Solidarity in Liberty: The Workers’ Path to Freedom
From this truth of practical solidarity or fraternity of struggle that I have laid down as the first Principe of the Council of Action flows a theoretical consequence of equal importance. The workers are able to unite as a class for class economic action, because all religious philosophies, and systems of morality which prevail in any given order of society are always the ideal expression of its real, material situation. Theologies, philosophies and ethics define, first of all, the economic organization of society; and secondly, the political organization, which is itself nothing but the legal and violent consecration of the economic order. Consequently, there are not several religions of the ruling class; there is one, the religion of property. And there are not several religions of the working class: there is one, the piety of struggle, the vision of emancipation, penetrating the fog of every mysticism, and finding utterance in a thousand prayers. Workers of all creeds, like workers of all’ lands, have but one faith, hope, and charity; one common purpose overleaps the barriers of seeming hatreds of race and creed. The workers are one class, and therefore one race, one faith, one nation. This is the Theoretical truth to be induced from the practical fraternal solidarity of the Council of Action organization. Church and State are liquidated in the vital organization of the working class, the genius of free humanity.
It has been stated that Protestantism established liberty in Europe. This is a great error. It is the economic, material emancipation of the bourgeois class which, in spite of Protestantism, has created that exclusively political and legal liberty, which is too easily confounded with the grand, universal, human liberty, which only the proletariat can create. The necessary accompaniment of bourgeois legal and political liberty, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, is the intellectual, anti-Christian, and anti-religious emancipation of the bourgeoisie. The capitalist ruling class has no religion, no ideals, and no illusion. It is cynical and unbelieving because it denies the real base e of human society, the complete emancipation of the working class. Bourgeois society, by its very nature of interested professionalism, must maintain centers of authority and exploitation, called States. The laborers, by their very economic needs, trust challenge such centers of oppression.
The inherent principles of human existence are summed up in the single law of solidarity. This is the golden rule of humanity and may be formulated this: no person can recognize or realize their own humanity except by recognizing it in others and so cooperating for its realization by each and all No one can emancipate themselves save by emancipating with all the about.
My liberty is the liberty of everybody. I cannot be free in idea until I am free in fact. To be free in idea and not free fact is to be revolt. To be free in fact is to have my liberty and my right, find their confirmation, and sanction in the liberty and right of all mankind. I am free only when all people are my equals (first and foremost economically.)
What all others are is of the greatest importance to me. However independent I may imagine myself to be, however far removed I may appear from mundane considerations by my social status, I am enslaved to the misery of the meanest member of society. The outcast is my daily menace. Whether I am Pope, Czar, Emperor, or even Prime Minister, I am always the creature of their circumstance, the conscious product of their ignorance, want and clamoring. They are in slavery, and I, the superior one, am enslaved in consequence.
For example if such is the case, I am enlightened or intelligent person. But I an foolish with the folly of the people, my wisdom stunned by their needs, my mind palsied. I an a brave man, but I am the coward of the peoples’ fear. Their misery appalls me, and every day I shrink from the struggle of life. My career becomes an evasion of living. A rich man, I tremble before their poverty, because it threatens to engulf me. I discover I have no riches in myself, no wealth but that stolen from the common life of the common people. As privileged man, I turn pale before the people’s demand for justice. I feel a menace in that demand. The cry is ominous and I am threatened. It is the feeling of the malefactor dreading, yet waiting for inevitable arrest. My life is privileged and furtive. But it is not mine. I lack freedom and contentment. In short, wishing to be free, though I am wise, brave, rich, and privileged, I cannot be free because my immediate associates do not wish men to be free; and the mass, from whom all wisdom, bravery, riches, and privileges ascend, do not know how to secure their freedom. The slavery of the common people make them the instruments of my oppression. For me to be free, they must be free. We must conquer bread and Freudian in common.
The true, human liberty of a single individual implies the emancipation of all: because, thanks to the law of solidarity, which is the natural basis of all human society, I cannot be, feel, and know myself really, completely free, if I an not surrounded by people as free as myself. The slavery of each is my slavery.
now The back door 10 hour working day – you do the math?
Working Class Solidarity
The strengths of anti-fascism are rooted in a rich and proud history with clear goals, if not allies. Its major weakness lies in the fact that anti-fascist ideology is contradictory and largely discredited by the current political context. The traditional ideology of anti-fascism i.e. (anyone but the fascists) needs to be abandoned, in favour of a new practice: building working class solidarity through community organising which is both principled and consistently anti-fascist and anti-racist.
The basis of solidarity, then, should ultimately derive from an internationalist perspective. It means mutually working together with the peoples of the world in the struggle against the common enemy of imperialism. While much of the world is no stranger to white supremacy and colonialism, some may not completely understand the intricacies of racism. At the same time, many oppressed peoples, the working class constitutes the overwhelming majority of society. It is the only class with the numbers and social weight to drive through a revolutionary transformation.
The working class needs unity. But unity can be effected only by a united organisation whose decisions are conscientiously carried out by all class-conscious workers. Discussing the problem, expressing and hearing different opinions, ascertaining the views of the workers, expressing these views in the form of decisions adopted by delegates and carrying them out conscientiously—this is what reasonable people all over the world call unity. Such a unity is infinitely precious, and infinitely important to the working class. Disunited, the workers are nothing. United, they are everything.
Anti-fascism and Peacebuilding
Anti-fascism, despite much semantic creepage on this word, is generally seen as an essential direct intervention into the symptoms of larger racist and structural violence but it also has the potential, and at times has been, completely transformative in a way that we should emphasize and prioritize whenever possible. This strong definition of conflict transformation comes from Tatsushi Arai and is: “A sustained process of examining conflict sources and contexts systematically and developing relevant means to redirect its momentum into constructive relationship-building and social change.” This is a deeper level of analysis than what is often pointed to by the broad term, ‘peacebuilding’ which is often associated with the maintenance of stable economic liberalism through cessation of hostilities. Liberal peacebuilding has so much blood on its hands from inaction and protection of the state that it could stand to learn from anarcho-antifas but it also has a track record of ending violence when nothing else could and attempting at times to undermine the deeper ideologies behind the violence. Together, they present useful parallels and contrast for larger praxis against fascist violence. In spite of their differences, the field of peacebuilding can offer insight to antifa organizing that can improve the antifa politics and tactics and better achieve the goal of a future without fascism.
How to combat the creeping trends of fascism and about the justifiability of various tactics of resistance (pushing back or repressing) and subversion (transformation). Two primary competing threads that are quite at odds with each other. One is conflict transformation and one is militant anti-fascism. Conflict transformation has the primary goal of transcending the matrices of conflict by appealing to the needs of all parties in order to produce a sustainable peace: i.e. the end of violence on multiple levels, including structural. Anti-fascism has as its primary goals ending targeted violence and authoritarianism through the repression and transformation of fascist ideologies and groups. These goals are interrelated but their means are quite different.
The antifa tends to value a military approach and believe that the only way fascism and nazism have ever been stopped is by using force, at times martial, which historically is generally, but not always, true. The spectrum of antifa work is on an escalator ranging from internet quibbles to all out war, but also, most strong antifa groups dedicate the majority of their time to various forms of intelligence research and propaganda as well. This is a militant ideology shared to varying extents, not only by Unite Against Fascism (UAF), Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), Anti-Racist Action (ARA), Red and Anarchist Skinheads (RASH), Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP), but also organizations and militias such as the Yugoslav Partisans and Josip Broz Tito, the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in Spain, and other autonomous anarchist Antifa mobilizations. The peacebuilder, by contrast, tends to value agreements, discourse, and cessation of hostilities more. Both of these ideologies have persons and groups within them that can handle with nuance and delicacy issues of strategy and efficacy of various means through radical analysis. There are peacebuilders who recognize the necessity of transforming structural oppression or even structural violence and there are anti-fascists who recognize the importance of education and dialogue for counter-recruitment and other purposes.
“Liberal” Peacebuilding vs. “Radical” Antifa
Peacebuilding has been at times a critical arm of neoliberalism and colonial power despite its attempts to mask itself with ‘neutrality’. Despite this, many have managed to supercede or critique from within the liberal (both political and economic) tendencies in order to create a more radical and structurally transformative peacebuilding. Often peacebuilding is practically about the dishing out of territories amongst warring parties, but it has the capacity to be, and is at times, a much more transformative approach than this when it truly deals with the deep causes and finding common ground in an attempt to build a sustainable peace. This being said, the Peacebuilding-Industrial Complex, like non-violence, has to address claims that, aside from profiting from prolonged war and misery, they also often de facto maintain oppressive regimes or structures of statist violence in their efforts towards creating dialogue with key warring parties. Conversely, the radical antifas of the world, have at times, quite ironically, been labeled as fascistic themselves for their employment of unyielding force and assumed constant moral authority. Some anitfas are so positive that they are always correct, or are just so violence-worshipping, that they fail to acknowledge the deep ethical questions inherent within violent and repressive means. But, at the same time, without your ‘friendly neighborhood antifas’, you could face a completely unfettered rise of nazis in your neighborhood such as the Christian Identity and Aryan Nation movement in Hayden Lake, Idaho. This unfettered rise is contrasted with what was seen in the racist history of Portland, which was in part combatted by the rise of such imperfect and essential antifascist groups as Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice and Rose City Antifa in addition to the antifa history of cities like Chicago or NYC.
Despite all of these intricacies, peacebuilding, in general can be considered more so within the liberal tradition, with anti-fascism more so residing in the radical tradition. My hope is that peacebuilding can be radicalized and that antifa work can generate transformations in favor of actual consequentialist efficacy. Although much of modern antifa work happens on the streets and in the background organizing, historically, this struggle is extended onto the battlefield when fascists and nazis actually gain power. I am here considering antifa as a whole to be on the militant spectrum, even though I recognize that the type of antifas who act with minimal foresight I sometimes critique here are just one piece of a diverse antifa movement.
European and U.S. antifa
The antifa movement in Europe is, in many ways, more well organized than the antifa movement in the States, likely due to a more visceral collective memory of what fascism really is and looks like. Further, there is more of a clear fascist and neo-nazi thread in Modern European politics, as opposed to the disguised ideological thread of the conservative armed patriot movements of the United States. The U.S. though, does have its own long history of antifa movements stretching back even arguably to 500+ years of Native American resistance to (settler-)colonization or black resistance to white supremacy such as the Black Panthers.
One interviewee based in the UK describes antifascist organizing there as, “I have experienced organised UK antifascism at the moment to be at its best– relatively inclusive, well-networked, and achieving the bare minimum of consistently smashing the fash and maintaining a network which is resilient enough to survive burnout and sustained repression. At their worst, groups are insular, self-aggrandising, overwhelmingly white, and seemingly lone bastions of ‘manarchism’ and/or ‘brocialism’ in an organising context that has at least in bits and pieces moved on.” This quote highlights the wide range of what is claimed under the antifa umbrella in the UK which is also relevant to the U.S spectrum of antifa work. He went on to critique some parts of the UK movement, saying,
“There also seems to be an exceptionally limited range of tactics in use – basically stickers and counter-demos. (And also catfishing gullible fascists seems to be a big thing.) My biggest problem with this approach overall is that it arbitrarily isolates one expression of fascism and fascist violence from its myriad other manifestations in the UK, at its borders, and inside its burgeoning exclusion zones – carried out at the hands the state’s direct employees, and the private companies to whom much of their work is now outsourced. It means that communities most affected by and at risk of fascist violence, even those most actively organising amongst them, feel little connection in their lives and struggles to the organised antifa groups, and there is little exchange or mutual interest.”
This quote shows the many battlefields of antifa work and the necessary diversification of some groups’ tactics. This interviewee is showing that there are so many strategic points of resistance, vulnerabilities in the matrices of fascist systems and supply lines, that we can exploit. He is asking us to think about all these different points in a careful way to maximize impact. He also excitedly points to other groups not falling prey to these limits such as the Clapton Ultras who are, “A group of local football (soccer) fans who made an antifa fan club along the lines of the Italian brigadas. They have a very broad support base in my experience; of the handful people I know who are avid fans, not one is a cis white man!” There are also specifically black punks in Europe such as the Black Dragons in France that have organized anti-fascist action.
Europe is experiencing a rapid resurgence of far-right groups similar to the United States with such key parties as Golden Dawn, Alternative for Germany Party, National Front, Party for Freedom, Jobbik, Sweden Democrats, etc.,with their own armed militia factions, just like in the United States. The largest difference is that the Second Amendment culture of the U.S. makes it somewhat easier for the far-right to obtain access to armament. Finally, as in the United States, but perhaps to an even greater degree, many of these white-supremacist nationalist parties– both henchmen and leaders– are taking major seats in government and occupying the ranks of common police forces. As recent U.S. violence targetting police has begun to upswing in response to police violence against communities of color, many far-right groups have pledged loyalty to and offered to protect the police through vigilante methods. This could symbolize or lead to a growing relationship between the two, representing a shift as historically, many far-right groups often fought against the police. In the United States, the far-right has a notable lineage and relationship to Libertarianism, Constitutionalism, “scientific”-racism/race-realism, and in more recent years, the neo-reactionary (NRx) movement, whereas, in Europe, the influences are to some extent more diffuse and relate to a longer historical memory but often vacillate between strong nationalism and anti-immigration rhetoric and violence as can be seen in the events leading to and immediately following Brexit. This is of course acknowledging that both forms of fascism share many of these traits in varying degrees and are widely internally varied and dynamic.
On the other side of the ideological expanse, to contrast UK and US antifascism, in the UK, groups like Unite Against Fascism (UAF) pressure government politics while Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) works on the streets doing physical repression and ideological campaigns. By contrast, in the United States, the decentralized organization Anti-Racist Action (ARA), and various autonomous campaigns fulfill antifa services, but I have not heard of anything akin to UAF pushing strongly in U.S. electoral politics. An interviewee, Alexander Reid Ross, suggested that the ARA “both ARA and European antifa networks emerged through autonomist and horizontal punk networks, but the former adopted a more populist approach to take on the different character of the far right in the US.” He also added, in terms of the US as compared to European antifa, that, “I think a lot of antifas in the US are still growing and learning. The armed factor is totally different here, and there is far more of a paramilitary one that seems virtually impossible to counter when taken in whole. However, the smaller scale antifa stuff [like] outing the AFP [American Freedom Party], opposing Traditionalist Youth, drawing lines with murky punk and neofolk politics in the “scene,” and generally working to stamp down nazi violence before it leads to dead or brutalized black, brown, and queer people is obviously within the skill set of the larger growing movement. In Europe, antifas are doing similar work, just on a larger scale, because the problem there is more generally a clear nazi-fascist one, rather than “conservative revolutionary” and sheltered by the traditional mainstream right party.” This shows how the type of techniques needed in Europe and the U.S. are different both in scale and type of threat even if the overarching issues are largely the same: halting the rise of far-right militarism and power. We then went on to discuss the fascist evolution of the patriot movement from the Pelleyites, LK Smith & Christian Identity Movement (not to mention the Klan) and their relationship with white-supremacy, neo-nazis, and the far-right U.S. Libertarian movement with its roots in holocaust denial, American Freedom Party, and Stormfront. In the U.S. these types of groups have also mutated and informed the neo-reactionary, alt-right, etc. movements where so much of the battlegrounds, like in Europe, have started to have strong internet-to-irl (in real life) relationships Through these examples we can see how, despite differing context and at times levels or types of mobilization, the Euro and U.S. antifa movements have much to learn and collaborate from each other about.
Understanding the Other and Radical Empathy
Another example of conflict between peacebuilding and antifa praxis is in the realm of “othering”. Anti-fascists make regular and intensive use of “othering” tactics against fascist and white supremacist movements. Many anti-fascists make fascists into something that can never be understood but can only be hated and fought. This has strategic value. It’s harder to fight someone with whom you deeply empathize. Conflict transformation suggests something called “radical empathy” attributed to the powerfully brilliant Tatushi Arai, that allows one to strive to deeply understand the “other” and their needs, while not losing sight of the structural inequalities that influence and often create or maintain the violence. Radical Empathy is an ideal point of reference for antifa praxis against fascism, even though it is much easier said than done. As we struggle to subvert fascism in the world we must also expose it in ourselves. This vulnerability alone can be a source of empathy that allows us to recognize how one could fall into the memetic viruses associated with fascism and the like. If fascism is built on theories of dominance and a sort of narcissistic group-selfishness and manipulativeness, then, to that extent, it reflects the sociopathic tendencies which we must undermine in ourselves. When I speak of empathy as a solution to this, I am not speaking of some brittle and impulsive visceral reaction, but rather of a sustained and conscious blurring of the self in order to better understand the “other”. This does not mean that we lose ourselves in our process of recognition because, if our values are true, then they will always survive the encounter, no matter how deep. If we are afraid of encountering the “other,” then it is because we are so afraid of inconsistencies within our own politics and values. If that’s the case, then we’d be better off to make these inconsistencies visible and try to understand them. in order to begin undermining them. If you don’t get behind empathy for some higher moral reason, then get behind it for the practical reason— the better you understand your enemy, the more effectively you can fight them. For instance, I personally empathize with the far-right poor white who wants to feel greater certainty in their ability to feed their family or feel safe in their community, even if I disagree with their understanding of how to get there. Further, from spending significant time around ‘patriots’ and libertarians I have learned of a great many common goals and values and of how to communicate through these frames of reference such as a basic anti-racist instinct in many of them (although it’s often strangled or confused) or contradictions in the application of liberty as they describe it that can be pointed out to some effect. These are all potential bridges for practical real-life conversation.
Alternatively, antifa as a military praxis depends on a certain degree of dehumanization. We have to “crush the disease” of fascism. We have to “kill the nazis”. This is the problem of having an identity based around being ‘anti-’ something else. An oppositional identity has a built-in requirement of its enemy to exist and it necessitates othering. It would seem quite strange if someone was like, “We need to kill the poor whites who got so convinced by their fear of death and increased restriction of access to means that they believe that African Americans and Muslims are their problem”. It’s not impossible to still beat the shit out of that guy, but you’re more likely to want to convince him that he’s been seriously fucking hustled. So if our goal is to control and limit the number of fascists out there recruiting and terrorizing neighborhoods, then it is in some ways more effective to not really think about the humanity of those you would kill. I mean, I’ve never heard of an army that meditates before battle on the humanity of their enemy. Radical empathy has more to do with our approach to the entire situation though than just what we do on the streets. It means that we think differently about how to strategize against fascists and also how to engage with them in dialogue when it’s appropriate. We can still throw a chair at someone we more deeply understand and empathize with. I mean, haven’t you ever been to a family reunion?
This trend of oppositional identity extends so far that eventually it even gets into some nasty classism where leftists condescend to the ignorance of poor communities that are often manipulated by the GOP. We forget that your average Republican has a set of values and ethics: it is from a deeper understanding of what these values are that we can often convince them that the means they’ve chosen are not in line with the ends they seek. Arguments can then be made that modern capitalism is not in line with the values such as freedom and liberty set forth by the ideologues of capitalism because of a range of issues such as state-protected monopolies and a landed upper one-percent concentration of extreme wealth. Any right-wing aficionado with a basic grasp of Libertarian values will then perk their ears up and you begin to have the possibility of an actual conversation. Of course generally though, even the most militant groups practice basic propaganda and even the most pacifist groups wouldn’t just try to talk sense to an armed right wing militia group. There are important and contextual questions of timing and safety that we deal with on a case-by-case basis.
An example of how this can and does occur is when, like in the film “When Tommy Met Mo”, every time a liberal swoops in to say that Islam is a religion of peace, but has never read the Koran, a right-winger, citing a sketchy memory of certain damning passages, looks with condescension and disbelief upon the ignorance and denial of the liberal. Alternatively, when a conservative, uses the behavior of a proportionately incredibly small section of people identified as Muslim, to malign the entire group, a liberal looks with condescension and disbelief upon the ignorance and denial of the conservative. Both think that the other is a monster bent on destroying and attacking their respective values. This pair may then be pushed farther to their respective extreme, with the right-wing conservative feeling increasingly only understood by extreme right wing nationalist groups, and the liberal feeling only understood by far leftists. This whole situation of anti-magnetism can be avoided through more nuanced and less polarized avenues for dialogue.
I’m not minimizing the importance of militant repression of fascism. There is much evidence that fascism flourishes in the sunlight and withers in the shadows because of its ideologies of: “We are temporarily oppressed by XYZ but we are the rightful heirs of everything great including dominance”. So generally, when we need to quickly stop a bunch of Nazi’s from harassing a group of Muslims or a bunch of right wingers assaulting women seeking an abortion, we don’t really think about their trajectory, or who they are as people, or how to undermine them in a more sustainable way. We just focus on stopping the shit they’re doing now because that is also important. In some ways, the rhetoric against dehumanization in peacebuilding applies to a different situation such as in Rwanda, where Tutsis were referred to as cockroaches by Hutus with relatively little by way of reason supporting this dehumanization (outside of a colonially implanted ideology/power structure). Whereas, if I call a nazi a cockroach, it’s because they are self-identified white supremacists. The power differential and the sensibility is different. White-supremacy has systemic state support, whereas antifa radicalism does not. State power is part of what makes othering so lethal and insidious. Words have more impact when they’re backed by the violence of the state. I do not go as far as to claim that the police will always support white supremacists and never support antifa, as the U.S history in this regard is quite mixed, from the Greensboro massacre to Waco. This mixed history does not contradict the fact that “the state” does have a vested interest in maintaining some degree of invisible and visible white supremacy. There is additional complexity in that, the othering of an empowered agent of state approved violence such as cops (the blue militia), is not at all the same thing as a cop othering a disenfranchised civilian. If a cop dehumanizes a civilian they can get away with shooting them. If I say “fuck the pigs” it really won’t have any impact on them. In terms of the academic theory side we might not even call the latter (FTP!) othering even though it shares so many of the same behaviors and traits because it lacks the systemic punch. antifa members can strategically utilize othering of these grossly empowered fascists as a tactic but they must beware of the potential negative consequences of that tactic such as decreased ability to counter-recruit, decreased ability to understand the “enemy” enough to strategize effectively, or the loss of perspective when it comes to ethics around violence. To see the slipperiness of the slope, consider for a moment– if fascists are just “cockroaches” at what point does it become genocide rather than just ‘pest elimination’? This regression doesn’t mean we should abandon violence all together in some hand-waving idealism. It just that we need to maintain ethical and intellectual vigilance when utilizing tactics such as “othering” in our work.
Perpetuating Cycles of Revenge
The “cycle of revenge” which is what allows something that may start as a small scuffle to become a century long war of which no one even remembers the original issue. As long as people are stuck in the inner circle of grief, anger, manipulation, and justified revenge there is little hope of the violence ending. Within this model various, often overlapping steps such as mourning, rehumanizing the enemy, engaging with the other, and creating various levels of justice are necessary in order to transcend the cycle of revenge. Most people don’t really like to think about where they are in relationship to the wars they’re fighting. In violent conflict we just want to think about our immediate community and the enemy. We want to think about how right we are and how wrong they are and prepare for the next battle where we will surely vindicate our martyrs. We fail to deeply consider that this process is the exact same thing that they’re doing. I’m not saying this graphical tool is a perfect match for anti-fascist work but to the extent that we are no longer fighting fascism, and are instead just engaging a cycle of revenge against “that guy and his buddies who threw a bottle at our friend after we threw a chair at them” we are not even actually stopping or preventing fascism. Obviously this is only one faction of antifas, but for those who it applies, we’re just engaging in violence for the sake of violence. That’s the thing about a cycle of revenge. It never ends on its own. Something has to happen in order for it to shift. Either everyone from one side dies or somewhere along the line people try to start transcending their conflicts and working towards united goals. What happens most often though, at both smaller and larger scales, is something quite a bit more heinous. Often what happens is that one group does something so terrible, usually involving innocents and civilians, that the other side is forced to stop fighting back. The peak example of this is the unforgivable use of a nuclear weapon by the United States against Japan. The fact that we did it twice only amplifies the cruelty. In gang wars it’s often the same thing, you threaten or kill someone’s family. The more bizarre and personal a violence is, the more effective it is. It’s a terrible strategy though, because it doesn’t end the violence, it just postpones it. The resentment will always be brewing because a group can never really kill all of its opponents, especially if the opponent is an ideology.
Obviously we will likely never support fascism as an ideology, but that’s rarely what is really at the roots of what far right-wing people are on about. There are many reasons that people are drawn into it, such as that poor whites are losing jobs and they want someone to blame so they get manipulated into believing it’s the fault of liberal multiculturalism and diversity. Then someone tells them there’s a white genocide and they don’t know shit about research and verification and critical thinking so they become very afraid and take up arms. I mean it’s shitty but at the same time, the average foot soldier, which is who we’re mostly fighting, is not generally our true enemy. Our enemies are their demagogues, funders, and writers. Our enemies are the structures that support white supremacy and the culture that turns a blind eye. So yeah, we keep fighting in the streets because it’s important to do so, but we also start to think beyond the protest. How can we really get at that roots of this thing and start to unwind it from its core? How can we make sure that if we topple this organization, its most marginalized members don’t get dropped on their heads and just become further radicalized even if they just go into hiding? These are a very different line of thinking than just the immediately pertinent, ‘let’s take an axe to their amplification cords’ approach. This is similar to how violence against Muslims by far-right British groups fed the network of extremist Imams recruiting from the most marginalized Muslim neighborhoods. Of course many antifa groups are already thinking and acting in a sort of deep and transformative way. People are actually creating protection committees for mosques and planned parenthood clinics. People are counter-recruiting. People are writing literature in a language that working class whites can understand. These are invaluable additions to the battlefield tactics of the street.
Extracts from Towards a Tranformative Anti-Fascism by Emmi Bevensee
Working Class Solidarity through Community Projects
In many ways, concepts such as ‘identity’ and ‘community’ seem intuitively simple. They are part of everyday life – how we see the world, how we see ourselves in the world and how the world sees us. The findings from the ESRC Identities and Social Action research programme on which this report is based have been fascinating – each study providing new evidence of how people connect and how they move through life, constructing ways of living that make sense and feel safe in today’s society. And yet writing this report has proved extraordinarily complicated. On the one hand, identity feels quite solid. Most of us know who we are and how to behave in different situations. At an individual level we have a sense of ‘self’, and can also claim to be part of at least one community. A closer examination of the evidence, combined with a few minutes reflection, suggests, however, that our identities and communities are more fluid and hybrid. The complexity of society is mirrored in the complexity of identity – the shifting performance of how we present ourselves to others and the range of people that we regard as ‘one of us’. Community can be seen here as a collective version of identity, emerging from the interactions, conversations and observations among people we know directly and from images available through the media and hearsay. It is often associated with feelings of warmth, nostalgia and ‘belonging’. Identity, likewise, is usually a source of esteem, of solidarity and comfort. But someone else’s identity may be viewed as threatening or strange perhaps because they defy local conventions, demand equal respect or challenge existing social norms. A semantic enigma attaches to the word ‘community’: why is it that the noun ‘community’ indicates exclusive membership (e.g. the Traveller community) while the same word used as an adjective implies openness and accessibility (community school, community website)? Maybe identity concepts are the key to this? The recently elected coalition government has committed itself to delivering the ‘Big Society’, where active citizens, community organisers and neighbourhood groups are given power and responsibility to take on public services, to shape the places where they live and to set up a variety of self-help and philanthropic organisations. According to government statements, the Big Society will be created and driven by enterprise, compassion, mutuality and fairness. Individuals will take up volunteering opportunities and communities will band together to run services and pursue their common interests. The previous government followed a similar path, wanting ever higher levels of civic engagement, social cohesion and citizen participation, while creating an array of programmes and procedures to support collective empowerment. Such aspirations sound inspiring and democratic in the rhetoric, but as many politicians, policymakers and practitioners have discovered, they are often much harder to put into practice. In our more fragmented and diverse society, what motivates people to seek ‘community’ as a means of achieving what they want for themselves and their families? And what shapes their choices about which communities they belong to and which are seen as ‘other’. Locality is only one aspect of the modern sense of community, and for many people, by no means the most significant one. Familiarity, convenience, ancestry are all factors to consider.
Identity is not a happenstance aspect of our lives – it is something we actively perform and negotiate to construct and adapt to suit changing circumstances and choices. Taken together, the research studies illustrated that several factors foster connections between people within a community. Circumstances and social expectations affect how people chose to identify in different situations and also sometimes the labels that are put upon them. There are well-recognised benefits to having a shared identity associated with mutual support and loyalty, but there are also downsides. Community as a form of collective identity is especially pertinent when people feel threatened or excluded, for example by redundancy, imprisonment or discrimination. In order to effectively mobilise citizens and activate whole communities, it is crucial that we have a good understanding of how identities ‘work’: for individuals and at a collective level. What role does identity play in civil society, in political engagement, in bringing communities together, in managing life’s transitions and in helping newcomers to integrate? These are all major challenges facing us worldwide today. Discussions about identity are complicated and fraught with hidden tensions about cultural differences, divergent loyalties and old enmities. There are fears of offending long-held customs or violating ‘political correctness’ but if we are concerned to understand who’s who in our communities, and decide how we want to live together, then we need to have some proper conversations based on clear evidence, some practical experience and a sound framework of human rights and shared values. This report draws out the key findings from the ESRC Identities and Social Action research programme, and applies them to what has been learnt from community development about working with communities. Policymakers and practitioners alike will find it useful. It will help readers to ask the right questions, devise interventions, interpret what is happening and respond positively to the kaleidoscopic diversity of the ‘Big Society’.
“A tree, whatever the circumstances, does not become a legume, a vine or a cow….Identity must make some kind of sense. And for it to make sense, it must be an identity constructed in response to facts outside oneself, things that are beyond one’s own choices.” Kwame Anthony Appiah, 2007, Ethics of Identity.
Why Consider Identity?
How is Identity Shaped? Identities and our sense of self emerge from our earliest experiences and are based initially on what others do to us and for us. This in turn is affected by social context and cultural mores. Some aspects of our identities are determined at birth, such as sex and aspects of our physical appearance. Others, such as class or faith, we might inherit or adopt from family and culture. In other respects, our identities have a legal basis, like nationality or immigration status. We also have choices. We can actively decide to reassign things like faith, nationality and even gender later in life, depending on changes in circumstance or personal preference. As we grow older and interact with a wider range of people, cultures and institutions, we become aware that we have a number of possible identities and are able to combine or emphasise these depending on what seems to be expected of us and how we are treated. The balance of power in society is reflected in identities, just as we can use identity to influence the behaviour of others. Identities provide safety, solidarity and shelter. But they can also threaten or jeopardise our wellbeing. By understanding the fluid and strategic nature of identities, we can recognise how individuals come together in communities and use connections to protect and promote their shared interests. The Evolving Nature of Identities Identities are malleable, complex and multiple. They evolve and are expressed according to the changing needs and opportunities facing individuals and communities. Our identities and affiliations at any particular moment may reflect family or local loyalties, or wider structural inequalities. As we journey through life, our place in the family changes, as does our status in society. Some of these stages are marked explicitly with rites of passage, others simply happen as we acquire new responsibilities and age-related rights. In some cases, people’s identities are rooted deep in historical divisions, such as in Northern Ireland or the Balkans. We express our identities differently in different settings, drawing on the most useful, comfortable or least risky dimensions of our identities for a given situation. This might be an automatic adjustment, or a highly self-conscious and deliberate manoeuvre, but either way depends on a subtle awareness of prevailing expectations and power differentials. Intersectionality The flexibility and multiplicity of our identities is due to the fact that different aspects of our identities intersect, combining and modifying each other in the process. For example, if we are Scottish or Welsh, how we relate to our national identity is affected by whether we are male or female, young or old, Muslim or Christian. However, this pliability has its limits. Certain identities are less negotiable, depending on the person and the situation. This in turn affects how that person, and those around them, act and react to challenges. Understanding identity means considering how things like genetics, shared affiliations and migration shape who we are. However, we cannot ignore the fact that people actively construct their own sense of self and perform identities that enable them to lead ‘liveable lives’. What makes a life ‘liveable’? From a social point of view, it should be free from threat and suspicion, with easy and plentiful opportunities for positive, meaningful interactions. Overall, identity is crucial to people’s well being and aspirations. It influences what individuals do, how they position themselves and how they make sense of the world. It shapes their habits, attitudes, what they take for granted and how they relate to others – all features that are central to community life. Why is Identity Important to Community? Community is a vital aspect of a person’s sense of self. Just like identities, communities are complex and fluid. Traditional views of community have tended to emphasise belonging and locality, suggesting common purpose, continuity and unity. Communities were regarded as homogenous, with overlapping networks of shared interests and close-knit relationships. The notion of intersectionality challenges this nostalgic image. As the following chapters will demonstrate, most people’s identities are not fixed or one-dimensional. They are multi-faceted and spread across different levels of community – from families, friendship networks, villages, estates and neighbourhoods, to towns, cities, sub-regions and nations. Some communities are trans-national. Others are based on common interests and experiences, such as work, hobbies, shared memories of oppression, life stage or social status. People still refer to familiarity, continuity and shared moral frameworks in defining their communities, but they also appear to value change and diversity as a source of creativity and learning.
A convergence of interests manifests itself in what are often known as communities of ‘identity’ or ‘interest’ to distinguish them from the more familiar association with locality. They operate in different spheres of society, from the extended family to global campaigns, for example around climate change. Successful collaboration relies on people having a common vision and a sense of mutuality. This might take the form of an emergent or constructed identity that enables people to share ideas, resources, information and support. Pressure groups lobbying for equality and justice have often used ‘identity politics’ to forge alliances amongst disparate groups experiencing similar forms of oppression, such as racial discrimination. Community identity and social action belong together in our political traditions and have been an enduring theme of policy. Despite its well-documented semantic slipperiness, the notion of community has maintained significance in our personal lives as well, often couched in terms of social capital. Social capital can be seen as a collective resource, comprising trust, norms and social networks. It enables communities to co-operate and co-ordinate their diverse activities using informal relationships and connections within civil society. What kind of society do we want to live in and how can we work together to create the conditions in which individuals are fulfilled and communities are both resilient and inclusive? Over the last 40 years or so, the UK has seen a plethora of area-based programmes for neighbourhood renewal, community cohesion, active citizenship and empowerment.
Community as an Expression of Collective Identity
People get involved in communities in many different ways: for example, as parents, as campaigners, as residents of a particular neighbourhood or members of a faith group. Interactions with others shape how identities are performed, and different dimensions of people’s lives intersect to produce different experiences in performance and perception. We see ourselves differently and are treated differently by others according to many different aspects of our identities. Power and status often have negative impacts on how people are able to negotiate or assert their preferred identities, and in determining the boundaries between ‘us’ and ‘them’. Community interactions can work to break down some of these divisions, helping people to use an array of identities to make links and discover common purpose so that society can run more communally. Community development offers a way of working with communities that involves people with very different needs and aspirations recognising what they have in common and helping them to develop a strong, shared identity that can make things happen. Social development contributes to cohesion and empowerment by building capacity and creating supportive environments so that people can work together to make connections, break down barriers, and achieve social change.
With its commitment to social justice and collaboration, community development is also concerned with expanding and shaping identity structures – how people see themselves in relation to others. People actively build and express their identities and the intersections between different aspects of their lives. The term identity structure refers to the way in which the overlapping, hyphenated and multi-dimensional aspects of people’s lives are organised as a single model of self. Power differentials, dominant cultures, legal status, economic position and discriminatory practices may all affect chosen, perceived and imposed identities. They draw people together in common cause or thrust wedges of privilege and prejudice between communities, perpetuating historical divisions or generating new schisms. This pattern of tensions and allegiances is neither static nor simple. It challenges both policy and practice to recognise and respect the diversity and dynamism of communities, as well as the dynamism of people’s identities.
Creating a Community Identity
Many factors combine to create a community’s distinct identity. The identity can be a blend of special geography, architecture, history, and economic activity. All too often our modern construction methods, retail chains, shopping centers and transportation facilities cause each community to look and feel the same. A community’s identity usually develops over time and is authentic. It is difficult to create this identity from scratch. Therefore, it is very important that a community understand and protect its important characteristics. The implementing actions may involve acquiring important properties, implementing appropriate development standards, or creating historic preservation districts. You should do everything in your power to help create and foster a strong community identity. There are many steps you can take to develop a community identity. These include:
- Create a unique name for the community. You can’t have an identity without a name that represents you.
- Create a informative description for the community. Record what happens in your community and create a narrative for members both new and old to read.
- Invite contributions from the larger community in doing so defining the community’s purpose and objectives. This can be a fascinating activity. Be specific about what input you need.
- Introduce a newcomers ritual. Don’t do this for members that have just registered, do it when members reach an important milestone. Establish a barrier people cross to feel an accepted member of the community.
- Use the community’s mannerisms when communicating as a member.
- Promote the community through external channels. Refer to the community in literature. Seek out representatives for feedback and advice.
- Give the community a unique home or thoroughly integrate it within the organization platform. Either develop a platform for the community or convert the existing platform into a community based site. This means featuring community activity on a notice board on site and/or the main web page.
- Name areas of the community after members/activities/symbols specific to community members.
- Try to maintain a light hearted approach.
- Make special mention of community milestones and achievements. Send out news releases and issue a congratulations on behalf of its members.
Breaking the Cycle of Oppression
Reflections on fascism, inspired by the work of Georges Bataille
Sovereign authority is the prison through which the State and moral autonomy are constituted. The sovereign sculpts a social body/a moral subject, aspiring to create unity and transparency, when what is, is multiplicity and opacity.
Rule demands unveiling light. Darkness must be pushed back and away, for the sovereign to command. The sovereign’s power judges darkness to be the equivalent of chaos, the very limit and end of its possibility of existence.
The State/the moral subject aspires to create clarity, legibility, homogeneity: the space or territory that renders law possible. Chaos is disorder, confusion, lawlessness. No State/moral subject can be within its midst, except through exclusion.
The State/the self generates the conditions for the possibility of law by defining and excluding those who lie beyond it: the “dark” Others, the enemy, against which the rule of law/the moral law is illuminated.
The State/the moral self are endless tasks; the perpetuation of either calls upon permanent surveillance, repression and destruction.
Yet the shadows and the cracks remain, wherein lurks the fear and terrors of the sovereign. Haunted and obsessed by that which it has condemned, it is in turn condemned to a conflict without conclusion, to a war without end, against the excluded.
However extensive and intense the apparatuses of control are, they can never – except at the price of the sovereign’s own self-destruction – completely master the heterogeneity of the multitude. And the fissures of society, of the self, if history is to be our judge, have always been assailed.
Whatever the logic and efficacy of the reproduction of social/psychic-somatic relations, “contradictions” within the social/psychic body find paths of expression that if given, or if capable of forcing, space, give birth to new relations: relations that redeem the authority of the past, create new sovereign power, or that break with sovereignty completely. It is this last that we hold to as revolution.
In the shadow world beyond hierarchical power moves a radically different kind of sovereignty, a sovereignty of untameable energy and agency not beholden to State or Self, but that spills out and over the limits of the law and duty. It is that from whence creation drinks and feeds itself, the source of religion, art, myth, the humus of transgression and sacred violence against the violent domestication of State and Self.
As the latter falter in their authority, as the dysfunctions and fractures increase and intensify, a “counter” political sovereignty can grasp for re-doubled authority. Under modern capitalism, as political power loses its hold over social life, over the relations of oppression and exploitation that are its very raison d’être, fascism is a permanent political possibility.
The seduction and sway of fascism lies in its capacity to drink from the same source of creativity as revolution. Erupting from the margins of “legitimate” authority, from the formal, repetitive and impotent tedium of capitalist-parliamentarianism, incapable in itself of responding to crisis except by perpetuating the ground for future or persistent crisis, fascism emerges as a movement, a transgressive movement of mythic re-foundation of political sovereignty. It acts with unrestrained violence where before there was often cowardly hesitation, corruption and ineptitude. The mask is removed, the political war machine is unleashed, and all that stands in the way of the unification of the nation must be enslaved, expelled and/or murdered.
Fascism however is a movement that arises from the heterogeneous multitude only to endeavour to create a more intense form of homogeneity, of hierarchical sovereign power. Passionate (“religious”) in its origins, militaristic in its organisation, it is nevertheless not bereft of reason, as the conquest of political sovereignty demands thought, however uncritical of its final goal. But then herein lies fascism’s failure as a revolutionary movement.
Paladin for the excluded of deterritorialised capitalism, the movement and its leader can only in turn exclude others (through racism, sexism, xenophobia, etc.), while guarding and intensifying the very capitalist social relations that systematically produce marginalisation. The fascist revolution reveals itself then for what it is: a reactionary revanchism.
It would be naive to add, in a celebratory tone, that it is a revolution doomed to failure. If it is, then in its most recent incarnations, its collapse may mean that of the human species. Fascism’s motto could be summarised as “Total power or death!”, or, to cite the spanish falangist slogan, “¡Viva la muerte!”.
[Excursus: “If the war is lost,” Hitler told his Minister of Armaments, Albert Speer, “the nation will also perish. This fate is inevitable. There is no necessity to take into consideration the basis which the people will need to continue even a most primitive existence. On the contrary, it will be better to destroy these things ourselves, because this nation will have proved to be the weaker one and the future will belong solely to the stronger eastern nation. Besides, those who will remain after the battle are only the inferior ones, for the good ones have all been killed.”]
As a child of modern capitalism, fascism may assume different appearances. Black and brown shirts may be unnecessary to announce its coming, when so many “democratic” states openly embrace politics of exception in the face of crisis. As the latter deepens, such states may be capable of keeping society together, or not. Should they fail, then fascism, in some form, can always rear its grotesque face. Fascist government is but government in an explicit, permanent state of exception; something that most “democratic” governments are themselves embracing, without assuming that they are.
If fascism threatens, if its coming heralds the aggravation of crisis, then revolutionary anti-capitalism and anti-fascism must strike out at State sovereignty, the instrument that hitherto has served to secure the conditions for the reproduction of capitalist social relations. But it cannot do so by aspiring to State power, by seeking to create a true “State of Law”, at least if it wishes to avoid the contradictions of fascism (trapped between its source in the heterogeneity of the multitude and its desire for deeper State authority and social homogeneity). But it must as well learn from fascism, assume in part the shared, common source of wild life, and then imagine and live a radically different kind of sovereignty freed from the State and Self-identity.
[Excursis: “Every man is still, potentially, a sovereign being, but on condition that he prefer to die more than more than to live enslaved.” Georges Bataille, The Sovereign]
If we cannot live exclusively in the wild flux of human life, what forms we give it need not be hierarchised and sacralised. Freedom and equality are then to be lived in the permanent possibility of profaning the law, of creating and being able to always re-create forms of life. We may call this autonomy or anarchy.