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A review of a book about the extreme-Right in the contemporary USA.Christopher Ketcham (Editor), Jeff Schwilk (Photographer); Paul Street (Contributor): Shane Burley (Contributor); Tizz Bee (Contributor)
Publisher: AK Press
Released: September 1, 2020
2020 is more than half over and maybe the United States is too. Trump seems to be working on a smooth transition of power from himself to himself regardless of any upcoming election results. Below him, society is fracturing in ways his rhetoric has welcomed and encouraged from day one of his candidacy. There has been a complex mix of influences affecting and effecting this, but undoubtedly prominent among them are various Right-Wing organisations. They have mushroomed in the dark over a number of years but have in recent times fully come to light. Its timely then that Unflattering Photos of Fascists: Authoritarianism in Trump’s America has just been published. This short collection of essays and photos looks at the growth of the Ultra-Right under Trump and the interplay between them.
Though this book is certainly welcome, some criticism is required. The title is a bit misleading. Firstly, while fascism has always been a slippery term, there are some people depicted in the photos that perhaps don’t qualify for the label. The inside cover actually has a lengthy and well considered disclaimer to that effect. Perhaps it would have been better to be more selective in the choice of photos or to have changed the title of the book?
Secondly, a case can be made that with one or two exceptions, the pictures aren’t especially unflattering. You could argue that merely being in one of these pictures is an unflattering thing in itself. Certainly to anyone on the Left that’s axiomatic. However, if you want to make a better case in order to convince others, these photos might not do it. Yes, some of the subjects are wearing sub-cultural signifiers that appear silly or outlandish to us, but not necessarily to anyone else. They could easily just see a guy with a beard wearing a Trump T-shirt and sunglasses as, well, just that. Or youthful Trump supporters holding amateurishly rendered cartoons on homemade placards as just poor artists. The fact the cartoons once decoded demonstrate a commitment to a brutal ideology is chilling when contrasted with the fresh faced appearance of their makers. That’s not the same as saying the photo is unflattering. The amateurism of their rendering could be interpreted as endearingly ernest.
The photographer Jeff Schwilk writes “The photos included may depict the subjects looking ridiculous. It would be easy to dismiss them as fools harmlessly enacting a fantasy. But core white supremacists are as deadly serious today as they have been throughtout the county’s history. Future oppressors are often viewed as bumbling idiots. But if we are too complacent, hindsight may show us to be the fools, blind to the threat” (p. 47). These are excellent points and his stated intention was sound.There must have been photos that missed inclusion, that either through choice of subjects or composition could have unambiguously portrayed their subjects unflatteringly? There are some photos here that give food for thought in their juxtapositioning of content. Overall the photo section feels like Schwilks camera didn’t quite match his honourable intentions. A respectable, slightly missed opportunity in that regard.
Despite the title, this is not in fact solely a photo essay. It contains written contributions that definitely add to the tome’s worthiness. Schwilk writes movingly about his personal experiences tackling fascists from as early as the 90s’ and his own activism. Paul Street’s article looks at a taxonomy of fascism and how the phenomenon occupies a Venn diagram with Trumpism. He also usefully deconstructs the myth of Trump as a working-class hero. His article is written in a lively, no-holds-barred-style with some wonderful labels and turns of phrase (Trumpenproletariat, Donito Trumpolini, Great Tangerine God) that rightly find a balance between sound analysis and no respect for his subject. Shane Burley’s section charts the rise and fall of the hipster fascist Richard Spencer and delves into the (probably little known to those of us elsewhere) historical legalised racism that existed in Oregon. Tizz Bee also writes on Oregon with a specific focus on Portland. Bee’s most useful portions establish the nexus between fascists, cops and environmentally destructive businesses in that area. Lastly, there is also a visual glossary of fascist symbols that usefully explains some of the otherwise innocuous-seeming or obscure stuff worn by fascists.
On balance this book is a helpful explanation of what’s going on in the America Trump wants. One of the first steps in dealing with an opponent is to understand who they are and this book does that. Not for the purpose of reasoning with them though. As Street explains “The Trumpenvolk are impervious to rational persuasion. And this is the point: You don’t reason with fascists. You organise against them and defeat them” (p. 64). This is a message with universal applicability. That’s another reason this book is worth getting.
A review of the selected writings of Maurice Brinton.Maurice Brinton, For Workers’ Power
Publisher: AK Press
Released: August 4, 2020
Karl Bookchin, Murray Marx, Maurice Brinton.
As they used to say on Sesame St “One of these things is not like the other!”. While this trio of names is made up, only one had an actual person behind it. Brinton was the pseudonym of Chris Pallis (1923-2005). He was the Indian-born scion of an Anglo-Greek family, educated in Switzerland and a neurologist by training (try saying that sentence after 4 vodkas and a Molotov cocktail!). He lead a distinguished medical career while simultaneously engaging in revolutionary Left-wing politics in England, hence the use of a cover name. This saw him embark on a trajectory from ephemeral Communist Party membership caused by expulsion for questioning the leadership, to membership in one of the small Trotskyist sects. This too resulted in expulsion by the group’s odious leader, causing Pallis/Brinton and other expellees to establish the group Solidarity. This group was always small but gained a foothold on the Left in Britain, especially as the 1960’s progressed. Its position is probably best described as a kind of iconoclastic libertarian strain of Marxism.
Recently AK Press produced a collection of Brinton’s writings under the title For Workers Power. To some today that title will seem archaic and off putting. That’s partly because the neo-liberal Right has been very effective on a super-structural level in atomising working people, causing us to perceive ourselves as individuals. We are not encouraged to identify ourselves as a unified class, with agency and shared interests. Coming from a different perspective, some on the contemporary Left will balk at what they see as an implied class reductionism in the title. It doesn’t appeal to a sense of intersectionality, but comes across as a crude throwback to a late industrial age that hasn’t got much to say to us today. While the title may dissuade some from delving into the content of this collection, he arguably still has something to say to today’s Left.
Stylistically Brinton is at his best when describing events he personally witnessed. For example, he provides entries from his diary as a witness to a General Strike in Belgium in 1960. His use of the active voice and often short sentences “It is an impressive sight. The crowd swarms over the pavements, overflows the neighbouring streets.” (p.37), provides vivid descriptions that often put the reader in the midst of the action.
Likewise, his fortnight among the workers and students in France during the uprising of May 68 yielded a diary with a similarly propulsive feel. For example “We wave. They wave back. We sing the Internationale. They join in. We give the clenched fist salute. They do likewise. Everybody cheers. Contact has been made [between youthful workers and students]” (p.305).One vignette concerns an activist from a small unnamed Left group who arrives in a crowded street with a suitcase full of leaflets. “There is an unquenchable thirst for information, ideas, literature, argument, polemic. The man just stands there as people surround him and press forward to get the leaflets. Dozens of demonstrators, without even reading the leaflet, help him distribute them. Some 6000 copies get out in a few minutes. All seem to be assidulously read. People argue, laugh, joke. I witnessed such scenes again and again.” (p.285). At times he can sound quite poetic, like one of the slogans from May 68 itself “The reality of today, for a few hours, has submerged all of yesterday’s patterns” (p. 288).
Occasionally the writer sounds a bit clunky. For example the alliterative excess of “Those who are not prepared to allow workers to control their own organizations here and now serenade sundry simpletons with fanciful tunes as to their fate in the future” (p. 210). Mostly Brinton writes plainly, though assuming a readership familiar with the basic jargon of classical Leftist discourse. Given his target audience, which is not the political neophyte, this is largely excusable. A lot of the time acronyms are explained and this helps keep the actors in events clear. Otherwise it could be hard for those English monoglots not well versed in the Portuguese Revolution of 1975 to figure out that the IRA is actually the Institute for Agricultural Reorganization! (p.229). Oh and anyone who can say with absolute confidence that they instantly know what “edentulous” (p.231) means, needs to get more fresh air.
Moving from style to substance, it has to be acknowledged that Brinton was not a major theorist and never claimed to be. He was primarily a capable polemicist and populariser of ideas that had limited circulation at the time he wrote. In the early 60’s the UK Labour Party and authoritarian Left had the union bureaucracy and a lot of other institutions sewn up between them. This changed somewhat later in the decade as society as a whole and the student movement in particular became radicalised globally. However, Brinton and his associates’ contribution in keeping the spark going during the dark times should be more widely remembered. Likewise his often excoriating invective directed at the authoritarian sects was an important contribution to dissident Left-wing observation.
His close observations of the counter-revolutionary machinations of the Stalinists in France is a telling indictment of the latter. The Trotskyists also come in for moments of derision, as in this passage about events in Portugal “At the end of the procession a mass of red flags and a few hundred very young people shouting raucously: ‘Unidad sindical, unidad sindical’. One might be dreaming. They want the PCP [Communist Party of Portugal] and PS (Socialist Party) to take power, in order to expose them. And Intersindical [union] too. To form a government ‘without generals or capitalists’. Yes, the Trots. In their rightful place. The tail end of an Stalinist demonstration” (p. 239). Likewise the Maoists are blasted “The proletariat, as seen by the Maoists is clearly more brawn than brain the sort of animal any skillful Leninist could easily ride to the revolution!” (p. 238). For anyone thinking of being a Tankie, Brinton’s description of what happened in Portugal, where Left-wing elements in the military, Stalinists and Maoists interacted, will hopefully disabuse them of that weird modern inclination (pp. 248-251).
Lest any Anarchists get smug about Brinton’s choice of targets, he also had the occasional barb for some among our number. He rightly describes Bakunin as “muddleheaded” (p. 113) and the chronicler of the Russian Revolution Voline is accused of having “…an over-simplified analysis” (p.373) of those events. Possibly valid comments of individuals not withstanding, Brinton sometimes oversteps the mark a bit. For example, his comment in a preface of another writer’s work that “We won’t be examining what happened in Spain in 1936…because it only has limited relevance to the problems of an advanced industrial country, in the last third of the twentieth century.” (p.172) still seems uncharitable in 2020. Overall, Brinton’s Orwell-like iconoclasm towards the Left while still being on the Left, was a healthy quality many would do well to emulate now. As he points out “The revolution is bigger than any organization, more tolerant than any institution ‘representing’ the masses, more realistic than any edict of any Central Committee” (p. 285). Brinton was specifically referring to France in 68 but it still has general applicability as a warning to the present and future.
One of Brinton’s most useful contributions to historiography was probably ‘The Bolsheviks and Workers Control’ which was published as a substantive 100 page essay and is re-produced in this selection. It has been translated into a number of languages, seen multiple editions and has been widely read. It breaks down into slow chronological chunks the steps that lead eventually to the crushing of workers power and potential grassroots democracy and its replacement with a hideous one-party dictatorship. It isn’t a unique account, but its contribution of a Libertarian Socialist perspective to the vast historiography on the subject is one that should be appreciated. Likewise, The Irrational in Politics, a booklet that explores the role of sexual repression in causing political and social obedience via a Reichian paradigm, is testament to the fact that Brinton’s concerns were not solely related to workers in the workplace.
To conclude, if your sole concern is the use of personal pronouns, you won’t be happy with Brinton’s area of focus or style. However, if you are open to considering questions of the best and worst ways for working people to escape the current system of economic and political domination, he still offers something worth thinking about. Why? Well, the answer and last words should be Brinton’s…”But men and women have always dreamed ‘impossible’ dreams. They have repeatedly sought to ‘storm heaven’ in the search for what they felt to be right. Again and again they have struggled for objectives difficult to attain, but which they sensed to embody their needs and desires. It is this capacity which makes of human beings the potential subjects of history, instead of its perpetual objects” (p. 255).
International statement of solidarity with the 51 anti-fascists who were arrested in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 16/9/2020.
greece / turkey / cyprus / anti-fascism / press release Sunday September 27, 2020 01:39 byVarious anarchist organisations
In the evening of 16/9/2020 at Thessaloniki, Greece, during a social intervention, anti-fascists were collectively erasing fascist hate slogans and graffiti, which were written a few days earlier by members of the new neo-Nazi party “Greeks for Fatherland” (Έλληνες για την Πατρίδα) - founded by Ilias Kassidiaris, an ex-representative of the Nazi party “Golden Dawn” (Χρυσή Αυγή) – and replacing them by antifascist graffiti instead. Around 10:30 PM our comrades were surrounded by a large group of police forces that attacked them without reason. Fifty-one comrades were taken into custody to the Police General Headquarters in Thessaloniki and kept there 2 to 4 days under the most deplorable conditions. In total, fifteen of them were injured while another two were even admitted to the hospital due to the heavy injuries caused by the police officers involved in the attack. Both during the arrest and under custody, the police did not cease to provoke and abuse their power - the ability to rule and control given to them by the state -, attempting to break the spirit of our comrades.
International statement of solidarity with the 51 antifascists who were arrested in Thessaloniki, Greece, on 16/9/2020.
The 51 antifascists arrested were presented before the prosecutor and the investigator who made the following outrageous and untrue accusations against them: i) disobedience, because they refused to have their fingerprints and photos taken; ii) breach of the public peace (a very common charge that is pressed against the accused whenever there is a protest); iii) destruction of the public site, for antifascists painted graffiti and slogans with antifascist content to cover the fascist ones. This proves us that, apparently, for the greek bourgeois “justice” courts the only permitted form of speech to be written on the walls of the city is fascist hate speech; iv) violation of the law on the protection of antiquities; v) illegal possession of weapons, for the activists who attended wielded anarchist flags and helmets; and vi) criminal prosecution for “monument damage”. That last claim was made by the curator of antiquities, which had no problem supporting this obscene lie, even though the “monument” which was damaged is nothing less but some benches located near the actual historical monument of Thessaloniki, the White Tower. What is also interesting about such a claim is that the construction of those benches in 2008, which were part of Vasilis Papageorgopoulos’s plan for business regeneration, was the one who destroyed the area around the historical monument of the city. Papageorgopoulos is no one less but the former city mayor and member of the now ruling right-wing party New Democracy, who was set free from prison after embezzling 30.000.000 euros from the municipal funds. Not unexpectedly, the antifascist slogans were easily cleaned the following days by the city street cleaners, of course leaving intact the fascist ones.
This provocative attack against the members of the anti-fascist movement demonstrates the true colors of capitalist oppression and the State's tolerance towards the fascists, whom they constantly nourish as their most reactionary reserve. What happened on September 16 against our comrades is for us an evident provocation by the state and the police, coinciding with the annual antifascist demonstration on the anniversary of the assassination of Pavlos Fyssas (anti-fascist hip hop musician who was murdered by members of Golden Dawn only a few days away from this year's incidents) and with the completion of the trial against the criminal neo-Nazi organization Golden Dawn (in which the prosecutor gave favorable treatment to the Nazis). And yet, on September 18 massive demonstrations took place all over the country and gave out a strong message of resistance and struggle against the State, the capitalists, and the fascists' involvement within the State. In the city of Thessaloniki alone, around 3000 protestors filled the streets for the antifascist demonstration.
We will not let our comrades or any member of the anti-capitalist and anti-fascist movement fall into the hands of state oppression. Our solidarity towards the antifascists arrested on September 16 will endlessly be provided. It is our collective obligation to create a safety net to defend them before the vindictive prosecution of the State. Offering political support and solidarity to our comrades is part of our duty as members of the international anti-fascist movement. As anarchists and anti-fascists we will stand by them in all ways possible, continuing our unwavering collective fight for social emancipation and contributing to the achievement of proletarian justice.
NO TO THE CRIMINAL PROSECUTION OF THE 51 ANTI-FASCISTS WHO WERE ARRESTED IN THESSALONIKI, GREECE, ON 16/9/2020
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