Saturday, April 06, 2019

Left nationalism and Brexit Bolshevism

I haven't managed to keep up with the flood of sewage coming out of the nationalist left this past month. The cast of characters: a weird amalgam of Arron Banks-funded trade unionists (Paul Embery), Blue Labour's Third Way centrists (Lord Maurice Glasman), old Etonian man of the people David Goodhart, the formerly Trotskyist libertarian contrarians of Spiked (Frank Furedi, Clare Fox, etc), media professors like Matt Goodwin, and old school tankie Stalinists at the Morning Star, young Stalinists shit-posting on social media, SWP splinter sects like Counterfire, and hipster leftists at Novara and in the machinery of Young Labour, and even a few ex-anarchists. None of these currents would be particularly significant alone,although some of them are increasingly called upon pundits on daytime TV sofas and Question Time debates. But the alignment of these different formations has become an increasingly toxic force on the left. This toxic force pulls the Labour Party away from internationalist, anti-racist and pro-migrant positions (e.g. promoting pro-Brexit positions and sacrificing our right to freedom of movement). And it is toxic in terms of the culture of our movements too, driving better people away from the left.

Here, just five brief comments from me, then lower down links to some other reading.

1. Anti-fascism: However stalwart you might be in scrapping with the far right on the street or turning up to anti-fascist demos, if you  can't recognise the range of forms that racism and fascism take today (including the versions of antisemitism that circulate in the anti-Zionist movement, and the forms of war on terror Islamophobia that have been promoted by Assadists and their fellow travellers in relation to Syria), then your "anti-fascism" is insufficient.

2. The working class: If you think only what you call "the traditional working class" is the proper constituency of the left, and "the working class" is defined by a cockney or northern English accent, a Fred Perry shirt or a flat cap, or that "the working class" is something forever separate from "ethnic minorities", then you're no kind of Marxist and no kind of radical. The working class has always been mobile, global, multi-racial, diverse. 

3. The left and the working class: It is true that the left has evacuated many of the communities of the "traditional" and less traditional working class, and that the vacuum created has often been filled by the far right right. But the answer to that is not to amplify far right ideas in the hope that people buy our fake version of the far right product; it is to return to those communities with a positive, radical agenda based on solidarity.

4. Ultra-left reaction: If you say that the fact that EU free movement objectively discriminates against free movement from beyond Europe, and therefore we should abolish it, either you're living in a fantasy world (because abolishing borders, however, desirable, is not on the political table in the near future, and will be even more off the table if we Brexit, with xenophobes ascendant and emboldened) or you're dishonest. We need to defend the rights we already have, even as we demand new rights too. To advocate reactionary positions (strong UK borders) because existing democratic politics (free movement in the EU) fails to meet utopian standards is to be objectively reactionary, especially in a political conjuncture dominated by post-imperial nostalgia and far right bigotry.

5. Stalinism: Stalinism's legacy includes economic nationalism and an (anti-Marxist and anachronistic) idea of the working class as white, male, national and industrial. Stalinism should have died off decades ago, but it exerts a persistent influence, including via the Morning Star and some of Corbyn's key advisors, who play a major role in distorting Labour's Brexit position. And it has had a resurgence in social media meme culture, in a way that has spilled into Labour Party internal politics, to deadly effect


The rest of this post is basically just a reading list of some of the critiques and commentaries that have come out about this.

Coatesy: Morning Star Tries Failed Left Populist Rhetoric against the “Political Caste” to Back Brexit (21 March, on the Morning Star, SWP and other Brexit Bolsheviks)

View image on Twitter

Jim Denham: After the giant march: where now for the anti-Brexit left? (25 March)

Sabrina Huck: Beware, Lexiteers, you could be paving the way for Blue Corbynism (26 March, on the British jobs for British workers ideas David Goodhart and friends promote in the Lexit scene)

Coatesy: Pro-Brexit Left Goes the Full Blue Labour (26 March, on Spiked, Blue Labour's Glasman and Red London's Eddie Dempsey coming together to promote national socialism)

Alex Fernandez: Why we joined the anti-Brexit march (27 March, a reply to Young Labour's Lara McNeill and her attack on the People's Vote march, reposted at Shiraz Socialist)

Paul Mason: To defeat an insurgent far-right, Labour must resist Brexit with all its force (27 March, sharp response to Lexit idiocy, with stats)

Coatesy: As Farage and Far-Right Moblise for Hard Brexit ‘Left Wing’ Full Brexiters Go for Collaboration with “Brexit Right” (29 March, on Tim Pendry, Paul Embery and other left/right crossover activists)

Coatesy: Pro-Brexit Rallies, Political Confusionism, from Tory Right, National Populist Left, to Anti-Semites (30 March, on Kate Hoey, Clare Fox and Paul Embery marching alongside fascists and antisemites for Brexit)

Cartoon by John Rogan
Cartoon by Brockley's own Martin Rowson

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Four weeks of antisemitism

Anti-Nazis United has been hosting a new series of weekly round-ups of antisemitism, by Adrian Booth, Morgan Lopez and Arthur Pablo, published every Sunday. Here are a few extracts, but read the whole lot if you  have the stomach.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Why horseshoe theory is nonsense

Given that I have been writing about left-right convergence for years now, you might think I am an advocate of what is often called "horseshoe theory", the notion that if you go far enough to the left you meet the far right and if you go far enough to the right you meet the far left. What's wrong with this idea?

1. Horseshoe theory is not a theory. Theories ought to explain things. Horseshoe "theory" explains nothing. At best it is a description, or rather an observation: there are superficial similarities between some people or organisations on the far left and some people or organisations on the far right. But there are also lots of counter-observations: there are plenty of people or organisations on the far left who have really nothing in common with people or organisations on the far right.

2. Horseshoe theory reduces politics to a left-right line. Although it adds a second dimension by curving the line, horseshoe theory essentially sees politics as linear, stretched between left and right. This was simplistic in the mid-twentieth century, when left v right was the main cleavage in politics, but it is even more inadequate in the complex reality of today. Contemporary politics is full of political movements or currents which are socially conservative while economically liberal (Thatcherism and Reaganism), or socially liberal while economically "right-wing" (David Cameron), or socially "right-wing" while economically "left-wing" (Blue Labour, the revived SDP, Steve Bannon, Neil Clarke).

3. Horseshoe theory sees politics from the perspective of the centre. The idea of a sensible mainstream versus fringe/extreme positions at the far left and far right is an inherently centrist idea. The horseshoe image perpetuates the status quo and devalues radical criticisms as versions of "extremism". This is obviously problematic when viewed from a non-centrist position, but also covers up how it centrist and "third way" forms of politics (including some of the mixed, or "syncretic", positions mentioned in the previous bullet point, such as Blue Labour) actually have far more in common with fascism than more radical forms of socialism do - see point 6 below.

4. Horseshoe theory erases libertarian leftism. Horseshoe theory works best as an observation when you place the twin totalitarian systems of Stalinism and Nazism at the furthest, touching ends of the left-right line. But in what sense is Stalinism (which was nationalist and deeply conservative socially) more "left-wing" than anarchism or libertarian communism? If you add a libertarian-authoritarian axis to your view of politics, which most people now do, it's obvious that left-right convergences tend to be in the authoritarian zone rather than features of the extreme left-right edges. Of course, there have been attempts to co-opt anarchism for the far right (see e.g. "national anarchism" and "autonomous nationalism"), but this is the exception not the rule.

5. Horseshoe theory erases the anti-fascism of the left and the anti-communism of the right. If we look historically at resistance to totalitarianism, you would find far more of it among political radicals than among centrists. While there have been centrist, liberal and even conservative anti-fascists, the great weight of the anti-fascist movement has been from the radical left: anarchists and communists (the latter albeit with blips - see point no.7 below). Successfully fighting fascism often requires unconventional - "extreme" - strategies, which centrists are reluctant to deploy. Painting the far left as akin to the far right erases this history. Similarly, centrists and liberals have been anti-Stalinist, but it is among democratic socialists, anarchists and left communists that the sharpest critiques of Stalinism have been found. Anti-communism, as opposed to anti-Stalinism, has been found among liberals and social democrats, but is more typically a right-wing position, and - just as Stalinists used anti-fascism to recruit and bind supporters - anti-communism has been used to recruit and bind fascist support.

6. The centre has been susceptible to the fascist creep too. Placing the political centre at a sanitary distance from extremisms like fascism is a flattering narrative for the political middle (see point 3 above). In fact, the political middle has been a breeding ground for fascism too. Oswald Mosley, the leader of British fascism, is a good example. He started off as a Tory MP before crossing the floor to Labour, where he became a Fabian and allied himself with Ramsay MacDonald (in whose government he served), then founding the New Party as an explicitly centrist party before he fell under fascist influence. Similarly, the "neither capitalism nor socialism" ideal of "third way" politics (e.g. Tony Blair) resonates with the "third position" stance taken by many fascists. (In fact, some fascists, such as the British micro-party Third Way or the French Troisième voie actually took the same name as Blair's idea.) Today, we can see examples of a fascist drift from the political centre when we see how many antisemites there are in the Lib Dems, from Baroness Jenny Tonge and former MP David Ward on down.
7. Other theories are available. The susceptibility of the centre to fascism has given us the "fish hook theory" (picture above) as a counter to the horseshoe theory, but this has many of the same problems as the horseshoe one, starting with not being a theory, as well as missing the fact that sometimes people on the left do enter into proximity with the far left. Slightly more helpful is what Noah Berlatsky calls "tendril theory" (picture below), which captures how fascism gets itself entangled with positions across the political spectrum. Berlatsky writes:
Fascism's ubiquitous appeal is best demonstrated post-Trump by the media's seemingly unappeasable fascination with and adoration of idealized Trump voters. From right-wing journalist Salena Zito to center-left politicians like Dick Durbin to left-wing Jacobin editor Connor Kilpatrick, writers and analysts are obsessed with the white working class as a special location of power, strength, and virtue. The racist, nationalist image of an iconically white American volk is by its very nature fascist. But it also fascinates (mostly white) politicians and pundits of almost every ideological stripe.
He's writing in a US context, but the point applies in the UK, where centrist rhetoric about purported white working class anti-migrant "legitimate concerns" is indistinguishable from similar tropes used by the Corbyn leadership, Labour lexiteers or Class War - see these posts.

Tendril Theory vs Horseshoe Theory

More useful ideas include:
  • Confusionism: This term originates in France and is used in the UK by Andrew Coates and can be defined as the phenomenon that leads on certain subjects groups and individuals belonging to a priori opposite spectra of the political field to ally for opportunistic reasons but also because they arrive at these specific subjects to find and develop common ideological bases.
  • Querfront, German for "transversal front") has been described as "a recurrent motif in far-right thought over the past century. Craving the legitimacy that an alliance with progressive forces can provide, reactionaries seize on ostensibly shared positions, chief amongst them opposition to corrupt élites, to create the impression that progressives could benefit from making common cause with them." (See here for more.)
  • Red-brown alliance: Like Querfront, this term originates in interwar Germany when Communists (going through their ultra-left Third Period, when they denounced Social Democrats as "social fascists" allied with the Nazis - leading to the war-time Molotov-Ribbentrop pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia) although there are earlier examples. This important blogpost exhaustively details the history, including Strasserism (the purportedly working class socialist Nazi current purged during the Night of the Long Knives) and National Bolshevism. 
  • Unorthodox fascism: This is the term used by Spencer Sunshine for left/right crossover movements such as new forms of Third Positionism, Julius Evola's influence, popular mobilizations against finance capital, conspiracy theories, Sovereign Citizen pseudo-legal theories and fascist neofolk music - see his forthcoming book of the same title.
  • Fascist creep: This is the term used by Alex Reid Ross that can be described as the creep between fascism and leftism, "the disturbing attraction many 20th-century leftists felt for reactionary ideology", often based on "nostalgia for [a] precapitalist 'lost paradise'" - see his book of the same title.
  • The big neo-Nazi crib: Finally, Croatian antifa activists have documented what they call "the big neo-Nazi crib", where fascists have rebranded by copying antifa iconography and re-purposing it. I've pasted a few of their examples at the end of this post.
8. Left-right convergence is better understood as strategy, not as inevitable. The horseshoe "theory" assumes there is some inevitable drift together of the "far left" and "far right". The alternative theories I listed in point no.7 instead enable us to see that the convergence comes about when the far right works at making it happen. It has been a deliberate strategy of the far right to recruit from the far left or to rebrand itself by taking imagery or terminology from the far left, in order to appeal to new constituencies such as left behind working class people or young activists in emergent social movements.

9. In a multipolar world, left-right convergence has been weaponised geopolitically. The left-right convergence is more of a threat than ever today because it is being actively resourced as part of the soft power influence operations of nation-states including Iran and, most importantly, Russia, in their geopolitical tussle against the US and Europe. Just as the US tried to harness liberal and democratic socialist anti-Stalinism in its old Cold War operations against the USSR, in the new cold war Putin's government has poured resources into influencing electoral and extra-parliamentary politics globally, and has actively promoted conspiracy theories which bind left and right and actively promoted red-brown political currents. (Matthew Lyons and Alex Reid Ross have documented several examples of this.)

10. We need to inoculate our movements against the fascist drift. Conspiracy theories and antisemitism (Rothschild bankers, globalism, the New Word Order, the Illuminati, Zios...) as well as appeals to nationalism often serve to bind otherwise politically disparate forces. Making sure our movements understand and resist these ways of thinking is essential for making them effective radical forces. Until we learn to draw clear lines against fascism in our movements, we will always be fighting with one hand tied behind our back.


Friday, February 08, 2019

Kicking off


Image result for venezuela protests barrio





Monday, February 04, 2019

Against left nationalism, continued

No borders

In one of my last posts, I spent a bit of time on critiques of the nationalist turn that has hit the British left in recent years, (I suggested this might part of what Alex Reid Ross calls "the fascist creep" - how fascist ideas "migrate from left to right and right to left and how they surreptitiously slip into the heart of the body politic", as Tamir Bar-On puts it.) In this post: some heavy theoretical stuff, and then at the bottom some links to more contemporary focused pieces on resisting the Lexist drift of the Labour-led left.

I included an extract from a long read in Salvage on the left's failure to reckon with nationalism Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan. I hadn't seen then this 2017 blogpost by Valluvan on the new nationalism, which includes this:
some try to equate nationalist populisms with certain new left, anti-capitalist agitations – reading the nationalist rise as a misrecognised critique of contemporary neoliberalism, a critique that otherwise sits more naturally within the supposedly equally prominent left wing agitations. If only. This wilfully optimistic reading of the political spectrum bundles the newly emboldened, often youth driven leftist movements’ desire for change with the actual change and brokerage of power already exercised by nationalist factions. Only one brand of politics and mobilisation has successfully claimed the mantle of power – democratic, media, and otherwise. That brand is nationalism. Brexit belongs to the real. Occupy and Momentum to the hopeful. The Front National belongs to the general, the Nuit debout protests and Mélenchon to the particular. The People’s party and the Progress party, both long-term Nordic stalwarts of xenophobic alarmism, are in government, not merely aspirants.
...nationalism cannot be opportunistically gamed for other political ends. Nationalism is itself the contemporary populist play – all else is merely marshalled in its service. Of course, as Maya Goodfellow comments, to realise a popular politics without appealing to the totems of anti-immigrant, xeno-racism might seem a Sisyphean task. But it is the challenge that must be reckoned with, as otherwise, one merely gives further succour to the nationalist call. A call that might absorb other ideological positions but is ultimately promiscuous, only committed to its own ethno-racial exclusion and nativism.
He also has a brand new longer article entitled "The uses and abuses of class: Left nationalism and the denial of working class multiculture", which I recommend if you have access.

And here's an extract from an interview with the great black British intellectual Paul Gilroy in a recent edition of Cultural Studies, via interviewer Sindre Bangstad (Some hyperlinks added by me.)
PAUL: I’ve mentioned the left and that takes me to the other thing I want to say about this book [There Ain't No Black in the Union Jack, published thirty years ago]. Many people on the left thirty years ago, just as manypeople on the left now in the wake of the vote against the EU membership,they look to places like Norway and they say 'Oh, but the left has always been nationalist’, ‘it is perfectly possible to be a leftist and a nationalist’ and so on. There were many people in my intellectual and political environment who regardless of the connection with racism were saying that we had to find a wholesome patriotism, find a ‘clean’ nationalism which will mean that we can challenge the hegemony of those who rule, exploit and expropriate by articulating national feeling to the Right. I was never convinced by that argument, because it was an argument that could only be made if you did not take racism into account. Often the people making that argument were people who I respected, people who I looked up to. Raymond Williams, an extraordinary thinker. Edward Thomson, an extraordinary historian and a brave activist. But these were all, actually in this case, there are men only, who had been fighting in World War II (like Fanon). They had acquired a different kind of patriotism in that struggle.
SINDRE: A kind of ‘little Englander’ nationalism, right?
PAUL: That was the danger. There was always the danger that there would be a kind of overlap between the left nationalism and patriotism and the things that were being said on the right. Today we have many – they call it ‘Lexit’ – the people on the left who support leaving the EU. This division is in someways a replay of some of these older problems. Nowadays the anti-racist part of it – people like the Socialist Workers Party and these groupings – they are forgetful. Their memories have been very badly affected in the intervening time, because they don’t remember that the racists we were fighting in the street in the 1970s and early 80s, these were people who had a political programme where the first aim was ‘get the blacks out, get the browns out’ and the second thing on the list was ‘Leave the EU’. So now, those people want to talk about Trump and what’s happening in America, but they won’t talk about the actual issues involved in dealing with the political contradiction into which they have led people.
Further reading:

The website of the recently formed Labour for a Socialist Europe. An interview with Alena Ivanova about it. Alex Green: "The pro-Brexit left: too much Marx, or not enough?" Daniel Randall: "Changing the subject from Brexit isn't good enough". Edd Mustill: Labour and the Immigration Bill: notes on a cock-up. Rachel Shabi: Labour’s immigration U-turn is a wake-up call for Corbyn supporters. Michael Chessum: The Immigration Bill fiasco shows that Labour’s left-wing principles are on the slide. Sabrina Huck: Labour’s immigration bill chaos exposed the left’s weaknesses on Brexit. Kimberley McIntosh on what Brexit means for BAME people.

Friday, February 01, 2019

Skipped a month

bobism - the highest stage of marxism?
So I didn't manage to post in January, so here we are with the first miscellany of 2019. I thought I'd use it to re-emphasise some of this blog's key agenda items, followed by some recent reading - some of which is pretty old, as I've had a lot of tabs open that it's taken me a while to get to.


I see the current moment as one of a failure of internationalism and international solidarity, despite unprecedented opportunities for contact and understanding across borders. This failure is well illustrated by the selective solidarity exhibited by the left for emancipatory struggles that don't fit into the tired geopolitical matrix of "anti-imperialism" - as well as by the mirroring selective solidarity of liberals and neoconservatives for pro-democracy movements that don't fit into the geopolitical matrix of the Washington consensus.

Recent reading: An exception to the rule of selective solidarity on the left is Bill Weinberg; his "Forgotten voices in Venezuela crisis", published by New Politics, is one of the better things on the topic published there. Another is antidote zine - see e.g. this on Russian prisoners. And another is Libcom - e.g. this on the uprising in Sudan. Also check out Coalition for Peace, Revolution, and Social Justice (CPRSJ) and Black Rose/Rosa Negra.

I've probably got a post's worth of Syria reading, so just two things for now: my comrade Omar Sabbour on how Assad has backed ISIS, and Can Paz in Chartist on how Corbyn's Labour needs to get real on Syria.

One of the rising stars of the worst kind of "anti-imperialism" is fake leftist Tulsi Gabbard, who recently announced she'd be standing for nomination for the Dems in 2020. Here Ramah Kudaimi shows Tulsi Gabbard Is No ‘Progressive’ When It Comes to Foreign Policy.

Recovering anti-racism

Racism, and divisions based on the idea of "race", play a massive role in contemporary politics. But, although there is now a mainstream norm against being seen as racist, the anti-racist movement has withered, and understandings of racism have become attenuated, as well as outpaced by the ways racism has mutated in the last decades. We need a renewal of the anti-racist tradition.

Recent reading: Ralph Leonard has a smart essay in Conatus News on anti-Muslim racism; from back in November, Matthew Lyons on demystifying far right antisemitism.


The postmodern crisis of truth has had a terribly corrosive effect on our body politics, seeing the rise of charlatan populisms and conspiracy theories, and paralysing effective collective action. We need to fight to recreate a culture of truth and informed deliberation.

Recent reading: "Hoaxes, hate speech find home on Instagram" by Ali Breland - having never spent time on Instagram, I had no idea about this. At Libcom: a "10 Step Guide to Detecting Conspiracy Theories & Bullshit". Essential on left-right convergence and conspiracy theory: Javier Sethness on Radical media and the blurred lines of ‘red’ fascism.

Rebooting anti-fascism

Anti-fascism, and its more narrow militant "antifa" incarnation, have had something of a revival since 2017, prompted by the far more intense revival of fascism and other forms of far right politics in the Trump/Brexit period. However, we are still not close to having the movement we need to tackle the challenge.

Recent reading: From way back in December 2016, although maybe updated since, this is a good starter reading list for anti-fascists from the Twin Cities General Defense Committee (GDC) of the IWW, a key group in the emerging US militant ant-fascist movement. Also from a while back, but I'm not sure if I've linked to it, an interview in In These Times with anti-fascist historian Mark Bray on the hundred year history of the movement. I don't agree with all of it, but this is a really interesting piece, called "Anti-anti-antifa", by AM Gittlitz in Commune. In Britain, one step forward, two steps back, with the welcome formation of Labour Against Racism and Fascism followed by its takeover by left bureaucrats and soft Stalinists. And this is really important: London Anarchist Fed's "Building coalitions outside SUTR/SWP".

Understanding fascism (and fascism's infiltration of the left)

Key to rebooting anti-fascism, and radical politics more generally, is understanding the far right, including both fascism and right-wing populism - as well as seeing how right-wing politics have been mutating and getting purchase in oppositional scenes.

Recent reading: My friend Spencer Sunshine produced this encyclopedic catalogue of what the far right and alt-right got up to in America in 2018. Christopher Matthias on The Proud Boys, The GOP And 'The Fascist Creep'. On red-brown convergence: Gabriel Levy on fascist "anti-fascism" in Russia. Alex Reid Ross's Brief But Very Informative History of How Fascists Infiltrated Punk and Metal and his From eXile to Dirtbag: Edgelord geopolitics and the rise of “National Bolshevism”.

An anti-Stalinist left

As I've written before, Stalinism, which should have collapsed with the Berlin Wall (well, actually long before then) has had something of a rebirth in the left.

Recent reading: The go-to sites for the British anti-Stalinist left, I think, are the blogs Shiraz Socialist and Tendance Coatesy. As a sample, here's Jim Denham on the Morning Star and Arron Banks, Toby Abse on the Brexit Stalinists, and Andrew Coates on Max Shachtman.

The great model for both anti-Stalinism and anti-fascism is of course George Orwell, although he is often co-opted by the liberals and Tories alike. Here's a nice post from Libcom on the Orwell quotes the right don't want you to recall.

Uprooting left antisemitism

Antisemitism on the left is not a new problem of the Corybn period; I've been blogging about it for well over a decade now.

Recent reading: I've been quite impressed by the evolution of Labour left activist Steve Cooke in taking left antisemitism seriously. For a sample of his activism, read this from November. The AWL is the left group that's least crap on this issue, including on its link to Israel/Palestine - read Martin Thomas' "How to be pro-Palestinian without being 'anti-Zionist'" (though here's a more jaundiced view from Anti-Nazis United). ANU forensically documents left and right antisemitism - here's one example, an apparent Norfolk Labour Party member, another, on Skwawkbox, and another on Chris Williamson.


A lot of the above falls under the category of what the French call "confusionism". Recent reading: This sharp left communist blogpost about the yellow jackets, People's Brexiteers and anarcho-Corbynism covers quite a lot of ground in this department.

Remembering our struggles

Knowing the history of our movement is essential in rebooting it in the 21st century. Recent reading: Ron Ramdin's Asian workers' associations in Britain, 1956-1980s. Black Flag on community politics and the IWCA.

Yiddish culture/Bob's beats

Finally, I'd like to have a little bit of less political stuff on this blog in 2019, including on Jewish stuff and on music. For starters, here's my friend Rokhl Kafrissen on A Very English Scandal as A Very un-Yiddish Scandal, on how the history of the Holocaust was preserved, and talking back to Molly Crabapple in My Great-Grandfather Wasn’t a Bundist