Some notes on anarchism + anti-fascism

pigeon

Prompted by the appearance of the above image on my Facebook page, someone wrote some comments which I thought it was worthwhile republishing here:

There[‘]s a difference between leaders and led. Some of those caught up in nationalist organisations and discourse are poor low skilled and low educated working class people that have been hit hard by globalisation. [Rhetoric] such as this is classist. These are people the Left should try and reach out to, to educate etc not ridicule. If [R]omper [S]tomper fascism is lifestylist fascism then punch ons with fascists in the streets is lifestylist anarchism. How about I see a post from you about poverty, inequality, unemployment, public housing etc. Furthermore your triumphalism only provokes violent thugs and helps fuel a street war. Think about that when we hear … that someone is in hospital or worse stabbed to death.

[I wrote the following in response:]

1) Yes, there’s leaders + followers. Yes, some of these followers are ‘uneducated’ +/or ‘unschooled’. Certainly, the periodic remarks rubbishing academics, students + institutions of higher learning which appear on pages like [The Great Aussie Patriot‘s] suggest a deep suspicion + resentment of ‘education’.

2) I’m not convinced that what is going on is simply a matter of unskilled or low-skilled workers somehow being ‘caught up’ in ‘nationalist organisations’, nor that ‘globalisation’ is to blame. Rather, what is being responded to is what is perceived to be an attack upon ‘Australia’, in which Muslims + leftists are understood to be the chief culprits.

3) I think you may be reading too much into the image. I posted it partly in response to an earlier conversation on my now-deleted page with some bloke who insisted that I was a supporter of the Islamic State. Obviously, he offered zero evidence to support this claim + when I pointed out that I’d actually written an article for New Matilda [October 21, 2014] on the subject denouncing IS he elected to ignore it. I came to the conclusion that the bloke was indeed an idiot.

4) I find the image amusing + indicative of many occasions when I’ve foolishly bothered to engage in a discussion with an idiot.

5) Education is a two-way process, ie, it requires a desire to learn in order for someone to be educated. Arguing with idiots is a waste of time.

6) This page has been live for about a week now. My previous page was deleted by Facebook following a campaign of mass reporting by local members of the radical right. This previous page was est in 2010 and carried numerous materials ‘about poverty, inequality, unemployment, public housing etc.’ + so too does my blog.

7) If you wish to engage in a discussion on The GAP’s page inre these or any other matters you believe are important you’re free to do so. I would guess that the results will be minimal + sooner rather than later you will be denounced as a leftist + a traitor. By the same token, you’re free to publish a blog +/or a Facebook page in which you delineate your views.

8) There’s a difference b/w fascism + anti-fascism. I think that, as well as arguing for grounds on which to reject the collapse of each into some variation of ‘extremism’ (in your terms, ‘lifestylist fascism’ versus ‘lifestylist anarchism’), Liz Fekete outlines some of the key differences well in her essay ‘Anti-extremism or anti-fascism?’ [Race + Class, Vol.55, No.4 (April–June 2014)].

9) You write: “Furthermore your triumphalism only provokes violent thugs and helps fuel a street war. Think about that when we hear … that someone is in hospital or worse stabbed to death.”

I’m not sure I understand this point or how it relates to the pigeon image: feel free to elaborate. In any case, I have heard of people that have ended up in hospital as a result of a racial attack. One in particular is Vietnamese student Minh Duong. In 2012 in Ascot Vale he was beaten almost to death by a group calling themselves the ‘Crazy White Boys’. These ‘Boys’ were drawn from precisely the same milieu as Neil Erikson, who was mates with the ‘Boys’, is himself convicted of harassing a local rabbi, + is now part of the leadership of the UPF.

[Note that Minh Duong’s story has a relatively happy ending. See : Minh Duong’s happy return to Australia, Diane Leow, meld magazine, March 4, 2014. In any case, this is the reply I received:]

I will respond by first considering your last point. Notice I expressly did refer to fascists as being violent thugs this I do not deny. That being the case why provoke them with cheap triumphal memes surely a predictable consequence of this is a violent act, in which case you would have a degree of moral culpability. My response to the pigeon image was not to the image but the repeated tone of your posts, as you surely well know, which make light of the intelligence of Reclaim Australia attendees. Some of these doubtless come from the growing underclass of neoliberal society. When you insult them by association you insult the growing “bogan” underclass which is an interesting thing for a left winger to do. In so far as reasoning on Facebook goes you do not understand my point. My point is the Left needs to get out of Richmond and St Kilda [Town Hall] and go to Struggle Street in the suburbs and mix it with the white underclass for example through teach ins on globalisation and racism in Melton. That’s hard. Punching a small group of fascists is easy and is a black bloc style “feel good” action that achieves little by way of altering opinions in working class [communities]. The street war we now have began when the Reclaim Australia rally was forcefully blocked. Nobody has the right to set the bounds of permissible discourse in society through the use of force. Bakunin correctly stated that freedom of speech is absolute and forceful blocking of peaceful rallies, no matter how vile the views, is contrary to free speech and in my view contrary to anarchist ideas. [Additionally], the spectacle of street battles beamed to the living rooms is used by the ruling class to discredit the left. The fascists [didn’t] achieve their objectives at Richmond Town Hall but the ruling class did a victory granted them by you. And that means those at the margins of society are the ultimate losers out of this. Occupy Wall Street translated anarchist ideas to the broader public. What you are doing is enabling the ruling class to tar anarchism with a violent brush. Continue like this and anarchism will remain ensconced in its little ghetto of little feel good actions that do little to make the world a better place.

In response:

1) Yes, you wrote that there were two species of ‘thug’ present on May 31: Romper Stomper or lifestylist fascists on the one hand and lifestylist anarchists on the other. I thought that your point was to draw a political equivalency between the two, ie, both groups embody a common political reference point: something called ‘lifestylism’. (Naturally, I’m aware of the debates within anarchist circles inre ‘lifestylism’.) FWIW, I don’t think that this is an accurate account of what happened on May 31 or the forces involved.

2) With regards ‘provocation’, it’s certainly true that I promoted the counter-rally (as I did the Socialist Party forum) however I don’t regard attendance at the counter-rally as a provocation. Admittedly, the ‘United Patriots Front’ (UPF) may well have preferred it if nobody showed up to rally against them – and on that basis opposition could be construed as ‘provocation’. That said, it could just as easily be argued, I think, that the UPF rally was itself a provocation: the basic line which the UPF advanced was that the presence of a socialist (Steve Jolly) on council required public denunciation by ‘patriots’. In other words, Jolly was tried and found guilty by the UPF of the crime of being a socialist — an ‘un-Australian traitor’, in their terms — and his sentence was to be subject of a rally denouncing him for said crime. Beyond this, I don’t agree that documenting the activities of the far right or occasionally castigating some individuals for their stoopid explains or justifies the frequently crazed responses I’ve received, any more than I believe that a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf in public deserves to be racially abused or another woman wearing a short skirt deserves to be sexually harassed — ‘provocation’ is a slippery slope to go down.

I could be wrong but what you seem to be suggesting is that Reclaim Australia (RA), the UPF and other, aligned ‘nationalist’ movements and ideologies are best ignored by anarchists and the left, who should instead be devoting their energies to – for example – organising workshops on the relationship between globalisation and racism for the benefit of the residents of Melton. In this context, I’d like to quote David Greason (I was a teenage fascist):

Since the early 1970s, the Australian left had been more gauche than sinister, despite what groups like People against Communism said. That was the appeal of the far-right, I guess: groups like the League and the Nazis were either nutty or offensive, both of which amused me no end; or it spoke such unambiguous commonsense (like the British NF or the Alliance) that you couldn’t help but identify with it. Well, at least I couldn’t. Most of the left, on the other hand, was dull and earnest and out of touch. You just had to read the left’s papers or, even better, look at the miserable faces of the people selling them. How they ever recruited was beyond me. I certainly didn’t fancy spending my Saturday afternoons in draughty meeting rooms discussing Marx’s Theory of Surplus Value. If I’d wanted to learn that sort of thing I’d have paid attention in fourth form economics classes.

To put it another way, the appeal of RA, UPF and allied groups is not their economic vision – they have none – but rather a crude form of Islamophobia. This is not an intellectual exercise but a gut-level revulsion, Muslims being understood as being essentially either terrorists or terrorists-in-waiting, and Islam an evil doctrine worthy only of eradication. In this view, mosques play the role of centres of indoctrination in subversion and terrorism and halal certification is a dastardly plot which aims at both accruing finance to sponsor terrorist actions and operates as a means of cultural subversion, acclimatising Australians to the presence of evil in their midst. The parallels that may be drawn between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism in this context are obvious and have been remarked upon, most recently by Guy Rundle. I think that, with some reservations, these comparisons are apt and it’s a useful exercise to compare contemporary Islamophobia with historical anti-Semitism.

I don’t believe that Islamophobia is best responded to by classes in economics; at the same time, I obviously support any educational initiatives which aim to demystify capitalist economics and to promote an understanding of the ways in which racism informs capitalist development, especially in the context of a colonial settler-state (Australia). I also don’t believe that promoting or engaging in anti-fascist counter-actions such as the mobilisations of April 4 and May 31, 2015 – or indeed April 9, 2010 and May 15, 2011 – in any way precludes the organisation of popular courses in self-education: the Melbourne Free University is one example of this, one which I support.

3) In terms of writing on subjects like poverty and unemployment, in the last year I’ve conducted radio interviews with members of the Australian Unemployment Union and Dole Action Group, promoted these organisations and their events, and also invoked the memory of the Dole Army. In order to better understand the neoliberal assault on working conditions I’ve republished articles by Verity Archer and Boris Frankel. I’m generally supportive of and try to help draw attention to the struggles of workers and unions, most recently inre the IFF dispute in Dandenong (early 2015) but prior to this the Domino’s Pizza dispute (late 2012), a dispute at the Tenants Union (early 2012), the Baiada dispute in late 2011, the work of the Workers Solidarity Network and Union Solidarity in general. I’ve paid critical attention to the failings of the AWU, SDA, other right-wing unions and the ALP, as well as the nexus between the state and corporate sector as it operates in the charity and prison industries.

4) Re Bakunin, anarchism and anti-fascism: I identify as an anarchist. I began writing about the far right on my blog about a decade ago (though my interest long predates this). I established my first (since deleted) Facebook page in 2010. In the last few years, my writings on the far right have also appeared on the New Matilda and Overland websites and my work has been reported on by The Saturday Paper, VICE and The 7.30 Report. When I’m asked by researchers and students about where my interest in anti-/fascism proceeds from, I invariably locate it within the context of my commitment to anarchism. (See also : Anarchism, Australia, Bob James, May 7, 2009; The Right Hand of Occupy Wall Street: From Libertarians to Nazis, the Fact and Fiction of Right-Wing Involvement, Spencer Sunshine, PRA.org, February 23, 2014.)

One of the main difficulties in discussing Bakunin’s ideas in the context of anti-/fascism is historical: Bakunin lived prior to the emergence of fascism as an ideology and movement. I would therefore suggest that a more productive discussion would examine not only how anarchists responded to fascism in the context of Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany and Francoist Spain but twentieth century Australia. Indeed, I’ve made reference to this history on a number of occasions on my blog, in the context of Melbourne in the 1990s and 1930s and more generally. (See : The Proletarian migrants: Fascism and Italian Anarchists in Australia, Gianfranco Cresciani, The Australian Quarterly, March, 1979.) I would argue that anarchists did not respond to fascism then as you suggest anarchists do now. On the contrary, militant opposition to fascism was a hallmark of anarchist practice and it’s this tendency that I identify with, informed both by an historical reading and a political understanding of the relationship between the two ideologies and movements. In 1936, Durruti summarised this as follows: “There are only two roads, victory for the working class, freedom, or victory for the fascists which means tyranny. Both combatants know what’s in store for the loser.”

Finally, a few brief points:

• In the context of ‘free speech’, I think it’s worthwhile making a distinction between the lawful capacity of the state to punish ‘bad’ speech and the capacity of fascist political formations to take to the streets unchallenged. From a libertarian perspective, I think the former is a matter of concern while opposing the latter is a form of justifiable and collective self-defence.
• I don’t agree that a ‘street war’ began on April 4. Rather, I believe that the undercurrent of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia which has characterised the preceding period in Australian politics has begun, after a few false starts, to emerge as a semi-popular, extra-parliamentary force, one which is driven by convinced fascists on the one hand and Christian fundamentalists on the other. I think that’s a worrying trend and worth opposing, up to and including by means of counter-mobilisations.
• I agree that the mass media is a powerful tool in shaping popular consciousness. I don’t agree that the ruling class obtained a victory on May 31, that this victory was ‘granted to the ruling class’ by me or that what I’m doing is ‘enabling the ruling class to tar anarchism with a violent brush’.

But maybe that’s another story …

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2017 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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3 Responses to Some notes on anarchism + anti-fascism

  1. ablokeimet says:

    Some good comments by Slackbastard. I’ll add my 2c worth, in response to the following:

    Slackbastard: • “In the context of ‘free speech’, I think it’s worthwhile making a distinction between the lawful capacity of the state to punish ‘bad’ speech and the capacity of fascist political formations to take to the streets unchallenged. From a libertarian perspective, I think the former is a matter of concern while opposing the latter is a form of justifiable and collective self-defence.”

    The point about self defence is the essential one. A Fascist group is not a debating society, but a conspiracy to murder. What’s dangerous about them is not what they say (which often overlaps largely with Right wing populists), but what they do. While it is appropriate to deal with Right wing populists by means of political struggle and debate, the appropriate means of dealing with Fascism is the use of reasonable force in self defence.

    Slackbastard: • “I don’t agree that a ‘street war’ began on April 4. Rather, I believe that the undercurrent of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia which has characterised the preceding period in Australian politics has begun, after a few false starts, to emerge as a semi-popular, extra-parliamentary force, one which is driven by convinced fascists on the one hand and Christian fundamentalists on the other. I think that’s a worrying trend and worth opposing, up to and including by means of counter-mobilisations.”

    Actually, I DO think a street war began on 4 April – and it began around the country, both where Reclaim Australia was confronted and where it wasn’t. The Fascists have decided that it is time for them to come out of the sewers and that the way they are going to grow and eventually achieve power is to direct their major mobilisations against Muslims. If they are not confronted, they will grow – just look at the favourable press RA got in most cities, where there was little or no opposition to it.

    The Fascists have started a war and it will go on until they’re beaten. There is a wider battle to fight against Islamophobia, but it cannot be won while gangs of stormtroopers roam the streets looking for Muslims to beat up.

  2. antithisantithat says:

    It’s somewhat of a relief to see a thoughtful, rational and eloquent conversation concerning the growing fascist movement in Australia, their government and media. Credit to you slackbastard.

    When seeing people caught up in Left/Right arguments I always try to take a step backward so as to gain a more holistic view of the situation which has caused the conflict in order to appraise the nature of the aggressor’s and defendant’s views.

    In my mind I am anti-fascist, anti-terrorist, anarchist and human. In reality, I’m a struggling 33 year old ex-serviceman with an aggressive ex-partner and nearly estranged daughter. I’m not well educated, having only completed year 10 yet I believe I’m intelligent enough to form a valid opinion based on my experiences and current knowledge of the situation, the same equal right as any person. One could say that I’m on ‘struggle street’ yet I’ve never heard of Melton until reading your blog.

    It would seem that Australia is being propelled into a social upheaval. Not only does it involve fascists, neo-Nazis, Muslims, Christians, Leftists, Rightists, workers and unemployed; it involves the politicians, media, police and other nefarious organizations.

    It would seem that class warfare plays the most integral part in all this. Created by our government and spread like a virus by the media whether truth or propaganda, dissatisfaction with one’s own personal circumstances seems to be the root cause of aggressive behavior within all people.

    In the case of RA, they have been created by our government and media by way of fear mongering, manipulating low socioeconomic suburbs, financial pressure and showing them a target to aim for.

    I see the far right as victims of a relentless government campaign to raise troops for its own domestic terror campaigns. White Australia policies it would seem, are well and truly alive within our highest office.

    The Right is capable of raising a force because there are a lot of under-educated, unaware, underprivileged people in Australia who trust their government and media.

    In that case I agree somewhat with your opposition in that the real enemy are the manipulators in government and media and the root of the issue is certain pockets of society are unaware that they are being misled and require educational material that they can understand.

    If the Right is raised up, then pointed in the correct direction, they will be a force to be reckoned with.

    Direct opposition to racial abuse is indeed a civic duty however it is just one of the battlefronts. Inevitably the Left and Right will have to come together in order to defeat the real enemy, our common oppressors, the Commonwealth. The ones who keep the populace misinformed and misguided into a state of frenzy in order to divide and conquer.

    The Australian government might look idiotic on the surface but they are more convincing than people think. Whilst we fight each other, they are achieving their unpublished goals.

  3. @ndy says:

    BONUS! supplementary comment:

    First, there’s a kind of perverse logic at work here. It’s suggested that reading something I wrote or seeing some image I posted on my Facebook page could make a fascist commit a violent act. Further, that if this occurs, I am partially responsible and morally culpable.

    I don’t think this argument carries much weight. I think that a person who commits a racist assault is already likely to be in some way primed to perform it and the trigger can be both highly variable and slight. The sound of two Arabic-speaking Muslim women having a conversation on a train, say, or the sight of a young Vietnamese man walking home from work.

    Secondly, I’m not convinced that the demographic from which the UPF (and RA) is drawn is composed of those segments of the poor (and ‘uneducated’) who have been hit especially hard by ‘globalisation’. Nor, for that matter, that ridiculing idiots is synonymous with ridiculing the poor (there are lots of rich idiots). I think it’s worth considering whether or not such concerns are based, at least partially, on an acceptance of the self-image projected by some of these ‘nationalists’. There’s no doubting that those drawn to RA feel a sense of wounded (national) pride, of being voiceless and powerless to stop what they view as the destruction of (White) ‘Australia’. They conceive of themselves as victims not of capitalist economic cycles, financial crises or unfettered corporate power, but rather of things like Islam, multiculturalism and political correctness. What has been taken from them is ‘Australia’ — and they want it back. At best, the movement has ignored some inconvenient but nonetheless critical facts when talking about ‘Australia’ and its ‘rightful owners’ — and its leaders have been guilty only of expressing casual forms of racism, a trait shared by many others. At worst, RA and the UPF have ridden roughshod over the legitimate political grievances of Indigenous peoples and have little more than contempt for those who struggle to air them.

    Those who attended the UPF rally were largely male (perhaps as much as 80 or 90% of the small crowd), white and — with some exceptions — older men. I would guess that most if not all are employed and not necessarily in the lowest-paying jobs. Shermon Burgess is a council worker; Blair Cottrell is a tradesman; Monika Evers is a small businesswoman; Danny Nalliah is a church pastor; Scott Moerland is a former soldier now (gainfully, presumably) self-employed.

    Thirdly, regarding education: there have been almost 19,000 comments on my blog — a daily average of about 5 –so I’m hardly avoiding having a conversation with anyone who wishes to express a view. And I’m quite sure that my blog has reached many, many more people (it’s had over 2,000,000 page views) than a forum in Melton would attract.

    But I’d be happy to publicise such an event should someone organise one.

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