Feb 5, 2015

The National Prayer Breakfast: validating theocracy

Barack Obama speaks at National Prayer Breakfast 2-5-09
This morning, as he has done every February since 2009, Barack Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. The National Prayer Breakfast is sponsored by a secretive theocratic Christian organization known as The Family or The Fellowship, a group I first learned about from Jeff Sharlet’s scathing 2008 exposé, The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power. Here’s a quote from my review of Sharlet’s book:

“The Family is all about power. It believes that the wealthy and powerful are chosen by God, and its mission as an organization centers on bringing them to Jesus, bringing them into a spiritual ‘covenant’ of total unity with each other. ‘Hitler made a covenant,’ [Family head] Doug Coe is apparently fond of saying. ‘The Mafia makes a covenant. It is a very powerful thing’ -- all the more so when it is based on submission to Jesus (54). The Family teaches that those who hold worldly power, as long as they pledge obedience to Jesus, can kill, torture, rape, steal, and lie on a mass scale with no moral constraints whatsoever. This, too, sets the Family apart. Christian rightists generally present themselves as defenders of civic morality. However twisted or hypocritical that claim may be in practice, it's a far cry from the Family's absolute repudiation of ethical principles.”
Every president of the United States since Eisenhower has been a featured speaker at the National Prayer Breakfast, validating and bolstering the influence of the theocratic organization that sponsors it. With rare exceptions, mainstream media treats this as completely uncontroversial.

But as former Christian rightist Frank Schaeffer asked in a 2010 New York Times column, “Would President Obama speak at a prayer breakfast organized by the KKK? Would Jim Wallis and other ‘progressive’ Christians attend?”

Because The Family doesn’t just work with hardline conservatives. It’s also happy to work with moderates and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, anyone who will help further its work of Christianizing the ruling class. Hillary Clinton, for example, has had a close relationship with The Family for a decade or more.

(For more on this group, see also Sharlet’s follow-up book, C Street: The Fundamentalist Threat to American Democracy, which among other things details the Family’s involvement in Uganda, including heavy support for the 2009 bill that would have made homosexuality punishable by death.)

Photo credit: Pete Souza [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Feb 2, 2015

Moscow conference draws fascists, neo-Confederates, U.S. leftists

For decades, some far right opponents of the U.S. empire have been trying to make common cause with leftists. They got another opportunity in December 2014 at an international conference in Moscow on the “Right of Peoples to Self-Determination and Building a Multi-Polar World.” The conference was organized by the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia (AGMR). Participants included U.S. leftists from the United National Antiwar Coalition (UNAC) and the International Action Center (IAC) -- both of which are closely associated with the Workers World Party -- alongside Russian and Italian fascists and U.S. white nationalists from the neo-Confederate group League of the South. It’s worth looking at this convergence in some detail as it speaks to an important pitfall confronting leftists involved in anti-imperialist coalitions.

UNAC and IAC articles about the Multi-Polar World conference portrayed it as a progressive event against war, racist violence, and repression. The IAC reported, “Major themes of the discussion were the US-backed war against the people of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine, the expansion of NATO into the former Soviet Union and economic war against Russia, Venezuela and Iran, and the ongoing uprising against racism and police brutality in the United States.” Neither IAC nor UNAC mentioned that a number of far right groups were represented. UNAC did note that attendees included Israel Shamir, “a leading anti-Zionist writer from Israel,” but didn’t mention that Shamir is also a notorious antisemite.

The conference declaration was in keeping with the UNAC/IAC portrayal. It called for an international “united front against discrimination, violation of human rights, religious and racial intolerance” and condemned the “predatory foreign policy of the US and its NATO allies.” The declaration also denounced the oppression of people of color in the U.S. and demanded the release of U.S. political prisoners such as Palestinian activist Rasmia Oda, Leonard Peltier, and Mumia Abu Jamal. The declaration urged “the consolidation of the progressive part of mankind” and promised that “we will make every effort to build a multi-polar world!”

Maybe it’s a coincidence, but the phrase “multi-polar world” is a major theme in the work of Aleksandr Dugin, Russia’s leading fascist theoretician, as in his 2012 book, The Theory of a Multi-Polar World. Dugin is leader of the Eurasia Party and the international Eurasianist movement; he envisions a renewed Eurasian “empire” based on authoritarianism, patriarchy, and traditional religion, in which Russians will play a “messianic” role. Dugin disavows biological racism but has called for “the rebirth of the primordial Aryan conscience.”

It’s unclear to me how close the relationship is between the Anti-Globalization Movement and Dugin, but members of the Duginist Eurasian Youth Union took part in the AGMR’s December 2014 conference and have worked with AGMR at other events.

Like Dugin, the AGMR envisions a broad alliance of political forces against U.S. imperialism, ranging from grassroots social movements to Communist Party states to right-wing dictators. The lynchpin of this alliance is Russia. The AGMR website features a list of seven “Faces of Antiglobalization,” almost all of whom are or were friendly with Putin’s government: Belorussian president Alexander Lukashenko, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, Iran’s ex-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the late Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, Venezuela’s deceased left populist president Hugo Chavez, and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The one outlier on the list -- and only non-state figure -- is Subcomandante Marcos of the Zapatista Army for National Liberation, whose 1994 uprising was a pivotal event in the global justice movement’s development.

The overall position statement on the AGMR website opposes “the emerging unipolar world” – i.e., the international dominance of the United States and its allies – and “supports the full sovereignty of nation-states including the sovereignty of Russia as an independent player on the political, economic and cultural world stage.”

The AGMR position statement seems carefully designed to appeal to both leftists and rightists. For the leftish side, it criticizes “the global dominance of transnational corporations and supranational trade and financial institutions.” For the other end of the spectrum, it warns against “the attempts to impose a ‘new world order’” and the threat of “a single mega-totalitarian world state,” both of which are standard targets of right-wing conspiracy theories. AGMR also “aims to promote all aspects of the national security and traditional moral values.” (According to Interfax news service, the AGMR joined with several rightist groups in 2013 to plan a public protest against same-sex marriage outside the French embassy.)

The AGMR position statement also includes a lot of language about tolerance and self-determination, for example, “respect for other peoples and their sovereignty, value systems and lifestyles.” Such phrases appeal to both leftists and liberals, but are also favored by the neofascists of the European New Right (ENR), who have replaced traditional fascist talk of national or racial supremacy with slick appeals to “ethno-pluralism” and “biocultural diversity.” Aleksandr Dugin is the ENR’s leading representative in Russia.

On one of its web pages, AGMR also gives a hat tip to the Lyndon LaRouche network as some of the “like-minded people” from around the world who took part in conferences that laid the groundwork for the AGMR’s founding. The LaRouchites promote a quirky crypto-fascist ideology and in recent years have become increasingly aligned with the Russian government on geostrategic issues, for example echoing a pro-Russian line on the civil wars in Syria and Ukraine.

In addition to the Duginists from the Eurasian Youth Union, the December 2014 Multi-Polar World conference also included representatives of the right-wing Rodina Party (which in 2005 was barred from participating in Moscow Duma elections for inciting racial hatred against immigrants) and the Italian neofascist group Millennium, which has had a close relationship with Dugin’s organization for several years. In December 2013, AGMR head Alexander Ionov spoke at a Millennium-sponsored far right conference in Milan. 

The Multi-Polar World conference also drew representatives from Novorossiya, or New Russia, the entity in eastern Ukraine that, with Russian backing, has declared its independence from Kiev. The UNAC/IAC folks portray the Ukrainian conflict as aggression by neonazis and U.S. imperialists against the people of eastern Ukraine – utterly ignoring the Russian far rightists who are heavily involved in the eastern separatist movement, as well as the Russian government’s own expansionist aims in the region.

U.S. participants in the Multi-Polar World conference included representatives of two southern secessionist groups, the League of the South and the Texas Nationalist Movement, who promoted their own version of “self-determination.” League of the South President Michael Hill spoke at the Multi-Polar World conference and offered a report on the LS website:  
“Hill discussed The League of the South and its goal of the survival, well-being, and independence of the Southern people and how the South’s identity as an historic ‘blood and soil’ nation conflicts with the current globalist agenda of the USA regime. He emphasized the importance of The League’s work not only in preserving a particular people living on a particular land, but also its direct Southern nationalist challenge to the political, economic, and financial engine of globalism—the Washington, DC/European Union alliance.”
While the Texas Nationalist Movement seems to avoid taking positions on other political issues besides Texas independence, the League of the South is well known for its advocacy of white nationalism and Christian theocracy. Still, it’s a bit surprising to see them openly invoking the Nazi-identified phrase “blood and soil.”

The Multi-Polar World conference has drawn some criticism. In a mid-January email to the UFPJ-Activist listserv (UFPJ = United for Peace and Justice), Andrew Pollack criticized UNAC leaders’ participation in the conference. Pollack denounced the presence of U.S. white supremacists at the event and the AGMR’s involvement in homophobic activism and support for dictators Gaddafi and Assad. He also highlighted the UNAC representatives’ praise for the Putin regime, as in the following passage from UNAC co-chair Joe Lombardo’s official report on the conference:
“While in Moscow, we also watched the TV coverage of Russian president Putin giving his annual press conference…. During the press conference, Putin gave figures to show that their economy has been growing in the past year. He then addressed the question of the falling ruble. He explained that they will be able to weather the crisis but it has pushed them into a position where they need to create more diversity in their economy. This, he projects to happen within a two-year time period…

“Moscow is a modern city much like any large U.S. city. The people were dressed well, and looked healthy and cared for. We learned that many of the social benefits that existed under the Soviet Union still exist. These include free universal healthcare. For most people, college was free, and students received a stipend for their living expenses. Putin is very popular with a high approval rating among the Russian people. The people see him as a kind of populist leader.”
Pollack commented, “If only someone would tell the Russian working class how well off they are!” He concluded: “Lombardo announced that ‘The leaders of the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia have expressed an interest in attending UNAC’s conference in May.’ Let’s make sure the racist scum who UNAC is playing footsie with don’t come!”

In an email reply to Pollack, Lombardo wrote that the AGMR supported gay rights and its leaders denied having joined any anti-gay demonstration. Lombardo also stated that the Multi-Polar World conference organizers strongly repudiated the views of the Texas secessionists who attended, and that the organizers’ participation in a Black Lives Matter solidarity protest at the U.S. embassy proved they oppose racism.

Maybe the Anti-Globalization Movement of Russia’s extensive contacts with fascists and right-wing nationalists result from bad judgment rather than ideological affinity. Either way, their Multi-Polar World conference provided a useful service for far rightists who want to sanitize their image among liberal and leftist audiences.

Unfortunately, UNAC and IAC aren’t the only leftists willing to play along with this. Marxist academician Efe Can Gürcan, for example, recently discussed Eurasianism (specifically including Duginism) as an ideological challenge to NATO and US imperialism, but didn’t mention that Aleksandr Dugin is a fascist. When I objected, Gürcan replied that “One should not avoid potentially transformative dialogue with such movements [as Dugin’s] merely because they are not leftist or because their practices are in some areas objectionable” (Socialism and Democracy, March 2014, p. 170). As a self-delusional rationale for red-brown coalition building, this is hard to beat.

Special thanks to Michael Pugliese for pointing me to much of the information in this post, and to Andrew Pollack for permission to quote from his UFPJ-Activist memo.

Dec 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/

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".


(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".

Aug 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

Aug 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"

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"

Aug 9, 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.

Jun 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.