with conservative orthodoxy.

Buchanan (who ran in the Republican presidential primaries in 1992 and 1996, and on the Reform Party ticket in 2000) is a paleoconservative whose campaigns evoked the economic protectionism and military anti-interventionism of the Old Right. When Donald Trump criticizes free trade agreements, he sounds like Buchanan denouncing “the predatory traders of Europe and Asia” who threatened American industry and jobs. When Trump attacks the Bush administration for falsely claiming that Saddam Hussein had “weapons of mass destruction” or calls for the U.S. to play a more “neutral” role between Israel and Palestine, he sounds like Buchanan opposing the drive toward war with Iraq in 1990 and denouncing the United States’ close alliance with Israel. When Trump criticizes arms industry lobbyists, he sounds like Buchanan opposing “unfettered capitalism.”

Some rightists have recognized these parallels. Former Reagan budget staffer David Stockman writes,
“The Donald is tapping a nationalist/isolationist impulse that runs deep among a weary and economically precarious main street public. He is clever enough to articulate it in the bombast of what sounds like a crude trade protectionism. Yet if Pat Buchanan were to re-write his speech, it would be more erudite and explicit about the folly of the American Imperium, but the message would be the same.”
Justin Raimondo, an anti-interventionist libertarian who runs the website Antiwar.com and who supported Buchanan’s presidential campaigns, argues that “Trump represents a deadly challenge to the high command of the War Party – the neoconservatives who lied us into war in Iraq – and were called out for it by him.” Although Raimondo is not a Trump supporter, he believes that
“If Trump secures the nomination, the way is paved for transforming the GOP from the party of perpetual war to the party that honors the long-forgotten ‘isolationist’ Sen. Robert A. Taft… And if Trump actually wins the White House, the military-industrial complex is finished, along with the globalists who dominate foreign policy circles in Washington.”
George Wallace’s brand of right-wing populism was different. Although he ran in the Democratic presidential primaries three times, Wallace is better remembered for his 1968 run on the American Independent Party ticket. His 1968 campaign defended segregation but downplayed explicit racism; it denounced centralized government but — as part of Wallace’s appeal to working-class whites — embraced welfare state policies. Many of Donald Trump’s more “liberal” domestic positions, such as expanding education funding and rebuilding infrastructure, are like a muted version of what Wallace advocated 48 years ago, such as higher Social Security payments, universal access to medical care, and a guaranteed right to collective bargaining. Because of these positions, Wallace was called a liberal by Republican opponents, much as Trump is today.

Only if we ignore this history does it make sense to call Trump’s message “inconsistent,” “irrational,” or “chaotic.” Not all of Trump’s positions follow right-wing populist precedent, but most of them do, and even the outliers may follow a related logic. For example, Michelle Goldberg suggests that Trump’s refusal to demonize Planned Parenthood (he wants to defund it for performing abortions, yet points out that it helps millions of women with other health services) is reassuring to “downwardly mobile white voters who hear how terrible Planned Parenthood is… but who nevertheless rely on the organization for reproductive health care.” That’s an eminently rational approach to take if you want to build a right-wing populist campaign that stands apart from your conventional conservative rivals.

A right-wing realignment
A classic hallmark of right-wing populist movements is that they attract people in the middle echelons of the social hierarchy, who have genuine grievances against economic and political elites above them, but also want to defend their limited, relative privilege against challenges from oppressed groups below. Right-wing populism takes that mix of resentments and channels it in ways that reinforce oppression and hierarchy. This describes Trump’s campaign perfectly.

I can well believe that only a fraction of Trump’s supporters are drawn to his campaign because they they’re actively committed to racist ideology. And while a willingness to ignore racism is certainly a minimum requirement for supporting Trump, that’s not unusual. Millions of white Americans, including many Trump opponents, ignore racism all the time. So it’s true that Trump isn’t just tapping into some pre-existing white nationalist constituency — instead, he is building one. By melding anger against Washington politicians with hatred and fear of Mexicans, Muslims, and people of color in general; by identifying political honesty with open expressions of bigotry; by turning his rallies into events where racist and anti-leftist violence is treated as normal and good; and by giving his followers an iconoclastic leader to rally around, Trump is doing his part to reverse the white nationalist right’s weakness and fragmentation that Robertson finds so reassuring.

Against Robertson’s belief that Trump is just a “chaos candidate” who’s unlikely to build anything of lasting impact, I see Trump as the current focal point for an increasingly coherent and dangerous right-wing challenge to neoliberalism. Benjamin Studebaker argues persuasively that this is one after-effect of the 2008 economic crisis.
“Economic ideologies change when there is an economic disaster that is seen to discredit the prevailing ideology. The Great Depression discredited the classical economics practiced by right wingers like Calvin Coolidge, allowing for left wing policies that in the 1920s would have sounded insane to ordinary people. The stagflation in the '70s discredited the Keynesian egalitarianism of FDR and LBJ, allowing Ronald Reagan to implement right wing policies that would have been totally unthinkable to people living in the 1960s.

“I submit to you that the 2008 economic crisis and the stagnation that has followed have discredited the neoliberal economic ideology of Reagan and Clinton… for supporters of both parties, and that new policies and candidates are possible now that would have been totally unthinkable to people as recently as 10 years ago.”
Studebaker argues that neoliberalism has dominated both major parties since Jimmy Carter’s presidency in the 1970s, but now it’s being challenged from two sides: on one side Bernie Sanders’s “left egalitarianism” (essentially an updated version of the New Deal and the Great Society), on the other the “right nationalism” of both Donald Trump and Ted Cruz. And while neoliberals will likely keep control of the Democratic Party this year (via a Hillary Clinton nomination), Trump’s prospects to bring about a realignment of the Republican Party are all too strong.

What should we do?
As I’ve discussed here, here, and here, I think it’s a mistake to call Trump a fascist, but his campaign is emboldening the fascist far right, promoting open bigotry and violence, and intensifying the authoritarian and supremacist tendencies of the existing political order. In the likely contest between right nationalist Trump and neoliberal Clinton, Clinton is the less disastrous option, but she is closely identified with many of the disastrous policies that have fueled support for Trump in the first place. Arun Gupta, astute critic of what electoral politics does to movement building, takes a flexible approach to this dilemma that's worth quoting:
“If you live in a true swing state, cast a ballot for Clinton…. This is a tactical choice, not an endorsement of the odious Clintons. But if you don’t vote, I won’t condemn you, especially if you are in the streets opposing whoever assumes office in January 2017…. My energy, as always, is going into independent political action. While Trump is uniquely dangerous and must be stopped, the left needs to build a movement that has the support, flexibility, and creativity to make the work difficult of whichever barbaric party wins the presidential election.”
Sixteen years ago, in Right-Wing Populism in America, Chip Berlet and I called for a two-pronged strategy to deal with this kind of threat: broad alliances to expose and confront rightist scapegoating and violence, but also radical initiatives to attack the structural inequalities that right-wing populism exploits, and to challenge centrism and liberalism’s harmful and repressive policies. This same dual approach remains necessary today.

I support Chip’s urgent call for “organizing now to protect the people being demonized and scapegoated as targets of White rage,” and to “build broad and diverse local coalitions that tactically address local issues while strategically linking them to national struggles.” I also support Dave Zirin’s call on Facebook to “build a fighting left that challenges what Trump is giving voice to: white nationalism as a response to the crisis people feel in their lives.” As Zirin urges, “Every Trump rally should be protested and disrupted…. Repeat: Every Trump rally should be protested and disrupted.” The recent protest at a Trump rally in Chicago — spearheaded by black, Latino, and Muslim university students — won an important tactical victory when Trump cancelled the event rather than face his opponents.

But even forceful protests like Chicago are basically defensive, just one part of what’s needed. The other part is to cut off right-wing populism at the root. Tietze, Robertson, and Frank are correct that Trump’s campaign is fueled by rage at the neoliberal establishment, so if we want to cut off that support, we need to give people better ways to channel that rage, radical alternatives that speak to their reality. At the same time that we combat bigotry and scapegoating, we need to find ways to engage politically with the working- and middle-class whites who are currently being drawn to Trump’s campaign. Clare Bayard of the Catalyst Project wrote about this challenge two months ago, in a blog post about the Patriot movement occupation of the Malheur Wildlife Refuge in southeast Oregon:
“How do we scale up the scrappy efforts currently underway by grassroots organizations [such as the Rural Organizing Project, is a statewide community organizing project in Oregon] to meet the needs of impoverished, isolated rural communities, as well as working-class and poor urban communities? How do we diminish the appeal of groups like the 3%s, Oath Keepers, and other paramilitaries formations that are speaking to peoples’ fears and the hatred that has been manufactured over generations by people with an interest in distracting us all from whose hands are actually in our pockets? And compete with the real way they are speaking to the material needs of people who are struggling to get by and do not feel supported or valued?
*             *             *
“What is the deep work of healing that needs to happen for the people whose humanity is in such distress that they rally with guns at mosques, and how can we seriously engage that work while also prioritizing protection for the people they stalk?”
I certainly don’t know the answers to Clare’s questions, although I expect there’s a lot to be learned from groups such as the Rural Organizing Project, as well as earlier examples such as the Young Patriots Organization, a radical group formed in 1968 Chicago mostly by poor whites from the South. But this issue is important: it is one of the most important challenges we face.

Image credit:
Photo by nathanmac87, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License).

Postscript, 3/19/2016: Some readers have criticized this article as under-playing the role of racism and Islamophobia in mobilizing Trump supporters. I accept this criticism. At points in the article it sounds like I’m saying that anti-elitism is the main reason people are rallying to Trump, and that’s really not what I meant to say. Trump is certainly using racial and religious scapegoating to mobilize people, extending and intensifying the kind of scapegoating that other politicians have perpetrated for years. And while you can find serious examples of racism in all of the other major campaigns — from Cruz to Clinton to Sanders — the Trump campaign is in a class by itself. There is clear evidence that Trump supporters are significantly more likely to express “white ethnocentrism” and anti-Muslim bigotry than are others polled, including other Republicans. 

But I don’t think that’s enough to explain Trump’s appeal. Because railing against the political establishment is also a big part of his message, and a big part of what people say they like about him. I think it’s the combination of ethnoreligious scapegoating and twisted anti-elitism that’s key here, as it has been over and over in U.S. political history. If we ignore that combination and say it’s simply racism, we’re missing something important, just as Frank, Robertson, and Tietze miss something important by minimizing or denying racism’s role.

Jan 6, 2016

Fascist revolution doesn’t turn back the clock: a reply to Alexander Reid Ross on Trump

Part 4 of Alexander Reid Ross’s series on “Trumpism” on the website It’s Going Down is largely a reply to my piece “Trump’s impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers.” Reid Ross makes some valid criticisms and other good points, but he also he misrepresents my position and fails to address my main criticism of his.

In “Trump’s impact” I argued that Donald Trump’s campaign embodies important elements of fascist politics, has fomented racist and Islamophobic bigotry and violence, and promotes many themes that help organized fascists do their work. I also argued more generally — as I’ve argued for years — that it’s a serious mistake to treat fascism as radically separate from other forms of right-wing populism and authoritarianism. So I’m mystified by statements such as the following, near the end of Reid Ross’s article:
“the claim [by Lyons]… that Trump’s campaign is interconnected to fascism, but that Trump, himself, can remain pure and clearly describable as ‘not fascist’ seems inconsistent. To detach the proximity between Trumpism and people like the Leader brothers [who assaulted a Latino homeless man in Boston in August] or [William] Celli [a Trump supporter who apparently set up a bomb-making enterprise in his home] so cleanly seems like an error. And that’s the main point: the radical right is not as simple as a cluster of autonomous ideologies perfectly honed and starkly differentiated.”
This is a total distortion of my words. I didn’t make any of these “pure,” “clean,” or “starkly differentiated” dichotomies, but in fact argued squarely against them.

In “Trumpism, Part 4,” Reid Ross emphasizes the “gray area” and “hybridization” between fascist and non-fascist forms of right-wing populism. In itself, this isn’t that different from my argument that Trump’s campaign displays a mix of fascist and non-fascist characteristics. Where we disagree, as I wrote in “Trump’s impact,” is that I think it’s a mistake to see such mixed political initiatives as having an inherent tendency to move toward full-fledged fascism. This was my one direct criticism of Reid Ross, but in a 3,800-word reply he never addresses it. He finds it strange that I disagreed with him while endorsing David Neiwert’s "similar" approach, but the key difference is that Neiwert made no such claims about inherent tendencies.

Reid Ross only considers his gray areas as stages in the “creep” toward fascism. He offers no framework for addressing other potential outcomes, such as the possibility that Trump’s campaign might lead more white nationalists to work within the existing system. This narrow focus is strategically dangerous, because it limits our ability to understand and respond to multiple possible threats.

I agree with Reid Ross that Trump’s campaign might develop into a more consistently fascist initiative. But it’s more likely that Trump will remain a champion of increasing repression and ethno-religious scapegoating within the existing political framework — which is plenty bad enough. Look at past history: before Trump, there were three major presidential candidates over the previous half century — George Wallace, Pat Robertson, and Pat Buchanan — whose politics resembled fascism to significant degrees. All of them inspired and emboldened far rightists, but all of them ultimately remained loyal to the established order and helped make it worse. Given these precedents, the burden of proof is on Reid Ross to explain why he’s confident that Trump will develop differently.

On a secondary level, I have to concede certain points to Reid Ross. He is right that fascist movements don’t necessarily involve an organized paramilitary force, and it was a mistake on my part to suggest that they do. Also, I overgeneralized when I wrote (paraphrasing Neiwert) that fascists are “absolutists who demand ideological purity.” As Reid Ross points out, in Italian Fascism’s early years Mussolini embraced ideological “inconsistencies and contradictions.” I would argue this was largely calculated bravado on Mussolini’s part as he worked to weld multiple factions into one movement, and that his ideology was already significantly more thought out and committed than Donald Trump’s. But it’s true that fascist movements don’t or can’t always demand ideological purity from their followers.

On the issue of fascist populism, Reid Ross misunderstands my argument that “fascism seeks to actively and permanently mobilize large masses of people.” I didn’t mean that initiatives don’t qualify as fascist if they don’t succeed in building a mass movement. I meant fascists try to get people involved in active, ongoing activities (not just call them out as occasional spectators at campaign rallies) both to mobilize support and enforce control. This type of mobilization isn’t unique to fascism, of course. If you want an example, look at the Christian right, which has painstakingly built an elaborate organizational web, based at the level of church congregations and living room prayer circles. Again, I see no efforts along these lines from the Trump campaign.

Replying to my argument that Trump isn’t fascist because he doesn’t advocate a right-wing revolution, Reid Ross asserts that Trump does indeed have “revolutionary leanings” because (a) some conservatives say or imply that he does, (b) he called for “a revolution” after Obama’s 2012 re-election, (c) Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center says that Trump is in some ways more extreme than many white nationalists, and (d) implementing Trump’s proposal to deport 11 million people would require a massive project of “totalitarian social engineering.”

I guess it depends what we mean by revolution. To me, a fascist revolution goes far beyond events like the “Gingrich Revolution” of 1994 (in which Republicans gained control of Congress for the first time in decades) or even the “Reagan Revolution” of the 1980s (which dramatically reduced the welfare state, transferred billions of dollars from lower- and middle-income people to the wealthy, and intensified U.S. attacks on leftist and popular forces worldwide). Fascism is revolutionary in the sense that it
“implies an effort to bring about a fundamental, structural transformation of the political, cultural, economic, or social order. Fascism seeks, first of all, to overthrow established political elites and abolish established forms of political rule, whether liberal-pluralist or authoritarian. Second, fascists also attack “bourgeois” cultural patterns such as individualism and consumerism and aim to systematically reshape all cultural spheres — encompassing education, family life, religion, the media, arts, sports and leisure, as well as the culture of business and the workplace — to reflect one unified ideology. Third, some (not all) forms of fascism promote a socioeconomic revolution that transforms but does not abolish class society — as when German Nazism restructured the industrial heart of Europe with a system of exploitation based largely on plunder, slave labor, and genocidally working people to death.”
Fascism’s revolutionary vision invokes an idealized image of the past, but it does so in the service of creating a new order, not just restoring old traditions. Yes, as Reid Ross tells us, Italian Fascists “harkened back” to the 19th-century Risorgimento (as well as the glory days of Ancient Rome), but they envisioned a forward-looking industrial society where capitalists and workers would work together for the good of the nation. Yes, Hitler “looked to” the military greatness of Germany’s Second Reich and Prussia’s Frederick the Great (as well as the paganism of ancient Germanic tribes), but he wanted a new, racially pure settler-colonial empire and had no interest in restoring the monarchy or deferring to the old Junker aristocracy.

Similarly, it’s not true that white nationalist far rightists in the U.S. “have always upheld segregation and a racialized caste system as an ultimate ideal.” Actually most of them moved beyond old-style segregationism decades ago, toward newer visions, such as creating a white separatist enclave through secession, dividing the entire U.S. into apartheid-style racial homelands, or exterminating Jews and people of color entirely. Compared with these ideas, Trump’s proposals to make (white) America great again represent a much more limited challenge to the established order. His most extreme structural proposal, abolishing birthright citizenship, would intensify racial and national oppression, but unfortunately this change is all too compatible with liberal “democracy” as practiced everywhere outside the Americas.

It is true, as Reid Ross argues, that deporting 11 million people would involve a big expansion of the state’s repressive apparatus. This would be disastrous in all kinds of ways, but it would not require any fundamental break with the existing institutional framework. In the 1950s (under moderate Republican Dwight Eisenhower) the federal government rounded up an estimated 1.1 million people through the odiously named “Operation Wetback” deportation program. In the 1930s (under liberal Democrat Franklin Roosevelt), upwards of one million Mexicans and Mexican Americans were deported, when the U.S. population was about 40 percent of what it is today. Trump’s proposal is bigger than these precedents, but it’s not qualitatively different.

Alexander Reid Ross accuses me of obscuring Donald Trump’s fascist particularities under the vague category of right-wing populism — of “missing the tree for the forest.” But a forest has many trees, and Trump’s candidacy points to different kinds of threats — some at odds with the established political order, others loyal to it. If we only see one threat we will be in trouble.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
"On Trump, fascism, and stale social science" (25 October 2015)
"Trump's impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers" (22 December 2015) 

Dec 22, 2015

Trump's impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers

In some ways it doesn’t matter whether we call Donald Trump a fascist or “just” a right-wing populist. However we categorize him, his presidential campaign represents a serious danger. Whatever direction he takes in the future, whatever happens to his presidential fortunes, Trump is galvanizing organized white supremacists and fueling racist and Islamophobic bigotry and violence across the United States. Trump’s campaign has to be seen in context — it grows out of long-term developments in the Republican Party and the U.S. political system as a whole — but it has become a destructive force in its own right.

Two months ago, I argued that calling Donald Trump a fascist distorts our understanding of fascism and obscures his demagoguery’s roots in mainstream U.S. politics. Criticizing scholarly definitions of fascism that remain stuck in the 1940s, I also highlighted the divide between rightists who remain loyal to the U.S. political system and far rightists who want to overthrow it -- including many but not all white nationalists as well as Christian theocrats and others. That tension is pivotal for understanding Trump's relationship with fascism.

However we categorize Trump, opposing his poison is not about defending democracy. The United States is not and never has been a democracy. It’s a mix of pluralistic openness and repression, an oppressive, hierarchical society where most political power is held by representatives of a tiny capitalist elite, but where there is real political space for some people and some ideas that would not be permitted in a wholly authoritarian system, including opportunities to organize, debate, participate in electoral politics, and criticize those in power. This space has been won through struggle and it’s important and worth defending, but it’s not democracy. One of the reasons the U.S. political system has been so durable and successful (at serving those in power) is that it's really good at shifting between openness and authoritarianism. Even anti-fascism itself can become a rationale for some of the most serious repression, as Japanese Americans experienced seventy years ago. Someone like Trump can push very far in the authoritarian direction without challenging the system on any sort of basic level.

Given the danger Trump poses, some people have asked: does it really matter whether he fits somebody’s definition of fascist or not? Is this question useful, or is it just an abstract intellectual debate? I think it does matter, because it can help us understand the danger more clearly: not just his politics but also his relationship with — and capacity to mobilize — organized white nationalist far rightists. Saying it doesn’t matter whether Trump is a right-wing populist or a fascist is like saying it doesn’t matter whether Bernie Sanders is a social democrat or a communist. I think we should apply the same kind of intelligent analysis to the right as we do to the left, because it’s just as important for us to understand our enemies as it is to understand our (would-be) allies.

Radicals facing major candidates, left and right
Let’s stay with the Bernie Sanders analogy for a moment. In this presidential race, U.S. radicals — people who advocate a fundamental transformation of the socio-economic order — are faced with a major party candidate who breaks a serious political taboo by calling himself a socialist, says some of the things we think are important, and is generating new interest in socialist politics. On the other hand, a lot of us have serious problems with some of his positions, he works within the existing system, and he has a long history that shows he’s really not a radical. What should we do? Some people who consider themselves radicals support him, others reject him as an apologist for U.S. capitalism and empire, and others are conflicted. People may say it’s pointless to get behind him because he couldn’t make meaningful change as president even if he wanted to, or they may say his campaign is raising important issues and could be a stepping stone to genuinely radical initiatives.

If somebody said, “Sanders says a lot of the things communists say, so he must be a communist,” or “he may not be a full-blown communist now, but his kind of politics inherently leads to communism,” most leftists would not take this very seriously. Whether we support Sanders or not, we would recognize this as sloppy analysis, if not McCarthyite smear-mongering. (Predictably, some rightists have taken this very approach. The Libertarian Republic called Sanders a “communist sympathizer,” while FrontPage Mag just called him a communist, as of course did Donald Trump.)

The Sanders analogy doesn’t prove anything one way or another about Donald Trump and fascism, but I hope it offers a useful perspective on the question and how we think about it. While Trump is not Sanders’s mirror image, some of the issues he poses for far rightists are similar. A lot of white nationalist far rightists — who believe that racial renewal demands a radical break with the established social and political order, and who draw on traditions of both homegrown white supremacy and European fascism — are very interested in Trump’s candidacy, because he’s defying the political establishment, saying a lot of the things they believe, and generating new interest in their politics. But they’re also clear that he’s not one of them, they disagree with some of what he says and some of what he’s done, and they’re skeptical about how much they can trust him. So they have to decide how they want to respond. Some of them reject his campaign while many others have welcomed it. They generally don’t think he’s going to bring the kind of far-reaching change they want, but many of them see him as raising important issues and as a possible bridge toward more radical initiatives.

The specifics are worth a look. Michael Hill of the neo-Confederate League of the South commented, “I love to see somebody like Donald Trump come along. Not that I believe anything that he says. But he is stirring up chaos in the G.O.P. and for us that is good.” David Duke praised Trump’s call to deport all undocumented immigrants but cautioned that Trump is “1,000 percent dedicated to Israel, so how much is left over for America?” Brad Griffin, who blogs at Occidental Dissent under the name Hunter Wallace, complained that unlike Pat Buchanan in 1992 and 1996, “Trump wants to keep the US Empire,” but added “there is no one else running who isn’t far worse… I’m kinda hoping he wins the primary and provokes a fatal split that topples the GOP.” And the Traditionalist Youth Network characterized Trump’s candidacy as follows:
“While Donald Trump is neither a Traditionalist nor a White nationalist, he is a threat to the economic and social powers of the international Jew. For this reason alone as long as Trump stands strong on deportation and immigration enforcement we should support his candidacy insofar as we can use it to push more hardcore positions on immigration and Identity. Donald Trump is not the savior of Whites in America, he is however a booming salvo across the bow of the Left and Jewish power to tell them that White America is awakening, and we are tired of business as usual.

“The march to victory will not be won by Donald Trump in 2016, but this could be the stepping stone we need to then radicalize millions of White working and middle class families to the call to truly begin a struggle for Faith, family and folk. For this reason alone I will campaign for Donald Trump because as the saying goes ‘The enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and that is doubly true if that person is viewed as an enemy by the International Jew.”
As these quotes suggest, even those far rightists who welcome Donald Trump’s campaign have serious reservations about him. This ambivalence is politically important and we should try to understand it. To do that, it’s important to delineate fascism clearly from other forms of right-wing authoritarianism and racism — and also to see them as interconnected.

Trump campaign and fascism: distinct but interconnected
One of the few Trump-related articles I’ve seen that offers this kind of nuanced analysis is David Neiwert’s “Donald Trump May Not Be a Fascist, But He is Leading Us Merrily Down That Path.” There are points in Neiwert’s article that I disagree with — he counterposes fascism to democracy, for instance — but I think his basic approach here is sound. Rather than treat fascism as something radically separate and in a class by itself, Neiwert emphasizes that there’s a dynamic interrelationship between fascism and other forms of right-wing populism. And while “merrily” might be a bad choice of words, Neiwert isn’t making light of the danger at all. He argues that (1) Trump’s campaign embodies many of fascism’s core features — but not all of them, and (2) this actually makes Trump more dangerous than a full-blown fascist, because it masks his very real fascistic tendencies and enables him to be much more effective in “creating the conditions that could easily lead to a genuine and potentially irrevocable outbreak of fascism.”

Acknowledging that there’s no agreed-upon definition of fascism, Neiwert offers a composite sketch from definitions by several leading fascism scholars, including Stanley Payne, Robert O. Paxton, and Roger Griffin, and uses this to summarize Trump’s fascistic and non-fascistic aspects. On the one hand, he argues, Trump shares fascism’s emphasis on “eliminationist rhetoric” (such as vowing to deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S.), “palingenetic ultranationalism” (an apocalyptic vision of national rebirth out of a serious crisis), hostility to both liberalism and establishment conservatism, charismatic leadership by a man of destiny, and contempt for weakness (such as mocking a New York Times reporter with a disability).

On the other hand, Neiwert notes two key points that set Trump’s candidacy apart from fascism. First, although Trump has encouraged spontaneous violence against his critics and targets of his rhetoric, he’s made no moves to develop or ally with a political paramilitary force along the lines of the Italian Blackshirts or the Nazi Stormtroopers. Second, and more importantly, Trump “lacks any kind of coherent, or even semi-coherent, ideology.” While fascists are absolutists who demand ideological purity, “Trump’s only real ideology is the Worship of the Donald.” He is pushing a kind of gut-level hatred and paranoia, Neiwert argues, not because of his own belief system, but because it’s a way to win votes.

I would extend this line of thought further, drawing particularly on Roger Griffin’s analysis of fascism. Point One: it’s true that Trump’s candidacy, like fascism, emphasizes a kind of populism, in that Trump has presented himself as an advocate of the common people against corrupt or sinister elites. But as Griffin argues, fascism isn’t populist only in a rhetorical sense. Rather, both as a movement and a regime, fascism seeks to actively and permanently mobilize large masses of people through a network of top-down organizations, constant propaganda, and elaborate public rituals such as the Nazi Party’s Nuremberg rallies. I see no indication that Trump has attempted anything like this. His campaign rallies are a short-term means to the end of winning the presidency — not the germ of any sort of lasting mass organization.

Point Two: again following Griffin, fascism isn’t just an “extreme” form of right-wing politics — it’s a revolutionary form of right-wing politics, in that it aims to create a radically new type of society, state, culture, and human being. In the fascist “new order,” all individual and private interests would be subordinated to those of the nation — as dictated by the fascist leadership. Yes, both Italian Fascism and German Nazism came to power through the parliamentary process and both of them, especially Italian Fascism, made huge compromises with the old order. They left major institutions such as the military, the church, and (in Italy) the monarchy more or less intact. But even in Italy, fascism radically transformed the country’s cultural, educational, and political landscape to conform to Mussolini’s explicitly totalitarian vision, and this transformation got stronger, not weaker, as time went on. In Germany, the fascist revolution went much further, forcibly imposing a program of “racial purity” through sterilization and mass killing, and reshaping the class structure through the mass enslavement and importation of non-Aryan workers. Again, Trump is good at pandering to popular fears and hatreds and feeding his own ego, but that’s a far cry from promoting an actual vision of cultural or social change.

Although people often use the term fascism interchangeably with dictatorship, most dictatorships aren’t fascist, because they’re all about preserving the old order rather than creating a new one, and they generally don’t involve any real populist mobilization. So even if we assume that Trump wants to outlaw elections, shred the Bill of Rights, and make himself president for life, that doesn’t make him a fascist. There are different ways to be dangerous, and the differences matter.

A "powerful trend" toward fascism?
What about the argument that while Trump may not be a fully fledged fascist yet, he’s heading in that direction? Alexander Reid Ross argues this. He writes that we should “look at fascism as a ‘process’ rather than an ‘outcome,’ or as [fascism scholar Alexander A.] Kallis states, ‘it is more accurate to describe fascist ideology as a powerful trend, appealing to the most utopian and extreme nationalist vision and articulating suppressed energies which had previously no place in the conventional political agenda of either conservative or liberal nationalism.” More specifically, Reid Ross argues, “Trumpism as it appears today has the necessary components that make it a fascist ideology, but it has not manifested full form in power,” and “Trumpism can be seen as a manifestation of sufficient ‘fascistic’ positions to qualify it not just as ‘proto-fascist’ but as part of a process of ‘fascist creep,’ meaning a radicalization of conservative ideology that increasingly includes fascist membership while deploying fascist ideology, strategy, and tactics.”

In an earlier Facebook discussion, I cautioned Reid Ross that we shouldn’t use a teleological approach to fascism. What I meant was, we shouldn’t treat certain political initiatives as having an inherent tendency to move toward fascism, as Reid Ross appears to be arguing above. Reid Ross conceded the point but thought I meant that we shouldn’t treat the fascist creep process as inevitable, which is not the same thing. Serves me right for using a pretentious word like teleological.

I agree with Reid Ross that politics isn’t static — that movements, systems, and people can change — but they can change in lots of different ways, and we should be wary of interpreting these changes in terms of inherent tendencies. Depending on the circumstances and balance of political forces, non-fascists may be pulled toward fascism, but the opposite is also true. Both Mussolini’s and Hitler’s original governments included non-fascists, who were co-opted and eventually absorbed into fascist “projects” (while those who refused to be absorbed were destroyed). But during the same era, as Griffin has argued, fascists were co-opted into supporting conservative authoritarian regimes in several other countries, including Antonescu’s Romania, Vichy France, and Franco’s Spain. Since many people will argue that some or all of those governments were actually fascist, another example is western Europe and the U.S. during the Cold War, when most western fascists were co-opted into a broad anti-Soviet coalition in support of a non-fascist system for over four decades.

Bringing all this back to Trump, there are at least two different ways to read the friendly reception his campaign has gotten from many white nationalist far rightists. One is that these fascists represent the logical endpoint of Trumpism in development, and while he draws the crowds they provide the ideas. This is at least consistent with Alexander Reid Ross’s position quoted above. Another interpretation, however, is that Trump’s campaign is co-opting far rightists into, if not renewed loyalty, at least suspending their disloyalty to the existing political order. JM Wong has argued on Facebook that Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric comes at a time when “the legitimacy of the state is increasingly challenged for white people” as “the wages of whiteness are dwindling.” In that context, Trump “is calling for an investment in the state, restoring it to some semblance of ‘america is great,’ for folks to continue to have faith in the state apparatus, as long as it is tweaked into more white supremacist overtones.” To the extent that far rightists support this call, they are buying into the system they claim to oppose. Conversely, the defeat of Trump’s candidacy could further intensify the white nationalist far right as an oppositional force.

Neglected factors: capitalists and theocrats
One issue that’s gotten very little attention in most of these discussions is fascism’s class politics. Although many leftists (and not a few liberals) have treated fascism as ultimately a tool of big business, I’ve argued that fascism is an autonomous force whose relationship with the capitalist class is contradictory: “As a movement or a regime, fascism attacks the left and defends class exploitation but also pursues an agenda that clashes with capitalist interests in important ways.” In both Italy and Germany, capitalists helped fascists gain power, trading control over state policy for a crackdown against the working class. In the U.S. as it exists today, any drive to impose fascism would need support from at least a major faction of capital. The white nationalist far right currently enjoys little if any such support. If real estate billionaire Donald Trump were somehow to transform himself into an ideologically committed fascist movement builder, a major question would be how many other capitalists would back him.

Another factor rarely considered in discussions of Trump and fascism is Trump's relationship with the Christian right, a movement that in the U.S. is vastly larger than organized white nationalism. Although a majority of Christian rightists want to make changes within the existing political system, such as outlawing abortion and homosexuality, a significant hard-line wing wants to impose a totalitarian theocracy based on their interpretation of biblical law. This current arguably represents a version of fascism that emphasizes religious obedience and heterosexual male dominance before racial purity or nationhood. Trump's campaign has gotten significant but not overwhelming support from rank-and-file Christian rightists, although a number of movement leaders have criticized his lack of Christian faith, history of supporting abortion rights, and even his anti-immigrant politics. So far I haven't been able to get a clear sense of what the hardliners think of him, but I suspect they would be enthusiastic only to the extent they are willing to subordinate their theocratic ideology to other political goals.

*                    *                    *

Donald Trump is not a fascist, but his presidential campaign is dynamically interconnected with fascism. Trump has emboldened fascists and is promoting many of the themes that they can and do exploit. A bigger immediate threat, I believe, is that he is helping to intensify the authoritarian and supremacist tendencies of the existing liberal-pluralist state, by feeding open bigotry and violence and making the brutal policies of other politicians — Republican and Democrat — seem more legitimate by comparison. Even Trump's loss in the primaries or the general election could drive far rightists into renewed militancy, and this in turn could offer centrist or liberal politicians another scapegoat to justify expanded repression across the board. If the choice Trump poses is less stark than democracy versus fascism, that’s hardly cause for celebration.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
"On Trump, fascism, and stale social science" (25 October 2015)
"Fascist revolution doesn't turn back the clock: a reply to Alexander Reid Ross on Trump" (6 January 2015)

Photo credit:
"Make America Great Again" is Donald Trump's slogan in his 2016 presidential campaign, seen emblazoned on the official campaign hat. Photo by Spartan7W, via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Nov 23, 2015

Jack Donovan on men: a masculine tribalism for the far right

Donovan: "Ur-fascism is the source of honor
culture and authentic patriarchal tradition."
All far rightists promote male dominance, but the kinds of male dominance they promote differ enormously. The Christian right’s revolutionary wing — the folks who don’t just want to ban abortion, same-sex marriage, and teaching evolution, but replace the U.S. government with a full-blown theocracy — advocates “biblical patriarchy,” a doctrine that urges men to keep close control over everything their wives and children do, from the books they read to the time they go to bed. In this schema, for women to make decisions or speak for themselves isn’t just a bad idea, it’s a revolt against God.

Jack Donovan’s version of male supremacy is radically different from that. He’s a former Satanist, not a Christian, and he doesn’t anchor his ideas in the Bible, but rather in evolutionary psychology — an approach that’s probably meaningless, if not satanic, to Adam and Eve creationists. He doesn’t focus on the family, but on championing a kind of male comradeship free of female constraints. This comradeship allows room for sexual relations between men, and Donovan is himself openly homosexual, which would of course be taboo in the Christian right. And while even the most hard-core biblical patriarchs aim to recruit women as well as men (claiming their path offers women security and respect, not to mention salvation through Jesus), Donovan doesn’t write for women at all. His audience, his community, his hope for the future, is entirely male.

Over the past eight years, Jack Donovan has published a stream of articles and several books about men and masculinity. His best-known work is the self-published The Way of Men (2012 - hereafter referred to as Way for short), which reportedly sold an impressive ten thousand copies in its first two years. His ideas are important, in part, because they appeal to different sectors of the right, including members of the “manosphere,” white nationalists, right-wing anarchists, and (with a few modifications) even some Christian rightists.

Gang masculinity
“The Way of Men,” Donovan argues, “is the way of the gang.” “For most of their time on this planet, men have organized in small survival bands, set against a hostile environment, competing for women and resources with other bands of men” (Way, p. 3). These gangs, he claims, have provided the security that makes all human culture and civilization possible. They are also the social framework that men need to realize their true selves. Donovan’s gangs foster and depend on the “tactical virtues” of Strength, Courage, Mastery, and Honor, which together form his definition of masculinity. Gang life centers on fighting, hierarchy, and drawing the perimeter against outsiders (“separating us from them”). This, in turn, dovetails with many of Donovan’s core philosophical precepts — that human equality is an illusion, violence (specifically male violence) is universal, and moral accountability should be limited to the members of one’s own tribe.

In Donovan's ideal order, only male
warriors would have a political voice
Donovan advocates “androphilia,” by which he means love or sex between masculine men. He doesn’t call himself gay, rejects gay culture as effeminate, and justifies homophobia as a defense of masculinity rooted in the male gang’s collective survival needs. This might sound like self-hatred, but Donovan isn’t hiding or apologizing for his own sexuality; he’s defining it in a way that’s radically at odds with prevailing LGBT politics. His version of homosexuality is a consummation of the priority that men in his ideal gang place on each other. As he has commented, “When you get right down to it, when it comes to sex, homos are just men without women getting in the way.”

In Donovan’s worldview, patriarchy is the natural state of human affairs, rooted in that primeval survival scenario where women are a prize that male gangs fight over. And seen through his eyes,  patriarchy doesn’t look so bad. Since Donovan is fundamentally uninterested in women’s experience, he repeats lots of “common sense” male ideas without question. For example: “A rapist is something that no right-minded man wants to be,” so the whole idea of rape culture is a feminist lie, “a tool to silence criticism of women and exert control over men’s sexual behavior and conceptions of their own masculinity.” Similarly, “men have always had to demonstrate to the group that they could carry their own weight” (Way, p. 46), while it’s supposedly much more common and accepted for women to be supported by others. Never mind that women actually work longer hours than men and do the bulk of unpaid domestic labor, enabling men in all regions of the world to do less work.

Against globalism and feminism
Donovan sees a basic tension between the wildness and violence of gang life and the restraint and orderliness that civilization requires: civilization benefits men through technological and cultural advances, but it also saps their primal masculinity — their strength, courage, mastery, and honor. For most of human history, he says, men have fashioned workable compromises between the two, but with societal changes over the past century that’s become less and less possible. Today, “globalist civilization requires the abandonment of the gang narrative, of us against them. It requires the abandonment of human scale identity groups for ‘one world tribe’” (Way, p. 139). Who is leading this attack on masculinity? “Feminists, elite bureaucrats, and wealthy men” — who “all have something to gain for themselves by pitching widespread male passivity. The way of the gang disrupts stable systems, threatens the business interests (and social status) of the wealthy, and creates danger and uncertainty for women” (Way, p. 138).

With the help of globalist elites, feminists have supposedly dismantled patriarchy and put women in a dominant role. As Donovan argues in No Man's Land: “For the first time in history, at least on this scale, women wield the axe of the state over men.” Women have “control over virtually all aspects of reproduction,” and “a mere whisper from a woman can place a man in shackles and force him to either confess or prove that he is innocent of even the pettiest charges.” Faced with the bumper sticker slogan, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are human beings,” Donovan retorts that this should be rewritten as “Feminism is the radical notion that men should do whatever women say, so that women can do whatever the hell they want.”

Unlike Christian rightists, who argue that feminism misleads women into betraying their true interests, Donovan sees feminism as an expression of women’s basic nature, which is “to calm men down and enlist their help at home, raising children, and fixing up the grass hut” (Way, p. 137). Today, feminists’ supposed alliance with globalist elites reflects this: “Women are better suited to and better served by the globalism and consumerism of modern democracies that promote security, no-strings attached sex and shopping” (Way, p. 148). It’s not that women are evil, Donovan claims. “Women are humans who are slightly different from men, and given the opportunity they will serve their slightly different interests and follow their own slightly different way” (Way, p. 150). But that slight different way inevitably clashes with men’s interests and therefore needs to be firmly controlled, if not suppressed.

The Brotherhood
Donovan’s social and political ideal is a latter-day tribal order that he calls “The Brotherhood.” The Brotherhood is rooted in the primeval gang experience, where all men of the group affirm a sacred oath of loyalty to each other (spoken or unspoken) against the outside world. In this order, a man’s position would be based on “hierarchy through meritocracy,” not inherited wealth or status. The Brotherhood might be run as a democracy or it might have a king — Donovan isn’t particular as long as the leaders prove their worth and are accountable to the men of the group. All men would be expected to train and serve as warriors, and only warriors would have a political voice. Women would not be “permitted to rule or take part in the political life of The Brotherhood, though women have always and will always influence their husbands” (A Sky Without Eagles, hereafter Sky, p. 158).

Women’s main roles in this system would be to birth and raise children, and to help preserve memories of the ancestors, because “young men should grow up knowing what their great-grandfathers and great-great-grandfathers did, and who they were, and what they believed” (Sky, p. 160). To some extent this sounds like standard conservative gender ideology, but there’s a difference. “The family is a means for the continuation of The Brotherhood, and gives a sacred role to women in The Brotherhood. The ideal woman is Queen Gorgo of Sparta,… boasting that only women of her tribe give birth to worthy men” (Sky, p. 158). This is a reversal of the idea that men become hunters and warriors to protect and provide for their families. As Jef Costello noted on the white nationalist website Counter-Currents, Donovan is saying that women exist in order to bring men into the world, and the family exists because it makes idealized male gang life possible.

Relationship with Men’s Rights Activists and the Manosphere
Donovan shares some ideas with Men’s Rights Activists (“MRAs”) — notably that the legal system and the media unfairly discriminate against men — and has published several essays in the MRA-oriented journal The Spearhead. But he criticizes MRAs from the right, arguing that their stated goal of equity between men and women is a capitulation to feminism. Donovan is more favorably disposed toward the so-called manosphere, a loose online network of men who promote vicious hostility toward feminism and sexual predation toward women. In Donovan’s words, “The manosphere is an outer realm where male tribalism rules…. [It] is not about what women want, or about making sure men and women are equal. The manosphere is about men writing about who men are and what they want, without supervision.” In turn, influential manosphere figures such as Roosh V (Daryush Valizadeh) have praised Donovan’s work. Roosh V commented on The Way of Men, “Ironic that a gay man wrote one of the manliest books I've ever read.”

White nationalism and fascism
Donovan is a sort of white nationalist fellow traveler. He has written for white nationalist websites including Counter-Currents and Radix and spoken at white nationalist gatherings such as National Policy Institute conferences. As he writes in "Mighty White," he is “sympathetic to many of their general aims,” such as encouraging racial separatism and defending European Americans against “the deeply entrenched anti-white bias of multiculturalist orthodoxies.” White nationalism dovetails with his belief that all humans are tribal creatures. But race is not his main focus or concern. “My work is about men. It’s about understanding masculinity and the plight of men in the modern world. It’s about what all men have in common.” His “Brotherhood” ideal is not culturally specific and he’s happy to see men of other cultures pursue similar aims. “For instance, I am not a Native American, but I have been in contact with a Native American activist who read The Way of Men and contacted me to tell me about his brotherhood [probably Vince Rinehart of Attack the System]. I could never belong to that tribe, but I wish him great success in his efforts to promote virility among his tribesmen” (Sky, p. 166).

Donovan has also embraced the term “anarcho-fascism,” which he explained in terms of the original fascist symbol, the fasces, a bundle of wooden rods that stands for strength and unity. Rejecting the common belief that fascism equals a totalitarian state or top-down bureaucratic rule, he identified the fasces with the “bottom-up idea” of “a unified male collective…. True tribal unity can’t be imposed from above. It’s an organic phenomenon. Profound unity comes from men bound together by a red ribbon of blood.” “…the modern, effeminate, bourgeois ‘First World’ states can no longer produce new honor cultures. New, pure warrior-gangs can only rise in anarchic opposition to the corrupt, feminist, anti-tribal, degraded institutions of the established order…. Ur-fascism is the source of honor culture and authentic patriarchal tradition.”

Elsewhere, Donovan cautions that he isn’t “an anarchist or a fascist proper,” but simply wanted to make the point that “revitalizing tribal manliness will require a chaotic break from modernity” (Sky, p. 14). Still, there are strong resonances between his ideas and early fascism’s violent male camaraderie, which took the intense, trauma-laced bonds that World War I veterans had formed in the trenches and transferred them into street-fighting formations such as the Italian squadristi and German storm troopers. Donovan also echoes the 1909 Futurist Manifesto, a document that prefigured Italian Fascism: “We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman.” All this is part of what J. Sakai meant when he wrote that fascism “is a male movement, both in its composition and most importantly in its inner worldview. This is beyond discrimination or sexism, really. Fascism is nakedly a world of men. This is one of the sources of its cultural appeal.” I don’t completely agree, because fascism can also appeal to women on a mass scale, but the inner worldview Sakai was highlighting is an important aspect of fascism, and Donovan articulates that view as well as anybody.
 
Toward a failed state
In the preface to his latest book, A Sky Without Eagles, Donovan writes that a few years ago he advocated a “resurgence of masculine virtue” in America, but he came to realize “that contemporary American and Western ideas and institutions were actually causes of men’s decline and inseparable from it” (p. 12). He has written repeatedly that he doesn’t believe in the existing political system and that it offers no viable solutions. For example: “The best thing you can do for your country — for the men around you, for the future — is to let the system tear itself apart. The way to increase personal sovereignty for men is to decrease the sovereignty of the state by withdrawing the consent of the governed…. If American men stop thinking of the government as ‘us’ and start thinking of it as ‘them’ — if we stop thinking of ourselves as Americans and start acting in our own interests, things could get really interesting.” Donovan believes that the U.S. is on the road to becoming “a failed state — a state where no one believes in the system, where the government is just another shakedown gang, where no one confuses the law with justice.” And he looks forward to that collapse: “In a failed state, we go back to Wild West rules, and America becomes a place for men again — a land full of promise and possibility that rewards daring and ingenuity, a place where men can restart the world.” He urges far rightists to “build the kinds of resilient communities and networks of skilled people that can survive the collapse and preserve your identities after the Fall.”

Donovan’s repudiation of the existing political system, more than anything else, separates him from anti-feminist conservatives and places him squarely in the far right. However, urging men to sit back and wait for the system to fail is an oddly passive strategy for someone so fixated on being “manly.” Maybe Donovan just hasn’t had time to develop more active plans for helping to bring down the globalist-feminist state. Or maybe he recognizes that if you’re serious about revolution, it’s not always best to advertise your intentions in public. As Three Way Fight has discussed before, government counterinsurgency operations don’t just target the left, but also the right.

Male tribalism in context
As I argued in “Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements,” far rightist positions on gender draw on four distinct ideological themes. One is patriarchal traditionalism, which promotes rigid gender roles and women’s subordination through the nuclear family. Another is demographic nationalism, which declares that women have a duty to the nation, race, or other collective to have lots of babies. A third theme is quasi-feminism, which advocates specific rights and an expanded political role for women while accepting men’s overall dominance. The fourth ideological theme is something that I called “male bonding through warfare” or the “cult of male comradeship”:
“This theme emphasizes warfare (hardship, risk of death, shared acts of violence and killing) as the basis for deep emotional and spiritual ties between men. It is often implicitly homoerotic and occasionally celebrates male homosexuality openly, and is frequently at odds with ‘bourgeois’ family life. In the cult of male comradeship, women may be targets of violent contempt or simply ignored as irrelevant and invisible.”
When I wrote these words, I was thinking of European far rightists of the 1920s and 30s such as Ernst Jünger and the Nazi stormtroopers’ leader Ernst Röhm, as well as, more recently, Afghanistan’s Taliban. But while the Taliban combine their militaristic male comradeship with patriarchal traditionalism, Jack Donovan represents the ideology of male bonding through warfare in pure form.

Donovan’s work is part of a trend on the far right toward increasingly harsh and explicit male supremacy doctrines. Quasi-feminism, which gained some influence among neonazi groups such as White Aryan Resistance in the 1980s and 1990s, has lost ground, while many Christian rightists and white nationalists have shifted toward starker forms of “traditional family” politics or moved into the manosphere. Biblical patriarchy is a prime example of this. Donovan’s male tribalism is another.

Anti-Fascist News recently noted a growing respect in white nationalist circles for Donovan’s vision of male warrior culture.
“Though this is radically different than what many on the ‘alt right’ think [is] socially productive, they do note that society may need these cultural elements and that they are rightist in that they celebrate in-group/out-group distinctions, tribalism, and hierarchy.” 
AFN frames this as part of a broader shift way from homophobia among many white nationalists:
“We see a mixing of queer identity with open fascism with bands like Death in June, and all through the ‘manosphere’ there is a deep misogyny and white nationalism expressed by gay authors who have been invited into the fold. Though the stereotyped ‘gay culture’ is always derided by these groups, they play hard with the idea that queerness is biologically determined.” 
White nationalist intellectual forums such as Richard Spencer’s National Policy Institute and Greg Johnson’s Counter-Currents have given Donovan a forum, and Counter-Currents has also published homosexual white nationalist James O’Meara. Even in Klan and Nazi skinhead circles, where Donovan’s homosexuality is often vilified, AFN notes that “more often than not…there is tacit approval of his inclusion and even a sort of backhanded support.”

Donovan’s celebration of “small, nimble” gangs, failed states, and “anarcho-fascism” also meshes with the trend toward political decentralism across much of the far right. This trend reflects influences as varied as Posse Comitatus, the European New Right, laissez-faire economics, and Calvinist theology. Donovan’s work has been embraced by the anti-state far rightists of Attack the System. He himself cites ENR theorist Guillaume Faye as an influence on his vision of an ideal society, “The Brotherhood.”

Dispossessed men versus the new capitalist order
To put this in some kind of socio-economic context, it’s helpful to look at Bromma’s important essay, Exodus and Reconstruction: Working-Class Women at the Heart of Globalization. As Bromma notes, globalization is dramatically eroding the old patriarchal system of controlling women through families:
“A unifying theme of the new capitalist order is that the labor of working-class women is too valuable to leave in the hands of the ‘man of the house.’ Women’s labor is now to be controlled more directly by capitalists and their professional agents, without all the clumsy and inflexible local mediation formerly assigned to husbands, fathers and brothers. Working-class women must be ‘free’ to move from country to country, from industry to industry, from household to household. They are needed in the industrial zones, needed in giant factory farms, needed as nurses and ‘entertainers.’ Their domestic work is increasingly moved out of their own families and merged into great global service industries.”
As women have been drawn into the capitalist labor market, growing numbers of men “have been forced into the margins of the labor market, if not out of it altogether.”

These changes, Bromma argues, have brought with them new forms of violence against women on a large scale:
“Where they are concentrated, capitalists and warlords manipulate and encourage dispossessed men to terrorize them, to push them off the streets and out of public life.

“And there is something more: the destruction of traditional family-based rural patriarchy brings with it a powerful reactionary male political backlash.

“Millions of men are losing ‘their’ women, and ‘their’ jobs, and it’s driving them crazy. Today, the main opposition to capitalist globalization comes not from the weakened anti-imperialist Left, or — yet — from working-class women, but rather from militant right-wing men. The anger of male dispossession fuels reactionary populist, fundamentalist and fascist trends in every part of the world.”
These dispossessed right-wing men “are increasingly resorting to radical and violent measures to ‘defend’ and ‘reclaim’ their patriarchal birthright, or at least grab a piece of the action in a new male order.”

Jack Donovan, who couples anti-feminism with a hatred of globalizing elites, offers a voice to some of these men. As Karl Kersplebedeb has noted,
“Donovan's gang has to be understood as also representing specific (patriarchal) class interests. Keeping in mind Bromma's observations in the piece Exodus and Reconstruction…we can see these gendered gangs as aspiring managers of women's labor, and a vision of a world system based on gangs like this would be a form of capitalism in which class and gender divisions were more explicitly and violently maintained in sync. (After all, someone has to feed the warriors, and here as elsewhere that will be the [female] proletariat.)” (Email communication, 5 October 2012)
It’s unclear how much staying power Donovan’s ideas have or whether they can win over men on a scale comparable to Christian right gender politics, but it’s safe to say that support for his ideas is growing. Donovan offers a philosophy of resurgent male power that’s just as sweeping and systematic as biblical patriarchy and that can appeal to men who are indifferent or hostile to evangelical Christianity, including pagans, atheists, and non-heterosexuals. This philosophy is congenial to white nationalism but not limited to it. It’s one more indication that the far right does not stand still.

Image credits:

1. Cincinnatus Statue, at Sawyer Point, Cincinnati, photo by Wally Gobetz, via Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
 2. Les lutteurs (the wrestlers) by Wilhelm Haverkamp [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Oct 25, 2015

On Trump, Fascism, and Stale Social Science

Donald Trump's rise as a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination set off a flurry of articles labeling him a fascist. These pieces -- which have appeared on sites as varied as Newsweek, Common Dreams, and CounterPunch -- are misguided. Calling Trump a fascist promotes a distorted understanding of fascism and obscures the fact that Trump's demagogic hate-mongering is deeply rooted in mainstream U.S. politics.

I was planning to blog about this until Chip Berlet, my friend and former co-author, made a lot of the points I wanted to, in a piece entitled "Corporate Press Fails to Trump Bigotry," for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. Chip's article (I'll call it "Trump Bigotry") emphasizes the need for historical context and clear analysis, an approach that I strongly support. At the same time, I disagree with some of the specific ideas about the far right that the article presents. These ideas are drawn from recent scholarship about right-wing movements, but I think they make it harder for us to understand -- and effectively combat -- what many rightists are saying and doing today. This response to Chip's article is offered in the spirit of friendly, constructive criticism and moving the discussion forward.

"Trump Bigotry" debunks claims that Donald Trump is a fascist or that he represents "a new force in American politics." The article rightly places him in right-wing populist traditions that go back to Andrew Jackson in the 1820s, traditions that blend scapegoating, repression, and mass violence with distorted anti-elitism. Chip's article also outlines some of the historical dynamics of the past few decades -- ranging from the erosion of traditional social privileges to increased infusions of cash -- that have contributed to the rightist upsurge we see today. As Chip argues, there are dangerous synergies between Trump-style nativism and the fascism of, say, accused Charleston shooter Dylann Roof, but there are also vital differences between those rightists who work within the existing political system and those who seek to overthrow it.

This delineation isn't just an intellectual exercise -- it's about recognizing qualitatively different opponents so we can respond to them intelligently. As I wrote in the 2007 article "Is the Bush administration fascist?":
"militaristic repression -- even full-scale dictatorship [or racist populism, in Trump's case] -- doesn't necessarily equal fascism, and the distinction matters. Some forms of right-wing authoritarianism grow out of established political institutions while others reject those institutions; some are creatures of big business while others are independent of, or even hostile to, big business. Some just suppress liberatory movements while others use twisted versions of radical politics in a bid to 'take the game away from the left.' These are different kinds of threats. If we want to develop effective strategies for fighting them, we need a political vocabulary that recognizes their differences."
Where I take issue with "Trump Bigotry" has to do with the specifics of what fascism and neo-fascism mean and how to delineate different branches of the right. Here Chip relies on recent work by social scientists, especially Cas Mudde, a choice that may largely reflect editorial constraints or the limits of writing a short article for a broad audience. I'll highlight and respond to three quotes from the article:
1. "For many scholars, right-wing populism is classified as part of the 'radical right,' while the term 'extreme right' is reserved for insurgent groups seeking to overthrow the constitutional order."
This statement is accurate as far as it goes, but points to problems with the scholarship that should be addressed. Right-wing populism refers to political initiatives that seek to mobilize "the people" against both oppressed or marginalized social groups and against some image of elite power (Jewish bankers, globalist corporations, the secular humanist conspiracy, etc.). Many, if not most, extreme rightists in the United States, past and present, have embodied some kind of right-wing populism -- and this is in fact crucial for understanding their mobilizing potential. Witness the original Ku Klux Klan of the Reconstruction Era, which was a mass-based movement of southern Whites that used violence and terror in an effort to resubjugate Black people and overthrow "northern military despotism." Witness the sovereign citizens movement today, a 300,000-strong offshoot of the Patriot movement that claims the U.S. government is a fraud and imposter and urges people to declare their independence from it. There are lots of other examples. (As a secondary point, I take issue with the scholarly terminology: why is the "radical" right called radical if the "extreme" rightists are the ones advocating more radical change?)
2. "In his Ideology of the Extreme Right, [Cas] Mudde wrote: 'The terms neo-Nazism and to a lesser extent neo-fascism are now used exclusively for parties and groups that explicitly state a desire to restore the Third Reich (in the case of neo-fascism the Italian Social Republic) or quote historical National Socialism (fascism) as their ideological influence.'"
Mudde may be "the pre-eminent scholar in this area," as Chip suggests, but his delineations in the above quote are way too narrow, and don't account for the fact that far right politics have changed enormously over the past 70 years. Lots of neo-fascists don't invoke classical fascism explicitly, but hide their true beliefs under a more innocuous veneer. Liberty Lobby founder Willis Carto, for example, made a career of this for half a century. Others have developed new forms of fascist ideology that are very different from, and often reject, those of Hitler or Mussolini. The European New Right is a prime example. Whether or not Mudde acknowledges these developments (I haven't read him, so I can only comment on Chip’s quotes and paraphrases) there are other fascism scholars who do. Roger Griffin, for example, has written about them a lot.
3. "In his book Populist Radical Right Parties in Europe, Mudde lists as common 'extreme right' features nationalism, racism, xenophobia, anti-democracy and the strong state, including a law-and-order approach."
Like the Mudde quote above, this list doesn't adequately describe far right currents today. Sure, some far rightists still glorify a strong state, but one of the biggest developments in far right politics since the 1970s has been the rise of political decentralism -- ranging from the European New Right's vision of autonomous ethnically pure communities to Posse Comitatus's rejection of state authority above the county level to Christian Reconstructionists' dream of a libertarian theocracy, in which God-fearing men rule through local and non-state institutions. Even the emphasis on nationalism, racism, and xenophobia overlooks the dramatic growth of far rightist currents -- such as Christian Reconstructionism -- that want to overthrow the established political system and replace it with a new order centered on religion (and patriarchy), rather than race or nation.

None of this calls into question Chip's basic point that we need to apply terms like fascism clearly and thoughtfully. But it does highlight the need for more scholarship that addresses the full, living reality of right-wing politics. A typology of fascism and more broadly of the far right or extreme right, whatever we call it, needs analytic precision, but it also needs to be flexible enough to account for variations and changes in what rightists say and do.

*               *               *

After almost a century of debate, there’s still no agreement among scholars, or among activists, about what fascism is or what it encompasses. My own thinking on this question has continued to evolve. In 2007, I offered a descriptive profile of fascism based on four core features: radical break with the established order, totalitarian mass politics, twisted anti-elitism, and autonomy from business control. In 2008 I argued for a synthesis of Roger Griffin’s ideology-based analysis of fascism and independent Marxist class-based approaches and offered a new draft definition: Fascism is a revolutionary form of right-wing populism, inspired by a totalitarian vision of collective rebirth, that challenges capitalist political and cultural power while bolstering economic and social hierarchy.

More recently, I’ve concentrated more on delineating the far right -- which arguably includes both fascists and non-fascists -- from other currents. In the context of the United States today, I use the term "far right" to mean political forces that (a) regard human inequality as natural or inevitable and (b) reject the legitimacy of the established political system. That covers some (but not all) white nationalists, the theocratic branch of the Christian right, the hardline wing of the Patriot movement, and a few other currents. In other words, I see the far right as cutting across standard political categories, because I think the emergence of a truly oppositional right -- which doesn’t want to just take over the U.S. political system, but bring it down -- is ultimately more significant than ideological differences about race, religion, or other factors.

But oppositional and system-loyal rightists aren't just in conflict. As Chip Berlet points out in "Trump Bigotry," they also fuel each other. For example, "the Trump candidacy and the shooting in Charleston are connected thematically by a mobilization to defend white nationalism while the racial and ethnic face of America changes hue." This is a complex, fluid situation, with different branches of the right both divided and interconnected, and we need a dynamic approach to understand it. Debates about terminology or definitions aside, I know that Chip and I agree about this.

Related posts on Three Way Fight:
"Trump's impact: a fascist upsurge is just one of the dangers" (22 December 2015).
"Fascist revolution doesn't turn back the clock: a reply to Alexander Reid Ross on Trump" (6 January 2016).