By Jesse D. Palmer
If it wasn’t clear before, the increasingly rapid creep towards fascism — with millions of people living in an alternative reality and blindly following buffoons selling division, racism and gun-toting threats of violence — is now a grave threat to any hope for justice, freedom or social progress. What can and should radicals do to push back?
First, its crucial to avoid being distracted by the latest shiny thing and merely reacting against media-driven spectacle. We are weakest when we let our oppressors set the agenda, frame the discussion and define the rules. We’re at our best when we act based on love and compassion and create something positive rather than just being against other people’s ideas and actions.
Fascism is not loving — rather, it dwells on cruelty, grievance, tribalism, nationalism, male chauvinism and white supremacy. It focuses on a desire to go back to a mythical earlier way of life and involves unquestioning obedience to a leader and a willingness to believe anything the leader says, no matter how absurd.
In fighting fascism, we can’t let ourselves develop our own hatred, intolerance and cynicism. If 75 million Americans are supporters of or members of a cult, I want to try to understand them as much as I can and avoid dehumanizing them and dismissing them — because dehumanization is itself part of the problem — even though I think they are wrong and dangerous.
If we’re to have a strategy to turn in another direction, it isn’t going to happen overnight. While the American Dream has always contained elements of fascism, it is over-simplistic to say that shit has always been this bad — things have gotten worse over the last few years and it would be more helpful to figure out why rather than being bitter. The expanding wealth and income gap, the economic decline of rural areas, the dizzying pace of social and technological change — there are big social changes that have perhaps made it easier for some people to feel grievance, and that may have pushed some people towards tribalism because they feel threatened and vulnerable. Making life better and more just for everyone is crucial to deflate hate.
Props to Anti-Racist action, punks who fought skinheads in the ‘80s, and Antifa for decades of street fighting racist groups. Right now however, I’m more concerned about perhaps 75 million people leaning towards authoritarianism than the tip of the iceberg of the Proud Boys and their ilk.
We need self-reflection about tactics. Antifa has had a hyper macho presentation that emphasizes self-defense and violence. This has been seized on by right wing media to promote a false equivalence narrative, which is arguably making the slide to fascism easier rather than more difficult. Street fighting escalates the tone of violent confrontation with fascists who actively want a violent, armed civil war. But Antifa and the larger radical scene is in general not heavily armed nor militarily trained — whereas most average right wing people in the US have guns, and right wing militias are heavily armed and often include military veterans with weapons training. If a civil war or armed conflict breaks out, the most likely result is authoritarianism, surveillance and repression — not any type of liberation. Looking at Iraq and other areas enduring armed conflict, there is a race to the bottom of pointless death and destruction, not just to the combatants but to everyone. Civil war is not likely to promote diversity, equality, freedom or environmental sustainability — rather a civil war is more likely to put all these backwards.
Beating someone up rarely changes their mind — and to address millions of people who don’t go to street fights, we need to focus on changing minds.
Although radicals struggle with the limitations of religious-type nonviolence and sometimes advocate for militancy such as fighting with police or destroying property — I have never heard radicals calling for mass executions and assassinations of right wing figures, which is precisely the type of discussion that is now commonplace amongst millions of right wingers. They are talking about killing folks like us. The Three Percenters etc. may evolve into death squads targeting political or civic figures, non-conformists, immigrants, and non-whites. Or perhaps they’ll begin an armed insurgency that carries out bombings and arson. Since right wing groups are cross-pollinated with the police and military, it is folly to exclusively rely on the police and government to push back against the fascist movement.
Populism – if it emphasized uniting the working class across race and other lines against the 1%, corporations and bosses — could be a powerful and positive force. But at the moment, the most widespread populism is organized around white supremacy — the radical scene has no active major working class populist movement like we did during Occupy. All we have is rhetoric and our dreams — not enough broad-based on the ground movements. We need to fill this gap because a lot of would-be fascists are experiencing economic anxiety every day. They don’t necessarily want the hate or the leader-worship — but they want to do something against conditions that are intolerable. The anger is out there — we can help make sure it is against corrupt elites and rulers who disrespect regular folks.
Radicals need to figure out ways to talk to people who have different demographics to build solidarity outside our bubbles. This will involve focusing on areas of agreement, not points of disagreement:
-we love our family and friends
-we want to be safe
-we want a decent life, to have enough to eat, to have a place to live
-we want things to be fair – those who work hard should be rewarded
-we want to be free to decide what to do on our own and not have power structures tell us what to do.
A lot of right wing people agree on these things. Radicals get hung up using college-educated code language. Sure Fox News plays a part in dividing the country, but our scene also needs to fix the ways we’re responsible for promoting division.
A larger community could stand up to the 1% who take more than their share. We need to be better at articulating the beautiful inclusive parts of our vision — tolerance, diversity — “we are all one”, “we are all Earthlings” — love each other — let’s share what we have rather than hoarding. We believe in freedom not conformity and boredom — cooperation not hierarchical power structures.
A crucial part of addressing rising fascism is figuring out ways to counter conspiracy theories — which begs the wider question of how to figure out what is true in an internet context filled with mis-information — and why it is important to try. Not all conspiracy theories are right wing — I constantly hear them in radical and alternative spaces. It is even more common to see friends relying on or distributing mis-information they heard on the internet without questioning its authenticity, checking the information or caring much. Too often I’ve kept quiet and let this stuff slide to avoid conflict but I’m not going to do that anymore — we all need to call out untruth when we hear it even if it supports our overall belief system.
You don’t need a conspiracy theory to explain injustice and power imbalances – there are real power structures that are right out in the open. The anecdote to conspiracy theories is having something to believe in and to hope for.
The search for truth and facts — and trying to make decisions with the most accurate facts possible — is crucial to a just, free, decent and sustainable world. Those in power have always manipulated facts, lied and used propaganda. Facts we learned in school and in history have always been biased, racist and sexist. But that doesn’t excuse or diminish the seriousness of recent next-level alternative realities like q-anon that are now believed by tens of millions of people.
Everything is not relative. There is a difference between the science industry controlled by corporations and the process of science in terms of testing whether particular things are true. Science involves observation, skepticism, formulating hypotheses based on observations, testing deductions drawn from hypotheses, and refining or eliminating hypotheses based on findings. Sometimes, we can test facts ourselves, but mostly we have to rely on information from others, and so radicals need to discuss how to find facts, how to fact-check things, and how to promote distribution of factual information and corrections of mis-information. This cannot be about relying on big tech companies to police right wingers because any tools they develop against fascism we can bet will be deployed against radicals.
We have to be modest and humble. I have no idea how to fix all this shit – I’m not smart enough and I’m not sure anyone is. Over the 33 years Slingshot has existed, the world has gotten worse and worse. Maybe it’s time to try something else.
A few months ago my friends and I were at the Berkeley Marina and we were trying to figure out how to turn back modern-fascism while slowing climate change and addressing racial and economic injustice. Our zany idea was that everyone would work much less since a high portion of work consists of bullshit jobs that don’t contribute to human happiness nor address human needs — and all that surplus work eats up tons of natural resources which is pushing nature to the brink of extinction.
Since there would be plenty of extra time, huge voluntary, free, social camps would be created to help unite the world and connect people who come from different backgrounds. Everyone could take a few weeks off and take a solar powered train to natural places full of swimming, group activities, sports and games, collectively prepared feasts and huge dance parties each night. Half the people at each camp would come from urban, coastal “liberal” areas and half from rural, flyover, “conservative” areas so rather than seeing people from different backgrounds as media-stereotypes, you could meet, talk to and get to know and play with real people. For those who wanted, huge groups of people would eat psychedelic mushrooms and have intense visions and revelations about how we are all one — there is no separation between us and the earth and the plants and the ocean — and people are all the same. As the sun rose, it would be obvious to everyone that we can get what we need without hurting others. And in fact it’s the only way we can survive on this fragile beautiful world. Maybe fighting fascism isn’t only about fighting — when they go low, we get them high.