Looking over at Twitter, there seems to be a growing fear on the part of fellow socialists that Keir Starmer will invite back into the Labour Party people who left with Change UK. The name that keeps coming up in this context is that of Luciana Berger.
At a time when people who’ve been active on the Labour left for decades are being suspended for allowing their branch to discuss pro-Corbyn motions, I can understand why people feel that differential standards are at work (i.e. the Labour right is being tolerated even for breach of rules which are of decades long standing, the left driven out in the name of instructions with little basis in the rulebook). I get that.
But before anyone goes too far down that path, I’d encourage them to think about what actually happened to Berger in the Labour Party and whether any of us are really comfortable with it.
A quick recap. In 2014, the Daily Stormer website developed an obsession with Berger, and published about 40 articles about her, attacking her using the most open and blatant antisemitic language. One of the attacks ended “Tell her we do not want her in the UK, we do not want her or any other Jew anywhere in Europe.”
At one point Berger was receiving hate messages at the rate of 800 *a day*. Between 2014 and 2018 three supporters of the far right were jailed for threatening her. (A fourth case began with emails send by a fascist to her, although the sender was convicted and jailed for other, terrorism, offences).
If Diane Abbott is a unique target for sexist and racist use, then Berger has taken on a similar role in the antisemitic imagination. I cannot think of anyone in Britain who has received anti-Jewish hate in a similar volume to her.
Depressingly, an amount of this has come from the left. In 2013 (ie. before the Daily Stormer started stalking her) one socialist and anti-racist activist Philip Hayes the founder of Liverpool music venue The Picket approached Berger when drunk. He talked to her about Gaza and about Israel, and quite quickly about Jews. He said, “All Jewish people have money”. Hayes referred to the prime minister of Israel as “your Prime Minister,” and said, “I fucking hate Jewish people”. Hayes was convicted of a public order offence.
The other instance of criminal harassment of Berger from the left occurred in March 2018. A Labour activist Nick Nelson sent messages to two Jewish women MP, Luciana Berger, and Ruth Smeeth. He told Smeeth she was a “red Tory traitor” and Berger that she was a “vile useless Tory c**t” who was “using Judaism as a weapon”. He pleaded two guilty to two offences of harassment and was given a suspended prison sentence.
One thing worth noting about Nelson is that these tweets seems to have been sent in response to the single act for which people blame Berger the most – i.e. her decision in spring 2018 to share on her twitter feed an old news story about Jeremy Corbyn and an east end mural. This became the Mear One mural / Enough is Enough crisis – and probably did more than anything else to remove the moral sheen of Corbynism.
Analysed in “side” terms (the left v the right), you can understand why people were angry with Berger and blame her for Corbyn’s humiliation and defeat. I think they’re wrong. It seems to me that they are blaming someone visible on the far side of the party for a mistake made by us (i.e. Corbyn’s misreading of the mural, without which none of that would have happened).
But in anti-racist terms, Berger was a member of an ethnic minority complaining about racism at the head of her organisation. Criticising her, and abusing her, is what lawyers mean by “victimisation”, i.e. causing a person a detriment because they have made a complaint.
I could go on and on about the crap that was directed at Berger through 2018: stories that she had imagined a police escort purely to embarrass the leadership. Attempts to get her deselected, etc. Even the antisemitic tarring of the relatively few people on the Labour left who stood up for her, and opposed her deselection…
By autumn and winter 2018, on Corbyn-supporting social media pages there was a level of hate directed at Berger which was unforgiveable. She was called a traitor, an Israeli, a spy, and there was just an enormous amount of abuse directed at her, some sexist, some racist, some both.
The point I’m getting at isn’t about then, so much as now. Friends really, really, *really* need to let go of the idea that if Berger is allowed to rejoin the Labour Party then something terrible has happened. The bad things here are first Berger’s original treatment, and second the spurious exclusion of members for passing anodyne motions in support of Corbyn.
If Berger is allowed back, then it is not a failure on the scale of either of those two mistakes. If she is allowed back, you need to live with it.
I’ve seen a number of friends talking about Palestine on social media. I’ve also seen their friends asking some version of “what’s happening in the Occupied Territories?” (i.e. questions motivated by both an interest in what life is like there, and a lack of knowledge). I thought I’d share therefore something I wrote a few weeks back – a simple “explainer” setting out for people in the West how the occupation works and its impact on people’s lives
The Palestinians comprise a) nearly two million Arabs living within the pre-1967 borders of Israel, or a bit less than one in five of the Israeli population, where their average income is around a third lower than that of Jewish Israelis, and they are more than twice as likely to have an income below the state poverty line. They suffer discrimination in employment and housing, for example by rules offering employment only to those who have served in the Israeli army. Arab employment in the civil servant stands at just eleven percent, or around half of what it should be were it not for employment barriers.
In theory, those living within the pre-1967 borders are permitted to vote in Israeli elections, and they elects members to the Knesset, enabling Israel to present itself to the world as a normal democracy. However Arab deputies are stigmatised, denounced by government ministers and subject to laws enabling other deputies to revoke their election at any time. According to the Knesset’s Rules of Procedures, the Presidium “shall not approve a bill that in its opinion denies the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish People.” On the basis of those rules, between 2011 and 2019, four bills related to Palestinians’ rights, including their right to participate in public life, were disqualified before even reaching discussion in that parliament.
There are then b) around 400,000 Palestinians who live in East Jerusalem which was annexed in 1967. They do not have Israeli citizenship, only a limited right to reside which can be taken away at any time (for example, if they marry a non-resident). They are not permitted to vote in Israeli elections. Laws prevent building in East Jerusalem and encourage the demolition of Palestinian homes, which the state does repeatedly, with 265 homes pulled down in 2019 alone.
Then there are c) some four and a half million Palestinians living in occupied West Bank or Gaza. There, average wages are significantly lower than among Arab Israelis, at very roughly a half (the West Bank) or a quarter (Gaza) of what they are in Israel. In spring 2020, the official unemployment in Gaza stood at 45 percent. A small number of Palestinians from the Occupied Territories are employed in Israel or on settlements (around two percent of the population) there they suffer even worse discrimination than those living within Israel’s borders. Health and safety protections are minimal, workers are refused to switch employers, their work permits are routinely cancelled, and wages go repeatedly unpaid. Although Palestinian literacy rates are among the highest in the world, educational infrastructure is crumbling. While, in autumn 2020, as Covid struck, health officials were warning of a lack of ventilators, PPE, and medicine.
In Gaza, economic blockade has meant that fewer than one in ten households have access to fresh water. Access to electricity is interrupted. The roads which join Palestinian towns are broken, every few hundred metres, with a fresh checkpoints, many of them created by Israel’s 400 mile long separation wall, more than four-fifths of which meanders within the Western Bank far inside the Green Line (the supposed border with Israel).
Meanwhile, repeated incursions from Israeli troops, including by helicopter, and in bulldozer raids and night-time bombings cause even during times of apparent peace repeated civilian deaths. Two hundred citizens from West Bank and Gaza were killed in 2019, according to the UN; while eight Israeli civilians also died. Between 2018 and 2020, night-time raids on the occupied territories were taking place at the rate of 250 per month. No warrants were required to justify these raids. They left their victims feeling unsafe in their own homes and beds.
Palestinians residents of the West Bank or Gaza are not citizens of Israel, have no right to travel there unless (exceptionally) for work, and have no rights or legal status within that country. By law even a Palestinian married to an Israeli is prohibited from being a citizen of Israel or residing there. As Prime Minister Sharon explained, when the law was introduced, “There is no need to hide behind security arrangements. There is a need for the existence of a Jewish state.”
The West Bank and Gaza are not contiguous; it is a matter of extreme difficult to travel from one part of the occupied territories to the other. Citizens of the occupied territories are not citizens of Israel, are permitted only to vote in elections for the Palestinian Authority, which has no effective control over most of the matters which normally constitute statehood: people, goods, food, medicines and even water enter only by Israeli consent, which is repeatedly withdrawn.
The fourth and final element of the Palestinian population are d) the refugees of Israel’s wars, who live in exile (many in cramped conditions in refugee camps), and their descendants. Some 4 million Palestinian refugees, including the survivors of the 800,000 people displaced in the 1948 Arab-Israel war, and their families, are registered for humanitarian assistance with the United Nations. Members of this group are excluded from Israel citizenship and deprived from returning to Israel. Their homes and land were part of historical Palestine and are now occupied by Israel. “Our dead are still in the cemeteries of others,” the Palestinian poet and author Mourid Barghouti has written, “our living are clinging to foreign borders.”
When speaking of Palestinian refugees, it should be recalled that Israeli attacks on other countries in the region have destroyed some of the few places where Palestinians were allowed to live in relative peace; notably Beirut which prior to Israeli’s 1982 invasion and the massacre in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, had been “the birthplace for thousands of Palestinians who knew no other cradle … an island upon which Arab immigrants dreaming of a new world landed”.
For all Palestinians, occupation is a constant and ongoing process:
[It] prevents you from managing your affairs in your own way. It interferes in every aspect of life and death; it interferes with longing and anger and desire and walking in the street. It interferes with going anywhere and coming back, with going to market, the emergency hospital, the beach, the bedroom, or a distant capital.
None of these Palestinian groups have the same citizenship rights in Israel as the country’s seven million Jewish citizens – nor indeed the same citizenship rights as Jews living in Britain, France, or the United States. Rather, a panoply of directly and indirectly discriminatory laws make them second class citizens or permanent exiles.
 ‘Wages of Jewish workers in Israel 35 percent higher than Arab counterparts,’ Middle East Monitor, 11 December 2019.
 Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli Arab Issues, ‘Israel’s Annual Poverty Report: Decline in Arab Poverty Meets Increase in Depth and Severity’, 5 February 2019.
 N. Ahituv, ‘Could Netanyahu Actually Be Good for Israel’s Arabs?’ Haaretz, 31 October 2019.
 Y. Jabareen, ‘Silencing Arab members of the Knesset would be a new low for Israeli democracy,’ Guardian, 1 April 2016.
 ‘Israel Discriminatory measures undermine Palestinian representation in Knesset,’ Amnesty International, 4 September 2019.
 J. Magid, ‘2019 saw spike in Palestinian home demolitions by Israel, rights group finds,’ Times of Israel, 6 November 2020; for justification of previous waves of house demolition, E. Habiby, The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist (London: Arabia, 2010), p. 125.
 ‘The Working Conditions of Palestinian Wage Earners in Israel’, Center for Political Economics, February 2017.
 ‘Labour Force Survey Preliminary Results First quarter January – March 2020’, 31 May 2020.
 Kav LaOved, Worker’s Hotline, undated but accessed 20 August 2020.
 Around 4 percent of adult Palestinians, compared to 16 percent in Britain. ‘Literacy Rate of Persons (15 Years and Over) in Palestine by Age Groups and Sex, 1995, 1997, 2000-2013’, Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, 2014; ‘Adult literacy’, National Literacy Trust, accessed 26 October 2020.
 In 2014, thirty percent of Gaza schools needed rebuilding as a result of that year’s Israeli military attacks. ‘Education,’ United Nations Development Programme (2015).
 W. Mahmoud, ‘Gaza declares COVID-19 disaster with health system near collapse,’ Al-Jazeera, 23 November 2020.
 G. von Medeazza, ‘Searching for clean water in Gaza,’ Unicef, 10 January 2019.
 ‘The Separation Barrier,’ B’tselem, 11 November 2017.
 “The helicopter hovering above the refugee camp / As though it were dusting a field,” A. Shabtai, ‘Mice of the World Unite,’ in T. Nitzan and R. T. Back, With an Iron Pen: Twenty Years of Hebrew Protest Poetry (New York: Excelsior Editions, 2009), p. 19.
 ‘Data on Casualties’, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, accessed 20 August 2020.
 P. Beaumont, ‘Dehumanising: Israeli groups’ verdict on military invasions of Palestinian homes,’ Guardian, 29 November 2020.
 A. Abunimah, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (Chicago: Haymarket, 2014), p. 25; U. Forat, ‘For an Israeli Married to a Palestinian, Family Unification Is Forbidden,’ Haaretz, 1 June 2020.
 Sahar Khalifeh writes of “Life in the refugee camp, in a tiny room the size of a chicken coop, amid the clamour of people and their secrets”. S. Khalifeh, The End of Spring (Northampton, Massachusetts: 2008), p. 9.
 David Gilmour writes that the exact number of refugees was never established. The UN Economic Survey Mission put the total at 726,000; the Refugee Office of the UN Palestine Coalition Commissions placed it at 900,000, and the true figure is probably somewhere in between. D. Gilmour, Dispossessed: The Ordeal of the Palestinians (London: Sphere Books, 1982), p. 74. The Jewish population of Palestine was at that time just 630,000 people. S. Sand, The Invention of the Jewish People (London: Verso, 2009), p. 281.
 ‘Palestine Refugees,’ United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees int the Near East. Accessed 1 August 2020.
 M. Barghouti, I Saw Ramallah (London: Bloomsbury, 2004), p. 38.
 M. Darwish, Memory for Forgetfulness: August, Beirut, 1982 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), p. xii.
 ‘Monthly Bulletin of Statistics,’ October 2019.
 Adalah, the Legal Centre for Arab Minority Rights in Israel, has published a list of more than 60 Israeli laws which at discriminate directly or indirectly against Palestinian citizens in Israel or Palestinian residents of the occupied territories. ‘Discriminatory Laws in Israel’, Adalah, accessed 26 August 2020.
As the election comes closer, it’s worth asking how much remains of the fear, which was widespread two months ago, that Trump would refuse to accept the election result? Or, indeed of the related concern that Trump is pushing the United States closer to fascism?
The answer I’m going to give is that this election is best understood as a “90-10” election; in other words it’s 90 percent likely that once the dust has settled on the Trump Presidency, we’ll look back at this time as an aberration in US politics: a moment when the abyss could be seen and people pulled back from it. There is still however something strange and hostile about how Trump operates. If you want, you can all it a 10 percent chance that something really unpleasant is just about to start.
The hard thing in the next day couple of days is going to be balancing these two kinds of possibilities: one which is unlikely but could be exceptionally bleak, and another which is more likely and reassuring but contains its own dangers.
The starting point, for me, is the argument I’ve just put in my book Fascism: History and Theory. What I say there is that if you read through the history of Marxist theories of fascism, a coherent understanding of that politics emerges.
First of all, such writers as Klara Zetkin, Antonio Gramsci, Leon Trotsky, etc, saw fascism as part of the political right. It wanted bosses to win against workers, the army strengthened, increased power for the police. It sought to deepen and entrench all the social privileges, of men against women, of “aryans” against racial outsiders, it sought to destroy the few organisations that protected workers against the poor.
Second, fascism was unlike mainstream conservative parties (or indeed the military dictatorships around it) in that fascism gave a much greater active role to a mass movement, whose members would listen to Hitler on the radio, or see him in the cinema, and take part in his parades. Its “activism” included shooting socialists off the streets, in hundreds of political murders, culminating in the fascist seizures of power.
Third, the real place at which fascism distinguished itself was that it kept this reactionary and this mass element in balance. Most far-right parties opted for state power at the expense of their own movement and ended up behaving much like other conservative parties just without elections. Fascism went much further, kept on radicalising, culminating in the war and the Holocaust.
The 90 percent chance
From that perspective, how different is Trump from an ordinary Republican candidate? After all, anyone with any knowledge of US politics will know that ever since 1945, the Republicans have been accusing the Democrats of being closet Communists, and the Democrats have been accusing Republicans of being actual fascists. From Nixon to George W. Bush, the left has used the same line of attack, and (until recently) its main effect has been to make Democratic candidates seem bolder than they were, while exaggerating the difference between them and their rivals.
Moreover, as I’ve pointed out on this site and elsewhere, the US state has not taken on new authoritarian power compared to 2016: deportations are running at half the rate they were four years ago, the border wall has hardly grown…
It’s in this context, especially once you factor in the extreme negligence of Donald Trump’s handling of the Covid crisis, and the way he has risked the lives of the most important part of his voting base, that the “90 percent” part of this 90-10 election emerges. Kit Adam Wainer has set out the dynamics which point to a “normal” handover: the lack of support from the military for American business or a coup (I’m pretty sure that’s right), the satisfaction of the Republican grandees now they have their Supreme Court majority (looking at their record, I think she’s being unduly optimistic).
Focussing just on the shrinking support for Trump and the continuity in carceral power between 2016 and 2020, by far the most likely result of the Presidential election is that Trump will lose, his plans to declare a victory will look like bluster. In three months’ times everyone will be thinking, why did we ever call him a fascist?
The 10 percent chance
On the other hand if you go back to my book on fascism the one thing, I argued, which distinguished fascist parties above all else from other far right traditions was what I called the “fascist style”, i.e. a leadership cult (think QAnon), an emphasis on violence (think of the Patriot and the Proud Boys). Normal conservative parties, I argued, didn’t have a relationship with people who used violence repeatedly against the left. On the other hand, Trump has built that movement, multiplied its audience, and (even now) still envisages a role for it.
It’s in this context that Trump’s plans for the election take on their most menacing overtones. The point is not just that he is likely to declare a victory on election night, even if the popular vote has gone against him, but an election where much of the voting is done postally gives him untold opportunities to do so. From that perspective, the most troubling things we’ve seen in the election campaign were Trump’s two comments during the first election debate: his “stand by” order to the Proud Boys, and his call for “poll watchers, a very safe, very nice thing,” in other words for his supporters to go the polling stations, harass the people voting, and those counting the votes. Those weren’t mere boasts, rather they’ve been listened to: just think of what happened in Texas to the Biden bus.
What that means is that, alongside the 90 percent chance that this election will end peacefully, in a clear victory for either camp (or, almost certainly, a clear victory for Biden), there remains a ten percent chance that the result will be close enough so that Trump will be able to derail the election count before it finishes, and that groups of his supporters will be involved in harassing voters and vote-counters, in a repetition of the 2000 election count, except this time with guns. And that this process of relying on Trump’s supporters in QAnon, the militia, etc, will so change Trump’s government that his next four years will be radicalised even compared to what went before. If you want to understand how bad it could get, with Trump losing controlling of his supporters, and the police backing them, read this piece by Adam Turl, then imagine those dynamics – which have shaped American and global politics – turned up to 10.
Fitting these two things together
What I’m encouraging people to understand, in speaking of this 90-10 moment is that both routes remain open. We have the impossible, unbearable, task of living these last few hours in the knowledge both of the overwhelming likely of relief, and the real possibility that politics in America is about to change for the worse. It’s not like watching a conflict you expect to win, or an argument that could end terribly, it’s both of them at once, and it could easily stay like this for days.
The last point I want to make is that if Trump wins, the political battle is going to be straightforward. Every cause in which I and you believe will have suffered a reverse but, at least, the immediate task will be obvious: take to the streets. You need to go there even in the certainty that the police will be against you – and that the Democrat governors will be on their side. We saw the BLM protests in the summer: we’ll need them and more of them.
But, if Biden wins, the American army will be in no way reduced. Any measures to reduce global warming will operate at a pace capable of stop ecocide somewhere only in such a distant future that hundreds of millions of lives will be lost. And, if Trump has been negligent in solving Covid, do not expect much better from a Democratic Party whose hostility to socialised healthcare is entrenched. Even if Biden wins this round, in other words, anti-fascist are going to be facing a far right whose leader will still have in his possession 90 million followers on Twitter and all the authority of his recent spell in office. His relationship to them will continue. They will still hold all their guns. They will have been told that his election defeat was illegitimate. And they will be looking for a new leader figure to take forward an increasingly unhinged right.
The civil war in American hearts and minds isn’t going to end this week.
With the news of Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party, many of my friends are again debating whether socialists should stay in Labour. To my mind, this is the wrong question. It reflects two assumption, of the groups outside Labour and their ex-members, one of which I share, while the other is wrong.
The first assumption is that Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour Party will be more like Neil Kinnock’s or Tony Blair’s than Corbyn’s or Miliband’s, i.e. at every chance Starmer will give his support to the police, to the rich and to the Conservatives.
[Yes he will: he’s been in charge for a year and we’ve seen his record. There is nothing now that will reinvigorate the old, left-wing Keir Starmer of the 1980s and 1990s]
The second assumption is that the far left in no way contributed to Labour’s antisemitism crisis. That, if mistakes were made by other people, we were innocent of them.
[But, in reality, at key moments, the outside Labour left has bolstered the people who were handling this issue worse than anyone]
The fact that only one of these assumptions is true, makes the next steps particularly difficult for anyone interested in creating a principled left.
Here I want to set out what I think is a better answer.
Admit and accept
The first thing we need to acknowledge is the obvious: the left wouldn’t be in this trouble if the left as whole (including the left both inside and outside Labour) hadn’t understated the scale of antisemitism in British society, and of antisemitism on the left.
Key figures in the Labour Party have repeatedly said things which crossed the line into antisemitism. They begin with Ken Livingstone’s remarks that “when Hitler won his election in 1932, his policy then was that Jews should be moved to Israel. He was supporting Zionism…” The offence of that interview was not, as last week’s mealy-mouthed EHRC report suggested, that Livingstone was likely to upset Jews by supporting his colleague Naz Shah’s remarks about Israel. The offence was that Livingstone made Jews complicit in the Holocaust.
Jackie Walker, the national vice-chair of Momentum, claimed that “many Jews (my ancestors too) were the chief financiers of the sugar and slave trade”.
In 2018, we all had to deal with the pain of Jeremy Corbyn’s ill-judged comments on antisemitic mural. “Rockerfeller [Rockefeller] destroyed Diego Viera [Rivera]’s mural because it includes a picture of Lenin”.
On every occasion, Corbyn’s outlier sites could be founded defending this nonsense: Skwawkbox, the Canary, Vox Online.
Who manufactured this scandal? We did, you and me, and people like us who share our politics, by our inability to admit and speak out against what was happening.
Every time Counterfire insisted that Ken Livingstone was no antisemite, or the SWP made Chris Williamson the main speaker at their Marxism event, the extra-Labour left were saying to socialists in the Labour Party – there is no problem, the real issue is Palestine, if people have spoken racist words or have racist friends, who cares?
See the crisis as a whole
The second thing to be said is that the dominant explanation of Labour’s crisis fails to explain where antisemitism comes from, or how events in Britain connects to what is going on everywhere else.
In America, where Jews are living at the centre the global increase in anti-Jewish racism, where their President actively encourages that racism, and at a time which has witnessed the most violent antisemitic attacks in all of American history, Jews are reaching for the opposite conclusions to their counterparts here.
Some 51 percent of American Jews blame the political right for antisemitism, only 12 percent the left. How is it possible that two sets of Jewish people could have such wildly different explanations of what is going on?
One short answer is that people deal with what’s in front of them. Philip Roth once wrote, “I’m never more of a Jew than I am in a church when the organ begins”. To which a British Jew might add: or when the Chair of Wavertree CLP appears on David Icke shows, or when Ken Livingstone opens his mouth.
Another way of looking at it is that opinion-formers in the UK have worked hard to frame antisemitism as a matter of sly words and not of violent acts, as occurring in Britain but no anywhere else, and as a product of the left and not the right.
This too is also a form of denial. If you want a recent instance of it, then you need look no further than the Board of Deputies which posted on its Twitter account this week that “the US elections results matter all around the world”. Trump, the Board wrote, “has not sufficiently disavowed white supremacists; but abroad he has increased peace in the Middle East by bringing about the Abraham Accords”. (Those Accords put relations between Israel and the UAE on a diplomatic footing.)
The Board and those philosemitic politicians who take a lead from them have treated opposition to anti-semitism as a qualified duty. If members of the British Labour Party have used antisemitic language intermittently, then that Party must be denounced, and its leaders broken. But if leaders of the Republican Party have proved themselves a nest of antisemites who spread their poisonous doctrines through the world, then that Party must be praised, conciliated, and exempted from any criticism.
Antisemitism, on both left and right
The way I see Labour’s antisemitism crisis is as merely the domestic expression of a much bigger situation in which anti-Jewish racism has risen since 2015 with the breakdown of a previous kind of neoliberal politics.
It has been replaced by a new combination of state and private capital, in which the political conflict in most countries is between parties of “nationalists” and of “internationalists”. The former think that capitalism will be healthier if it breaks up the multinational institutions of the postwar period, if it spends more on welfare, but it selects people for entitlement to welfare on racial lines and excludes migrants and international racial minorities (blacks, Muslims, etc). The politics of Trump, Brexit, Bolsonaro… all polarise for and against along these lines.
Where the nationalists have been most successful (as in Trump’s Republican Party), antisemitism has grown faster than at any other time since 1945. The reason this has happened is that the right wants to pose as anti-capitalist, or at least as anti-globalist, and the idea of removing the Jews (financiers) from the economy provides them a way of imagining a reformed, “national” system which is still capitalism.
When my friends on the left say that the US far right is the “root” of the rise of global antisemitism, they’re correct – as far as that analysis goes. What they don’t seem to be able to grasp is that when you pull up a weed, it produces many further roots, all over your garden. Antisemitism is growing not merely on the right but all over the political spectrum.
You can see this in the United States. Although Trump’s support is greatest on the right and on the far right of American politics; the role he has played in legitimising anti-Jewish racism has had an impact even on people who hate him.
In 2018 and 2019, the three most brutal attacks in the US were the Tree of Life murders in October 2018, killings at the Chabad of Poway synagogue outside San Diego in April 2019 and in December 2019 the murder of three people at a New Jersey kosher market.
The San Diego killer John Earnest posted a manifesto referencing Adolf Hitler and William Pierce’s white terrorist Turner Diaries. If Earnest had previously admired Trump, he was now exasperated with him, calling Trump a “coward”, a “Zionist, Jew-loving, anti-White, traito[r]”. (The Tree of Life killer had a similar background).
The attackers in New Jersey, David Anderson and Francine Graham, by contrast, were black. One was a supporter of the black Hebrew Israelite movement, which holds that black people are the true descendants of Israel and Jews merely “imposters” (a term used by Anderson). Anderson’s social media posts denounced the police, quoted the Bible, criticised white police officers as actual or likely supporters of the Klan. Murderous anti-semitism infected people who had more in common with most leftists than they do with the far right.
Since 2015, antisemitism has spread – from the United States through the world. And it has expressed itself on both the right and the left.
When people talk in Britain about antisemitism having grown in the Labour Party: they are correct. That is exactly what happened, and it happened on our watch.
Quitting a crisis with your politics intact
If what I’ve written above is correct, then the question of whether people are in the Labour Party now or in six months’ time is the wrong question to be asking.
Whether they stay or not, we will still have all the most exciting bits of actually existing Corbynism: Tribune and Novara and the people who make Momentum’s films. We will have The World Transformed. All of us will still be trying to make socialists, as best as we can.
The real question is – how do we break the belief that is now held by millions of people that, in Britain, antisemitism is mainly found on the left?
The press debate has focussed on finding a solution to Labour’s dispute mechanisms, as if this will provide the answer to everything. But it won’t.
Yet the very large number of complaints which have been made to the party in the last two years reflect a “civil war’ environment, in which people have made themselves into the voluntary external participants in a disciplinary process. They have sent complaints to the party, in huge number. With Corbyn removed from the leadership, the likelihood is that this volunteer apparatus will stand down. Labour will “look better” in the press and Starmer will be able to claim a victory – while actual antisemitic will be every bit as prevalent and as ignored as they were prior to 2015.
A disciplinary apparatus can only get involved after something has gone wrong. What the left needs isn’t more and better laws (although it would be no difficulty to come up with a better process than the ones Labour currently has). What we need is a culture shift in which the large majority of socialists grasp that people shouldn’t use antisemitic language that (to take just one recent example) telling a Jewish person to stop counting their gold and then (when they complained) that they aren’t Jewish is just bad, annoying, and self-destructive politics.
This is what I mean when I say that the left could be part of the solution.
Think back to perhaps the clearest instance of antisemitism in the whole four-crisis crisis. For me, it was that occasion (which I’ve already alluded to) in 2012 when Corbyn had given his – limit, passing – support to the Brick Lane mural, and in 2018, when this story returned to the newspapers. When all of us had a chance to look at the same image. When we gave ourselves time and we could see how racist it was.
At that moment, what shocked me was how many friends dropped their critical intelligence, shared stories supporting the image, insisted it wasn’t antisemitic. We wanted to take sides and, to do so, we imagined away what was in front of us.
What I want to argue here is that there is a different way of looking at the incident.
The artist, Mear One, had on his account been a year long activist-participant in Occupy Los Angeles. He had been part of an anti-capitalist struggle and had its legacy uppermost in his mind as he flew to London:
“Over the course of this year-long movement my experiences helped to crystallise my post 9/11 thinking on global politics and the economic slave system, deepening my knowledge of fractional-reserve lending and other banking schemes that led to the collapse of the markets in 2008. These facts began to find design in my mind, and while on the flight to London I sketched out my plans for a mural inspired by these recent real-world events.”
You couldn’t have a clearer example of antisemitism growing up within far left circles, and spreading from there, through the Labour Party, into the wider left.
But there’s another way of telling this same story:
That the Occupy movement which shaped Mear One was ideologically mobile
That within a left-identified movement there were also right-wing ideas, including ideas that exaggerated the role of finance, or imagined a capitalism free of usury, or blamed Jews
That the people best placed to challenge those ideas were people on the far left who had a different, rigorous theory of capitalism, untainted by antisemitism
That an artist who saw his mural criticised and overpainted looked instinctively to the far left to support him
This was an opportunity (yes, a missed one – but still a chance) for people to talk to him and explain to him that he was in the wrong.
What the situation demanded was someone to talk to the artist, to draw on their shared involvement in protests, and to change what he thought.
To be able to do that, you have to be the sorts of social movement, that sees an artwork being painted over and (without having seen it clearly) is unthinkingly attracted to it. You need to be the sorts of people who think that graffiti is art, not the sort of politician who believes every artist should be in jail.
That’s why, however blithe the left has seemed this week and the past four years – it is worth gambling that the best chance of challenging antisemitic ideas comes from a larger left, changed by the experience of the past four years and learning from them. And to predict that the answer to antisemitism will not come from the centre, or from the Labour right.
Many thanks to the people who’ve read my book on Fascism and reviewed it for Amazon . I do want to emphasise that these are reviews written by people who were looking out for the book, knew it would be published, and had an idea of its contents. While I trust they read the book fairly and independently, obviously such readers are likely to be relatively kind. That said, hopefully, they give you a flavour of the book.
Susan J. Sparks comments on the interwar theories of fascism to which I refer, not just the best-known figures but “Clara Zetkin, Karl Korsch, Bordiga, Wilhelm Reich, Rudolf Hilferding and Walter Benjamin and others, as well as the odd piece of fiction (Jack London’s The Iron Heel), and a 1924 Plebs League pamphlet about Italian fascism.”
N. Rogall emphasises the book’s applicability to events far beyond the US or the UK: “This is an excellent read for all those troubled by the rise of far right politics from the US to India, from Brazil to Eastern Europe.”
Phil G writes, “His focus is on the twentieth century, but he sets the stage for understanding the growth of the contemporary far right, a topic that he has examined in detail in another recent book, The New Authoritarians.”
Charlie Hore sets out the book’s debt to David Beetham’s Marxists in Face of Fascism (this is true!) and writes, “pleased to see the Martiniquan poet and communist Aimé Césaire quoted on how fascism drew on habits learned in the colonialism: ‘Colonisation works’, Césaire wrote, ‘to decivilize the colonizer, to brutalize him in the true sense of the word, to degrade him, to awaken him to buried instincts, to covetousness, violence, race hatred.’”
Thais Yanez speaks of the influence of anti-colonial writers and says that I highlight “the shortcomings of the Left on the urgency to work as a unified front and apply these theories in practice, the somewhat individualistic and even nationalistic approaches that prevented an internationalist workers’ response or revolution to defeat both capitalism and fascism that did not become a bureaucratic oppressive regime like Stalinism.”
I’m particularly glad that these readers noticed the way I tried to integrate colonialism into my arguments – far more so than in the first edition of this book 20 years ago. If there was one thing about the 1920s and early 30s which the pioneer Marxists missed, it was exactly this.
Even a writer as keen-eyed as Trotsky failed to integrate the Italian colonial wars into his account of fascism, or grasp that colonialism had trained key parts of the German state in habits of racialised exclusion and killing. So that when Trotsky wrote that war would result in the mass murder of the Jews – this is a brilliant insight – something which he was almost alone to admit. And yet you never feel that he was capable of explaining how or why that disaster was possible, save in the most general terms that Hitler was a racist and the Nazi revolution incomplete.
“Ordinary” book reviews should start appearing from next week.
Todos los héroes esporeados de la derecha estadounidense están de acuerdo, desde Alex Jones hasta Tucker Carlson, desde Andy Ngo hasta Donald Trump: lxs antifascistas deben ser explusadxs de la vida pública.
Cuando las mujeres marcharon en Washington para protestar en la inauguración de Donald Trump se transformaron en la imaginación de la derecha extrema en ‘las heces de la humanidad’, “extranjeras” planeando “una guerra civil” para la “tiranía”
Cuando los fascistas marcharon por Charlottesville con pistolas y antorchas gritando ‘los judios no nos reemplazaran”, cuando uno de ellos mató a Heather, fox News llamó a lxs socialistas y anarquistas, a lxs liberales y feministas que bloquearon el camino para detenerles ‘domésticas… Antifa quema todo los que viene en contacto suyo”. La derecha proyecto sus fantasías espeluznantes en sus oponentes y declaró que lxs antifascistas habían sido lxs responsables de los “asesinatos de múltiples oficiales de la policía por todos los Estados Unidos”, abriendo el camino para que Trump declarara que había habido ‘gente muy fina en los dos lados”
En el lado antifascista, el insistio, “Tenias alborotadorxs, y lxs ves llegar con sus atuendos negros, y los cascos, y los bates de beisbol, tenias mucho mal, tenias mucha gente mala en el otro grupo…no tenian permisos”
Trump quería que todo el mundo viera lo que él veía en charlottesville, una guerra entre dos grupos de gente. Uno con sus armas y simbolos fascistas y sus fantasias de genocidio. Ellxs eran lxs que habían venido a ‘protestar inocentemente’ , y contra estxs estaba antifa quienes merecían cada bala que se les tiraba.
Una y otra vez, el reproche a ‘antifa’ se ha usado no sólo contra aquellxs que confrontan al fascismo, sino hasta contra lxs liberales más blandos. ‘No estarán segurxs en la América de Biden’ advierte Pence.
Incluso ahora Trump insiste que Biden controla “gente que de la que nunca has oido. Gente que está en las sombras oscuras… gente que está controlando las calles… bandidxs usando estos uniformes oscuros, uniformes negros con equipo.” Y de esa manera, se le está pidiendo a todos los Estados Unidos – a todo el mundo observando en desconcierto y miedo- que vea al mundo a través de los ojos de los Proud Boys, The Patriots, los teóricos de la conspiración del QAnon.
Pues es que, en la mentalidad paranoica y temerosa de la derecha, si hay mil personas en Portland aun dispuestas a tomar las calles para defender a Black Lives Matter, su presencia abruma todo. Cuenta con más de las 200,000 personas que han muerto por coronavirus. Y nunca más una sociedad pensante debería tolerar la posibilidad de que en ocasiones unas pocas personas valientes se pongan en el camino de los fascistas marchando por las calles de los E.U.
¿De qué se trata el antifascismo que lo convierte en un espectro en la mente de la derecha estadounidense?, tan vivido como el espectro del comunismo era?
Cuando el fascismo comenzó, casi nadie en la política estaba de acuerdo con él. La parte de la gente que eran antifascistas potenciales era muy grande, de hecho. Incluia liberales, conservadores, cristianxs, feministas e incontables más aparte. E incluia a la gente que vuelve a Trump salvaje de miedo: anarquistas y comunistas.
Aquí quiero hablar de una fracción de ellxs en particular: Lxs Marxistas. Eran parte de un enfoque común de la política la cual era compartida por por decenas de millones de personas. El marxismo no era una cosa en singular sino una variedad de políticas. Llamaba a la gente que creía en la realidad de la revolución y que estaba determinada a llevar a cabo un levantamiento inmediato. Era empleado también por otrxs que no querían nada con ninguna idea de revuelta masiva pero que restringieron su deseo de cambio solamente al avance lento de los derechos de lxs trabajadorxs y otros grupos subalternos. El marxismo también tenía el apoyo de millones de gente quienes (como en los E.U. hoy en día) sostenían cualquiera de las posiciones entre estos polos.
Ya cuando se desgastó el siglo veinte, el marxismo fue destronado de su posición de autoridad (por ello es que es más probable que lxs antifascistas estadounidenses de hoy sean anarquistas que comunistas) . Pero si nos enfocamos en el periodo del surgimiento del fascismo, solo los 1920s y los 1930s, esta subordinación pertenecía al futuro.
En el libro que he estado escribiendo sobre la generacion que invento el antifascismo encontraran a Clara Zetkin quien habia sido editora del periodico La Mujer Socialista Alemana Die Gleichheit (Igualdad) y una patrocinadora de la resolucion que llevo al establecimiento de el actual Dia Internacional de la Mujer, Leon Trotsky, el anterior lider del Ejercito Rojo Bolshevique, o Daniel Guerin, quien vivio hasta los 1950s y 1960s caundo fue anaraquista, un miembro del del Frente Homosexual de Accion Revolucionaria en FRancia y una de las figuras principales del movimiento de liberacion gay. En la izquierda moderna, lxs pondriamos en diferentes categorías: Zetkin tuvo una carrera de décadas como socialista y comunista. Trotsky fue bolchevique, Guerin se volvió anarquista. En la Europa de los 1920s y 1930s, y de cara al fascismo, compartieron un lenguaje común y tuvieron esencialmente el mismo enfoque para resistir el ascenso de Hitler.
Escribiendo para un público internacional sobre eventos en Italia, Zetkin advirtió, “Las masas en sus miles se unieron al fascismo. Se convirtió en un asilo para todxs lxs desahuciadxs politicxs, lxs desarraigadxs sociales, lxs destitutxs y desilusionadxs.
En los panfletos que vendieron cientos de miles de copias, instando a lxs alemanxs socialistas y comunistas a unirse, Trotsky escribió, “ En el Nacional Socialismo todo es contradictorio y caótico como en una pesadilla. El partido de Hitler se dice llamar socialista, y aun así lleva una lucha terrorista contra las organizaciones socialistas… lanza pernos a las cabezas de lxs capitalistas y aun así es apoyado por estas.
Viajando por Alemania en 1933, Guerin apunta las letras de una cancio, mitad comunista, mitad nacionalista, que prometia liberar a lxs trabajadorxs del yugo judio , “Nunca he escuchado gente cantar con tal fe… Estoy perdido en mis pies, estático en medio de esta masa que moriría sin interrumpir su canción. Ya hay rumores de que secciones de los Stormtroopers (soldados de asalto) se están impacientando, hasta amotinado, yo pienso para mi mismo que será necesario satisfacer a esta multitud – o aplastarles, brutalmente”
Lxs marxistas de la entreguerra furosn lxs primerxs en formular lo que se puede llamar el programa antifascista. Este es la creencia que el fascismo es una forma de políticas de derecha extrema especialmente violentas y destructivas, que tiene la capacidad de crecer rápidamente en tiempos de crisis social y que si se ignora destruirá la capacidad de la izquierda de organizarse y revertirá por décadas las demandas de cambio de lxs trabajadorxs y otros grupos desposeídos. Si la apuesta es correcta, sigue que es repetidamente una prioridad de sus oponentes de confrontar el fascismo, aun cuando otras formas de discriminacion son endémicas, y aun cuando otras políticas de derecha extrema tienen más apoyo que el fascismo. Esta manera de pensar asume un presente en el que el trabajo aún es explotado y la discriminacion por raza y género son prevalentes. Y aun en estas circunstancias, advierte, el fascismo es un agente caótico de cambio negativo. Puede hacer sistemático lo que hoy es limitado. El fascismo es capaz de extender el sufrimiento en una escala enorme. Asimismo, cuando el fascismo es vencido, las otras formas de opresión en las que florece también pueden ser debilitadas.
La apuesta antifascista no es una postura distintivamente marxista; todo tipo de gente la ha sostenido en la historia. Todo tipo de gente la sostiene hoy día.
Pero la primera vez en la historia en que un grupo significante la adoptara fue a mediados de los 1920s, cuando las personas de las que he escrito comenzarán a hacer campañas contra la amenaza del fascismo fuera de Italia. Este enfoque reconoció el potencial de Mussolini para inspirar a imitadores incluyendo Alemania.
Al tiempo que estas advertencias claras fueron hechas primeramente, Hitler era solo un mero político regional. Cualquier ganancia electoral que había disfrutado había sido modesta, y se enfrentaba a una serie de competidores en una posición entre fascismo y conservatismo, varios de los cuales estaban mejor fundados, tenían mejor acceso a los medios y medios propios para emplear violencia paramilitar contra sus adversarios.
El decir que el fascismo, a pesar de todas las debilidades y a pesar de la influencia mayor de sus rivales en la derecha, era el oponente más amenazador a la que enfrentaba la izquierda alemana era hacer una predicción de cómo el fascismo crecería y que haría en el poder.
La apuesta antifascista de todas las otras formas de politica, hecha por esta generacion sontenia que el fascismo era diferente cualitativamente incluyendo la derecha y hasta la extrema derecha.
A diferencia de estas, busca crear una dictadura y una en la que todas las formas de expresión de todos sus rivales sean recortadas. El panorama de la derecha de los 1930s no era más complejo que el nuestro, con cada una de estos temas a continuación prominentes en discusiones públicas = monarquistas, seguidores del ejército de la iglesia, abogadxs por impuestos fijos, abogadxs por expansión imperial- y muchas otras formas de políticas de derecha aparte de estas. A lxs antifascistas les desagradaban todas estas tendencias, pero no veían en ninguna de ellas el potencial violento del fascismo.
Bajo esa teoría, había otras ideas sobre el rol del fascismo en relación a otros movimientos reaccionarios. El fascismo no era un movimiento con solo una causa. Era toda una teoría de vida que proveía justificación para la subordinación no solo de lxs oponentes raciales de Musolini y Hitler, sino también de sus enemigxs politicxs , y las mujeres, y lxs gays, y las personas discapacitadas. EL fascismo tuvo la capacidad de atravesar barreras en momentos de crisis y cuando lo hizo de propagar modos de pensar derechistas hasta que sus seguidorxs habían absorbido respuestas reaccionarias a todas las preguntas posibles.
Aparte de la rol que jugaron en el asesinato de seis millones de judixs, Hitler y Mussolini tambien eran partidarios del genocidio contra lxs Roma y Sinti, abogados por un racismo colonial ultra-agresivo y acelerado, organizadores de la eutanasia de gente discapacitada y el asesinato de hombres gays, y las subordinacion de las mujeres, la destruccion de los sindicatos y el asesinato de lxs coministas. Cada uno de estos planes se reforzaban entre sí. Esta dinámica totalizadora hizo al fascismo un enemigo destructivo único.
Es útil escuchar a la gente que captó ese riesgo, en un tiempo en el que casi todxs en la derecha y el centro estaban en desacuerdo. Al restatarlxs de la economía de atencion del presente y al mandar a lxs lectorxs al pasado para aprender de ellxs, espero que su enfoque sea de interesarse en otrxs encando la derecha diferente de nuestros tiempos.
Ya que lo que mas atrae a lxs seguidores de Trump mas que nada son sus cuentos infantiles sobre manifestantes uniformadxs de negro juntandose en secreto para vencer sus planes. Es este secreto lo que lxs engancha – la idea de un plan escondido el cual solo ha sido descubierto por algunas almas valientes derechistas. Para la derecha contemporanea , el mito de una conspiracion antifascista es tan convincente como lo fue para una generacion de derechistas diferente, cien anos atras, que el mundo esta dominado por una conspiracion secreta de judixs que se esconden en lugares oscuros, mandando sus ordenes conspiratorias fuera, contralando a los Papas y Zares, conspiradores radicales y la policia que prtende echarles un ojo.
Pero la historia del antifascismo no es de ninguna manera secreta. Mas bien, es un libro abierto.
For people who are interested in my new book on Fascism (which was formally published yesterday), I thought I’d share a quick set of links, just highlighting articles I’ve written for other sites about fascism, and about our present crisis:
A number of friends have written to me about the piece I put up two days ago on Trump and the difficulty of making radical left-wing politics central to an anti-Trump coalition. They have said to me that the passages in which I seemed to discount any possibility of him contesting the election result were too glib. Rereading the piece, I can see how it came over that way.
I don’t want to make predictions. Part of the story of fascism and of anti-fascism is of people who at one stage in their lives thought they were doing something recognisable (they were an ordinary conservative, a socialist…), but got caught in events beyond their control, found themselves trapped in the logic of their own rhetoric. The next you knew, historic had sent them off in quite another direction. At one stage Mussolini was a socialist; at another point, he was not. At one stage Mosley was the saviour of the Conservatives. And the list goes on Tasca, Silone… You can get moments when it feels like history is just slipping out of everyone’s hands. Then, worst of all, people find themselves comfortable in what they’ve become.
If you want to think through the chance that the worst parts of 2020 are ahead of us, I am willing to acknowledge that risk. Over several years, I have been arguing that we are in a process in which events are renewing and radicalising the right, and that it has not yet exhausted itself.
If history was to somehow “stop” tomorrow, then in terms of how he has governed Trump is not a fascist, he is not even close. (Save for one really *really* important respect, which I’ll go in to) he has governed more like every other Republican administration since 1948 – each one of which faced the accusation from Democrats that it would re-run fascism.
The essential way in which Trump has been unlike fascists is that he has accepted the political limits imposed by the liberal state. When judges have told him to stop; by and large, he has. He cast doubt on the possibility of elections; he accommodated to them in reality. He has not purged the state . On the stump, he promised to jail his opponents; in office, he left them at liberty. The whole theme of my new book on fascism is that it is a specific movement, with a unique trajectory, in that it does reactionary and mass politics in equal measure. Compared to that, Trump has governed like a “reformist” of the right (albeit an aggressive one), and not a “revolutionary” (or, more accurately, a counter-revolutionary).
There is one part of Trump though which is new i.e. the intensity of his relationship with people further to the right. In Britain, every single far-right group has been buoyed by Trump and if it is like that for us, god knows what it must be like for you. When I’ve tried to explain this in recent weeks I’ve often cited the example of James Allsup, a member of Identity Evropa (i.e. a fascist, but of a particular sort) who four years ago had an audience of less than 10 people but by the time YouTube cracked down on his account it had had 70 million views. That is what Trump has done – he has listened to American fascists, he has amplified their talking points and made an audience for them – and that is even before you get into this year and the change that’s taken place in Trump’s support, its paramilitarisation around the lockdown and BLM.
In the old days, Republicans might “dog whistle” (i.e. say things knowing parts of their right-wing base would hear them), but they would also “gate-keep” (i.e. keep these people out of institutional power). Individuals like William Buckley Jr (whatever other harm he did) made it their career to keep some people in the tent and others out – while there is no-one playing that equivalent role today.
Trump does not dog whistle, he shouts out racism through a loudspeaker. Rather than keep out the likes of Laura Loomer, he acts as her number one social media fan.
The US is heading towards an election, which looks like it’s going to be miserable. I’m not worried about what happens if Trump loses by ten percentage points (in those circumstances, he will leave). I’m more than willing to acknowledge the possibility though that the result is a mess.
It’s as clear to me as I’m sure it is to everyone, that the postal votes will take days, maybe weeks, to count.
The way that the electoral college works, by artificially increasing the weight of voters who live in smaller states, means that Trump can win the election even if he loses the popular vote (cf 2016), but there is a certain point beyond which – if he does loses the vote badly enough – he must also lose the election. There’s not exact figure for that, but let’s say it’s 5 percent.
What we do know is that in most opinion polls, Trump is about 7 points behind. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But it’s not enough – a lead that small makes a “messy” election result more than likely.
A larger proportion of voters than in any previous election are likely to vote in advance, because of Covid, and because Democrats are urging people to vote postally. And checking postal votes (i.e. Democratic votes) is much slower than checking votes in person. Some states even have laws preventing postal votes from being checked before election day. Oh yes, and postal votes are more likely to be rejected. When a postal vote is checked you have to confirm that the person is on the roll, that the form is signed, and that they’ve actually voted (cf 2000 and the “dimpled chads”). All of these are likely to be disputed.
So, if Biden really wins the popular vote by 7 clear points then, on election night, as the first results come in (i.e. before postal votes are counted), you’d expect Trump to be ahead and the true scale of Biden’s lead to become apparent only long after.
In other words, it’s more likely than not that in early November, Trump will announce that he “has” won the election, and his media (Fox, Breitbart, etc) will follow him in declaring Trump the victor. That’s even – as I keep on saying – if, in reality, Biden is heading for a comfortable win.
So we’re facing a real danger of a situation where the two American don’t even agree that either candidate has won, let alone which one, and where the election result is heading towards the courts to determine (with their inbuilt partisan majority).
You don’t need to see Trump as a fascist – even if he’s just a plain old braggart authoritarian, it’s easy to imagine scenarios in which his supporters take to the streets with a view to intimidating judges and Trump starts egging them on.
In Britain, our polling companies debate whether Labour is catching up with the Conservatives. In the US, the psephologists are debating how the scenario of an unclear election result will be resolved, and whether it will be by judges or with guns. To outsiders – this is not a good look.
What I guess we need to balance – which is hard – is the way in which history provides two clear exit points from here:
a) The administration is voted out heavily, and goes, and when in 10 years time American have to explain to everyone else, “We came this close to fascism”, we’ll think you were mad. We’ll say Trump was just a nasty, ordinary, right-wing creep with a big mouth. In government – he was all talk and did nothing.
b) Trump wins the election / loses narrowly enough to drive his supporters wild. And yes, at that point, all bets – however bad are off. Political murders are already taking place in the US at Weimar rates. You have to assume, they’d go up from there. After all, we had the trial run in the spring and summer, with armed supporters of the far right invading state legislatures. At a certain point in the 1920s, the guns of the far right were a mere boast, at another point they were for real. I don’t discount for a second the possibility of Trump being trapped by his ego, the demands of his supporters, his pathological desire to flatter them…
No doubt, friends will tell me there are other routes out. But from here, they seem the main ones.
Nothing in advance of the election determines which 2020 we’ll get. Whether it will be the genuinely revolutionary politics which were once reflected in parts of the US constitution, which was after all one of the most radical systems of government in its day (it’s amazing how any politics, stuck in stone for such a long time, goes stale). Or the reality of colonial oppression, slavery and genocide, which was structured in from the beginning. No-one knows which way history will bend.
The two things we do know are that Trump has a far weaker belief in the idea of democracy than any prominent politician for years.
And that if anti-fascist do take to the streets, they will have to find ways of confronting not merely Trump’s armed supporters, but the politics of the liberal mainstream who will seek to de-escalate the situation by sending in cops to confront the left first.
It follows the the only thing which can counterbalance the risk is when people organise – when they take the streets – and make it impossible for Trump supporters to march (of for the police to disperse them).
If I was in the States I’d be thinking – is there an anti-fascist coalition in my city? What have I done to build it?
And if one doesn’t exist already: well, I talked in my other piece about the sorts of movement that could prevent the right from dominating the streets; anarchists, the DSA… Neither is enough, you’d need to pull in surviving Trotskyist groups where they exist. Maoists, people at the left edge of the Democrats. Greens.
People need to be as principled as the moment will allow, and as broad as they can be – even while knowing that these two instincts aren’t easily held together. You just have to try.
Everyone one is afraid now, and probably everyone is going be angry – the trick is to make your hope and ideas as big as the situation demands.
Because otherwise, no matter how bad 2020 is now, there’s every possibility that we’ll be look back in two months’ time on the autumn and saying, “those were the good times”.