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

IT'S ALL KICKING OFF EVERYWHERE AGAIN...


Image result for venezuela protests barrio

Venezuela
Haiti
Sudan
Syria

MEANWHILE, ON THIS SMALL ISLAND...

Brexit/Lexit

Bullshit

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.

Internationalism

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.

Post-truth

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.

Confusionism

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

Monday, December 31, 2018

My top posts of 2018

As usual, I am posting here my most-read posts of the year.

1. Jeremy Corbyn and Red Action: Sorting truth from smears (September)

This post examined a claim made by Andrew Gilligan in the Sunday Times about Jeremy Corbyn's involvement with 1980s/90s radical group Red Action, finding most of them to be basically false. 
Having looked at this fairly thoroughly now, whatever grains of truth in Gilligan's account are heavily diluted by half-truths and falsehoods. I am not making this point to defend Corbyn, but to defend truth. If Corbyn is to be indicted, let it be for things he actually did.

2. The return of Stalinism on the British left? (May)

After the proliferation of Stalinist banners on the annual TUC Mayday parade, and the election of a Stalinist as education officer of my local Momentum branch, this post looked at how Stalinism has returned to the British left. 
Every May Day, I feel a little more depressed. As a long-time Marxist and trade unionist, May Day should be my holiday. But watching the parade of Stalinist icons parade through London every year makes me feel shame rather than joy. Shame - but also fear about the direction the British labour movement is marching in.

3. Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, Part 1 (March)


In March, the Southern Poverty Law Centre published a report by Alex Reid Ross (the author of the book Against the Fascist Creep)  on left-right convergence. The SPLC took it down after legal bullying by Max Blumenthal, so I went through what the report said about Blumenthal and found it to be accurate. Here's part 2

4. In the time of the multipolar spin (April)

Not a particularly special post, but a round-up of recent writing on the fascist international, left-right convergence, disinformation and conspiracy. The title is taken from Reid Ross's SPLC report. 

5. Against the fascist creep, against left nationalism (December)

This post looked first at the convergence between the extreme far right and the conservative mainstream, embodied by the relationship between Tommy Robinson and Gerard Batten, then goes on to look at anti-fascist responses to this moment, including the dreadful response of the SWP's front organisations (Stand Up To Racism/Unite Against Fascism) as well as some (Novara-linked) parts of the Momentum left. Finally, it looks at how that dreadful response is shaped by a rising form of left nationalism, as diagnosed by Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan.

6. Chris Williamson, Angela Nagle, Stand Up To Racism (November)

A slightly miscellaneous post on some things that were making me angry that month.

7. How a suicide attack on a civilian convoy was spun into a sectarian conspiracy (February)

This was a guest post by Anton Mukhamedov that I was privileged to publish, a very well-researched investigation of an explosion in the al-Rashideen neighbourhood of Western Aleppo on April 15, 2017, when buses evacuating civilians from the towns of Fu’ah and Kafriya besieged by rebels in Idlib province were targeted. It looks at how sectarianisation and then disinformation spun the story into a conspiracy theory.

8. Chris Williamson/Gilad Atzmon (December)


A late entry, looking at the odious antisemite Gilad Atzmon, and how shameful it is for a Labour MP to be defending him. 

9. Miscellaneous reads (January)

Nothing special about this post, but it was the first of a series of almost weekly round-up of key reads, plus included my top five posts of 2017.

10. Islamophobia turns left: Ben Norton and the Grayzone Project (March)

This post looked at how a section of the "anti-war" left has increasingly taken up Islamophobic, war on terror themes, using Ben Norton and Max Blumenthal's Grayzone Project as a case study.

Honourable mention: London is anti-fascist -- a few thoughts on #stopDFLA (October)

This post didn't make the top ten in terms of clicks, but it is one of the things I've written this year I'd most like you to read. It is about the far right DFLA and the mobilisations against it, and the two souls of anti-fascism (in Dave Renton's phrase) demonstrated in those mobilisations.

---

And here's my top tweets of the year:

Friday, December 21, 2018

The authoritarian war on journalism and dissent - and the fake left web personalities who front it


A great piece by Sulome Anderson on the damage done by the trust fund alt-left personalities Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, which reminded me to finish off my fact check of the Southern Poverty Law Centre report which Blumenthal threatened legal action over.
I refuse to watch as their targeted campaigns threaten the lives of rescue workers and doctors in Syria, the safety of freelance journalists in Nicaragua and the careers of reporters and academics who dare to investigate their own unsavory associations and ties to Russia.
I don't think I ever blogged about the second issue she mentions in that paragraph, the detention and deportation in October from Daniel Ortega's increasingly authoritarian Nicaragua of young anthropologist and journalist Carl David Goette-Luciak after a co-ordinated smear campaign against him in which Max Blumenthal played a part. Here is the Guardian, for which Goette-Luciak wrote:
Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) denounced what it called a targeted online campaign of smears and threats against Goette-Luciak. He was accused of being a CIA agent and of trying to undermine the government, and had his home address published online. 
The US blogger Max Blumenthal later published [on conspiracy site MintPress] a lengthy, insinuation-infused attack on the journalist that admitted “there is no evidence that Goette-Luciak is an asset of the CIA or any other US agency”. 
In his article, Blumenthal, who conducted an unquestioning interview with Ortega this year and has been criticised for his reporting on the Nicaraguan crisis, painted Goette-Luciak as a “novice reporter” acting as a “publicist” for a Nicaraguan opposition that was set on regime change. 
After publication of this article a lawyer for Blumenthal contacted the Guardian to emphasise there was nothing to suggest his reporting contributed to the deportation of Goette-Luciak.
Blumenthal's hit piece on Goette-Luciak was republished in the UK's hyper-partisan conspiracist clickbait blog TheCanary, which gained some controversy in the UK. My thread on this is below.

Charles Davis, a former Telesur journalist, has written about the case too, including how Norton and Blumenthal's Grayzone Project participated in an orchestrated attack on Goette-Luciak and on Nicaraguan dissidents. One part of this disinformation campaign was the creation of a fake journalist, "Charles Redvers", who somehow managed to get a piece published on openDemocracy.

The online ecoystem that includes Grayzone, MintPress, Russian state outlets such as RT, and Corbynista alt-media like TheCanary (and promoted by an actual Labour MP, Chris Williamson) is not just dangerous for promoting fake news and dodgy geopolitics. It is also actively colluding in smears against investigative journalists, in a dark time for the profession. As Anderson starts her piece with which this post began:
A revenue crisis driven by the Internet, President Trump’s attacks on a free press, widespread mistrust of traditional media — all these factors make a career in this field today extremely challenging. The consequences of this changing environment are strikingly reflected in a report by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which found that the number of journalists killed worldwide nearly doubled this year. 
...Reporting as close to the truth as possible and correcting inaccuracies when they occur are hallmarks of real journalism. Knowingly publishing lies to serve a political purpose is not journalism. It’s propaganda, and people who deal in that kind of information are not journalists. When their lies put others in danger, there should be consequences.
Labour activists need to stop promoting TheCanary and RT. The left as a whole need to shun the "alternative" media platforms that promote authoritarian regimes.


***

Chris Williamson/Gilad Atzmon


I recently posted on Chris Williamson, the odious Labour MP who really needs to have the party whip removed from him. I didn't think Williamson could stoop any lower than he has already, but today he signed a petition defending Gilad Atzmon, tweeted the petition, then deleted the tweet, and later wrote a half-arsed non-apology. (Atzmon had been banned by Islington council from playing there in the Blockheads. Not sure I approve of this ban, as when he is playing saxophone in someone else's band he hasn't got a platform for his politics. But given how toxic he is, I'm not going to complain about him being considered a pariah.)

If you don't know who Atzmon is, here's over 13 years' worth of my blogposts about him. The short version is he is an Israeli-born jazz musician who long ago renounced his Jewishness, became a Holocaust revisionist and antisemite. He is not only denounced by anti-fascists like Hope not Hate but also by anti-Zionists such as As’ad AbuKhalil, Michael Rosen and Tony Greenstein.

Williamson's apology to me reveals he is either more stupid or more dishonest than we already realised but either way confirming he doesn't care at all about racism against Jews. Because either he saw a petition complaining about someone being accused of antisemitism and just assumed the accusation was false without bothering to research it (in which case he is remarkably stupid and irresponsible, as well as automatically assumes accusations of antisemitism are always false) or he's lying.

And Williamson has a track record:
I haven't really looked to see if anyone is siding with Williamson, but there are some:

So far, Skwawkbox has retweeted Williamson's apology, but none of the other hyperpartisan Corbynite accounts have, and many influential figures on the party left (e.g. Mike Segalov, Dawn Foster) have sensibly criticised him, so maybe this spells the beginning of the end for Williamson. But somehow I doubt it.

I should also say that I find it irritating that he was never forced to apologise for his accolade for Vanessa Beeley, a cheer-leader for Assad's reign of terror in Syria (as well as another Atzmon fan), or that Williamson's support for Maduro's increasingly authoritarian regime in Venezuela doesn't attract more criticism. (For more on Williamson's terrible politics on Latin America, see Paul Canning's tweets, e.g. this thread. For more on how Williamson has promoted Kremlin-backed fake news on Syrian chemical attacks, see Victoria Freeman on Twitter.) Antisemitism has a corrosive influence on part of the Corbyn left, but the "anti-imperialist" blindness to suffering in Syria, Venezuela and elsewhere has a corrosive influence too and should make people just as angry.

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Thursday, December 20, 2018

Fact-checking the SPLC on Max Blumenthal, part 2

This - which has been languishing in my drafts folder for far too long - is part 2 of my attempt to fact-check Alex Reid Ross's spiked article for the SPLC on red-brown alliances, focusing on the claims about Max Blumenthal. Part 1 is here. (For Reid Ross' report: a Google cache is here, a PDF is here, and an archived version is here. It's been reblogged by CrashFast, Louis Proyect, MarxBordiga, Cautiously Pessimistic and (stripped of most links) AntidoteZine, or (with archive.org links) Glykosymoritis and Hummus for Thought.) My digging it out was inspired by this.

Claim #5: Blumenthal attended a pro-Kremlin shindig and became increasingly pro-Kremlin
Jill Stein in Moscow with Putin and Flynn, December 2015
Blumenthal at the event next to Charles Bausman
The report says:
Blumenthal was not as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics before he appeared at the same RT gala as disgraced former National Security advisor Michael Flynn and the Green Party’s Jill Stein in December 2015. During that occasion, he joined a panel called “Infowar: Will there be a winner” alongside Alt Right anti-Semite Charles Bausman of Russia Insider. A month later, Blumenthal’s pro-Kremlin position crystalized with the founding of the Grayzone Project.
It is easy to show that Blumenthal was not "as clear of a spokesperson for Kremlin geopolitics" before the gala: this post documents his earlier anti-Assad positions.

That Blumenthal attended the gala is a pretty widely reported fact:
Blumenthal has said he didn't "need" to get paid to do this gig, as he likes RT so much!
(This post discusses whether or not Blumenthal was paid to attend.)

What happened next?



These claims are made in some detail by Oz Katerji and Sam Charles Hamad in August 2017. They write:
Last March [2017], a live performance in support of Syrian first responders by a flashmob orchestra at New York’s Grand Central Station was physically disrupted by a group of six protesters. Within hours, the video of the disruption was uploaded to social media and promoted by an RT employee. Max Blumenthal, a blogger at Alternet, soon released documents that suggested the performance was organized by a pro-Syrian campaign group. 
Three participants in the protest have so far been identified: all have links to RT, the Russian state-funded propaganda network now under investigation by the U.S. government for its alleged interference in the last presidential election. ... Blumenthal, who amplified the story, is also a regular on RT... It is Blumenthal who with Alternet has created an effective beachhead in the US for Kremlin propaganda.

Things were not always thus. In 2012, Blumenthal had publicly resigned as a columnist from the pro-Assad Lebanese daily Al Akhbar, citing as his reason the paper’s publishing of cheerleaders who blamed Assad’s victims and maligned critical journalists. He likened their behavior to that of Israel’s apologists. Blumenthal has now dramatically resurrected himself as an apologist for Assad, a scourge of critical journalists, and a mirror image—by his own logic—of Israel’s apologists.
In December 2015, Blumenthal visited Moscow to attend the 10th anniversary of Kremlin propaganda network RT. He returned a changed man. A month later he founded the “Grayzone Project”, billed as an initiative for “confronting Islamophobia”, but in reality a home for Assad and Kremlin-friendly outcasts from leftwing blogosphere (Grayzone’s few Muslim writers quickly departed after they realised its true character).
The emergence of this axis presents a case study in the ideological realignments that are being instrumentalized by the Kremlin with fellow travellers on both the left and the far right. Its mercenary character is betrayed by its sloppy methods.
The claim is also backed up by Janine di Giovanni in the New York Review of Books:
Another prominent pro-Assad figure is Max Blumenthal. In 2012, he resigned from his position as a reporter for the English-language website for the pro-Hezbollah Al-Akhbar newspaper in Beirut, for which he had written frequently about the plight of Palestinian refugees. In an open letter, he opposed to the paper’s pro-Assad views and its featuring of content by Sharmine Narwani and a writer named Amal Saad-Ghorayeb, whose work he called “malevolent propaganda.” In September 2013, Blumenthal went to Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan on assignment for The Nation. He strongly opposed US intervention against Assad, but he wrote on Twitter that “100% of dozens I spoke to in Zaatari today want US intervention in Syria.” 
But then, in December 2015, as Russia was relentlessly bombing Syria, and doctors and civilians were being killed in Aleppo by barrel bombs, Blumenthal went to Moscow on a junket to celebrate RT’s tenth anniversary. We don’t know what happened during that visit, but afterward, Blumenthal’s views completely flipped. He has attacked not only the White Helmets but also Bana al-Abed, a nine-year-old girl who lived in rebel-held Aleppo and ran a Twitter account with her mother. The man who once wrote an essay called “The Right to Resist is Universal,” and attacked Narwani as an “Assad apologist,” now accuses anti-Assad Syrians of belonging to al-Qaeda and has claimed that the White Helmets were affiliated with the Islamist group.
VERDICT: FACT

Claim #6: Blumenthal attacked the White Helmets, which gained him an accusation of plagiarism by another Assadist blogger

The report says:

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Against the fascist creep, against left nationalism

The fascist creep: Tommy Robinson and the Brexiteers

Image result for "great brexit betrayal" robinson
One of the defining features of our current political moment is 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. This has two main dynamics. The first is what Dave Renton calls "the convergence", as far right ideas become increasingly acceptable in mainstream politics. (See also Aurelien Mondon and Aaron Winter on the mainstreaming of the far right).

This week has seen a grim example of this convergence, as UKIP's leader Gerard Batten announced he had hired "Tommy Robinson" - real name Stephen Yaxley-Lennon - as an "advisor" on so-called "rape gangs" and prison reform. Yaxley-Lennon is formally ineligible to join the party, as he is a former member of both the fascist British National Party and his own English Defence League. And should be considered toxic for his constant incitement to hatred and violence. He is particularly ill-suited to advising on child sexual exploitation and criminal justice, given his own record of violent criminality, contempt of legal due process, lack of respect for women, and online sexual harassment of teenage girls.

Over the next few days, he was busy spreading fake news about the shocking Syrian refugee schoolboy bullying incident Huddersfield - fake news that will have had the effect of amplifying xenophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry, and probably contribute to future attacks. This was all the more grim because it was his ideas that appear to have influenced the bully.
On Saturday 9 December, Yaxley-Lennon has announced he will lead a pro-Brexit march on parliament, under the strapline of “The Great Brexit Betrayal”. The elite's "stab in the back" is a right-wing trope of some vintage, most notoriously a theme of the Nazis

An illustration from a 1919 Austrian postcard showing a caricatured Jew stabbing the German Army in the back with a dagger. The capitulation was blamed upon the unpatriotic populace, the Socialists, Bolsheviks, the Weimar Republic, and especially the Jews. Source: Wikipedia
Like the discourses of "enemies of the people", "citizens of nowhere" and the "lying press", the "Great Betrayal" meme illustrates the way that Brexit has allowed fascist ideas to travel into the heart of our public discourse, creating a toxic, divisive, aggressive political culture that is genuinely dangerous.

No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain


A coalition of left groups, including the recently formed Labour Against Racism and Fascism (LARAF) and Another Europe is Possible, and supported by Momentum, have called a mobilisation against Yaxley-Lennon's march, meeting at Portland Place at noon. (See this article by LARAF's Urte Macikene for more.)

Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), via its fronts Stand Up To Racism and Unite Against Racism, has called a rival counter-demo. The SWP, among its many other faults, has always supported Brexit, which it sees as a great working class rebellion.

Bizarrely, as Coatesy documents here, not only the SWP but also the young radicals at Novara Media are attacking the counter-demonstration. Novara have published a piece by Callum Cant and Benjamin Walters which argues that making the anti-fascist march explicitly pro-Brexit allows Robinson to claim leadership of the 52% who voted Brexit rather than just the 10% who are potential fascists. They argue that anti-fascism requires narrow politics in order to achieve a broad base. David Rosenberg, who was part of last week's SWP-led "Unity demo", makes a similar argument in the Stalinist pro-Brexit Morning Star.

That would be a valid argument (although, as I'll argue in a second, wrong). But what seems less legit is Cant and Walters' and Rosenberg's sectarian attack on Another Europe is Possible (AEIP), which Cant and Walters call "an ultra-remain campaign group". They continue: "Whereas the Momentum-backed counter-protest is using the slogan ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’ without taking a line on Brexit, AEIP are linking together an ultra-remain position with an anti-fascist position." Rosenberg similarly claims that AEIP "has called a separate protest".* In fact, of course, the ‘No to Tommy Robinson, No to Fortress Britain’ slogan is exactly the slogan Another Europe is marching under, co-sponsoring the whole event with Momentum, so this is rather confusing. Unless I'm missing something, AEIP are not proposing a separate protest, but simply organising an anti-Brexit bloc on the demo, just as there was a feminist bloc and a Brazilian bloc on the recent anti-DFLA demo.

Anti-fascism has always had to steer a difficult course. On one hand, an ultra-left purism exemplified by the Communist Party in its "Third Period", when it called the social democrats "social fascists" and saw the soft left as a more dangerous enemy than actual Nazis. (Kevin Ovenden accuses AEIP of "Third Period liberalism, but there is a bit of a ring of the Third Period from the Novara scene when they constantly blame "centrists" for the rise of fascism, and even argue that centrists like Macron are as bad as or even worse than fascists like Le Pen - much as many of their American comrades saw Trump as better than Hilary Clinton. Not surprisingly, the SWP blame Labour centrists for the rise of racism at exactly the same time as they argue for pro-Brexit "anti-fascism".) On the other hand, the lowest common denominator of the "Popular Front", which dilutes its anti-fascism as much as possible to unite everyone against the fascists - without any analysis of what makes fascism tick. (This has always been the approach of the SWP, who signed David Cameron up to Unite Against Fascism.) Cant and Walters say they want a "united front", but what they seem to be proposing is a popular front, an appeal to Brexit supporters, however reactionary. 

Despite its sectarianism and inaccuracy, the Novara piece was tweeted by Momentum and Owen Jones. Jones has also written a slightly softer plea for a non-anti-Brexit challenge to Robinson. The substantive argument is taken up by Michael Chessum:
It is quite true to say that Robinson is using the Brexit moment to recruit followers and bolster his credibility in the political mainstream. But that is only a fraction of the story. The narrative of national betrayal and imperial nostalgia is at the heart of Brexit, and always has been. The aim of the Brexit project was always to take the nastiest narratives on immigration, race and nationalism and, with the use of a popular vote, put these ideas on the winning side of history. At the moment, swathes of the left seem content to leave them there. 
For two years now, the British left has been trapped in a logic of triangulation on Brexit. The overwhelming majority of the left backed remain in 2016, and the overwhelming majority of Labour members now back a fresh referendum. But as Robinson and Ukip march, many on the left, hamstrung by loyalty to the Labour leadership’s fudge on the subject, will attempt to argue the impossible: that the left should oppose the far right, but accept its greatest achievement.
I think Chessum is correct. Brexit - taking control, stronger borders, stopping migration, turning back the clock, making Britain great again - has always been a fundamentally racist project. 

Against left nationalism
The fact that a significant part of the left has been won over to the essentially nationalist and implicitly racist Brexit project illustrates the second major dynamic of the fascist creep: the seepage of ideas between left and right to form novel "red-brown" political formations

Owen Jones and the Novara left are able to see how "centrists" such as Hilary Clinton or UnHerd play a role in sanitising far right ideas by bringing anti-immigration arguments into the mainstream. But they are blind to the same mechanism when it comes from the left.
Last week, I looked at Angela Nagle's "left" case for borders as one example of the new left nationalism. Atossa Araxia Abrahamian in The Nation argues, correctly in my view, that there is no left case for nationalism: "The willingness of the left to play by the far right’s rules and according to their narrative is part of what got us into this mess."

And yet large swathes of the left are playing by these far right rules. The support for Brexit by the SWP, Counterfire, the Socialist Party, George Galloway and especially the Morning Star would be one example - with many of the Novara-style new leftists sounding more and more like them, with the ridiculous idea of a "People's Brexit". Die Linke's Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany and La France Insoumise's Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France (the latter spoke at this year's Momentum fringe event, The World Transformed) increasingly articulate nationalist themes: France is no longer an "independent country", says Mélenchon; “Open borders in Europe means more competition for badly paid jobs,” says Wagenknecht.

Corbyn's obsession with nationalisation, protectionism and buying British speaks to a kind of economic nationalism, as Marxists Matt Bolton and FH Pitts, as well as centrists Denis MacShane, Oliver Kamm, Ben Chu and Sean O'Grady argue. This is a dangerous path for the left.

Malcolm James and Sivamohan Valluvan have a very long piece in Salvage on the left's failure to reckon with nationalism. I hope they don't mind if I quote a couple of long extracts from it, as their arguments against left nationalism are somewhat buried in their complex analysis of the current conjuncture.
As the dust settles on the [2017] election, nationalism has begun to return to left politics, parliamentary and otherwise – because it never left. In parliamentary Labour, we see Corbyn’s initial quietism on migrants’ rights accumulating a more recognisable anti-migrant language; we see it in the recent pronouncements of MPs Gloria De Piero and Graham Jones on the ‘white working class’; we see it in the formation of John Denham’s English Labour Network; but, perhaps more importantly, we also see it in the continued attempt by influential opinion-makers to lend anti-immigration sensibilities a more pronounced left-wing rationale...