No Empathy With Tyranny

November 8th, 2020 by DarianWorden

I am happy the Trump regime is coming to an end. I am angry the Trump regime happened and isn’t over yet.

There may be a path to redemption for most of Trump’s supporters and enablers, but they do not get to tell us how to respond to their choices. Asking for empathy without making any attempt to listen is not it.

It is downright insulting to say Trump supporters are experiencing what the opponents of Trump experienced in 2016. We saw an authoritarian promising to do harm and constantly acting as a bully while crowds delighted in it. We saw Trump getting passes for his racism and his atrocious behavior toward others. We saw people who expressed open bigotry acting as if Trump was opening up opportunities for them to harm others. We saw corporate media treat it all like a profitable spectacle that audiences would love. When Trump won in 2016 his supporters laughed at us, they insulted us, and they said “Fuck your feelings.” The ones who didn’t do this directly made no effort to distance themselves from people who did because they were happy to be on the side of a bully who seemed to be winning.

The insults did not stop at fuck your feelings. We were told that our very perceptions of events were also invalid, that we had to accept the stories that those in charge wanted us to believe. We were told to ignore racism, sexism, xenophobia, homophobia, and transphobia that we saw with our own eyes, heard with our own ears, or read thorough analysis of. We were told that Trump represented the working class, apparently because the people who support an entitled and lazy bully work hard and the rest of us do not. Actual studies of Trump’s base of support were to be ignored or invalidated by a few exceptional anecdotes. We were told that Trump did not say things that he was recorded as saying – or that we can only understand his remarks in the context that his partisans serve us and not in the context of everything else we have seen, heard, and read since his campaign started or for our entire lives. A well-documented rise in hate crimes was called a hoax, the president’s obvious crimes were called fake news, and when right-wing mobs attacked people it was either to be ignored or spun, doctored, edited, and repackaged to suit the needs of regime propaganda.

Trump supporters are either mad that they are not in charge anymore, that the world does not belong to them, that they do not get to tell the rest of us how we can live or who we can be, and they won’t be rewarded for disrespecting others. Or they are scared because they bought into the propaganda of right-wing authoritarianism because it did something for them.

We were right to fear the Trump regime and we were right to resist it. The authoritarianism of the Trump regime has not been restrained by civility or norms. It has not been restrained by appeasement or by offering marginalized people for sacrifice. It has not been restrained by corporate media or collaborationist podcasters. The authoritarianism of the Trump regime is real, and it has been restrained by people taking action.

I was in the streets in the Bush years, the Obama years, and the Trump years. I will be building autonomy and opposing authoritarianism and harmful government action for the next years as well. I don’t care if anyone online is mad that I can share some joy with other people who hate Trump while he is finally facing consequences and his gangsters are losing.

No empathy for tyranny.

For liberty and solidarity.

My Relationship With Anarchism as it Currently Stands

May 1st, 2019 by DarianWorden

Although I have been, and may yet be, an anarchist, I am hesitant to apply the label of anarchist to myself currently. Instead I use the label of libertarian mutualist.

A belief on current political action and a belief on future goals make me less of an anarchist. Although the work done outside of government is more important for creating the conditions for liberation, in the present it matters who holds government power and it can be valuable to influence this aspect of the political situation. In the future where I see left libertarian principles prevailing, I am not sure that there will be no administrative structures that people will call government.

I want to be very clear that am not repudiating anarchism. Anarchists have very good ideas and do very good things.

The state should be abolished. Its absolutist form brought a hellscape of violence and exploitation and even the most progressive republics of today become magnets for authoritarians at all levels and offer the temptation of closing the borders and leaving those outside to deprivation and death.

The economic system where capital rules is simply unfit for a humane society. It is upheld by political power and will be dismantled by dismantling that power. Worker controlled enterprises in a market economy already do well and if more of the economy was owned by workers, then the values of working people would run the economy.

Social authoritarianism, whether that of patriarchy, racism, homophobia and gender reactionaries, of upholding social class through inaccessible social norms, or the subjugation of children and young adults, needs to be defeated if people are to be truly free. We should build a society where the domination of one person over another is widely considered unacceptable.

The protection of the environment is clearly urgent, and it must come with the recognition that humans are part of the environment, that we have our places in it, and that the different places occupied by different people will impact how environmental conditions affect them. A society that centers solidarity and ecology offers better hope for environmental protection and justice than a society that centers the accumulation of wealth or political power.

The most important politics in the short term and the long term is done outside of political office. It is the public pressure, the changing of norms, and the establishment of consequences that those in office will respond to. However, so long as political offices exist it is better that they be occupied by people who are less inclined to use them to build and uphold oppressive structures, and less likely to create a political environment more hostile to building the new world. I support voting when there is a clear picture of who wants to make the government worse for us or who wants to make it better, and I think people with good values in political office play a useful role in improving the world.

It is not possible to predict exactly what a free world will look like because we cannot imagine what millions of liberated people interacting with each other would create. It is also true, however, that how things might work is something we should discuss and something I could personally spend more time thinking about. I see autonomous individuals with a multitude of options for where to develop themselves, to find community, and to create, obtain, and exchange resources. I see federated communities and workplaces. I see regional and transoceanic agreements on things like pollution, nuclear weapons, and human rights.

I see a world of possibilities, so long as the values of individual liberty, social solidarity, and ecological consciousness are guiding action.

The Ruling Party is Fascist

June 19th, 2018 by DarianWorden

The ruling party of the United States is assembling a fascist regime. The American people must prevent them from establishing a fascist order.

A powerful segment of the party that controls the executive and legislative branches of the federal government is stepping from authoritarian leaning right-wing into actual fascist territory. To recognize the danger we should understand what fascism specifically has meant, and also recognize that fascism might not look like it used to.

As I have written in a previous article, fascism in history is a particular kind of violent authoritarianism:

It promises a radical transformation of society based on particular national and racial symbols, mass mobilization against internal and external enemies, the command of a charismatic leader who gained his position through struggle, and a violent vanguard. Fascists’ enemies are those they blame for weakening their concept of the nation. They typically say the nation is weakened by class conflict associated with socialists, by individualism associated with liberals, and by internationalism associated with both. Fascist movements find some combination of political minorities to target, whether they be Slavic, Jewish, black, or LGBT people. Fascists usually present their nation or race as the victim of a serious injustice that can be redeemed through some kind of conquest. Fascism can be described, as Hitler did, as National Socialism. The word “national” is an important modifier, as fascist solidarity is neither rooted in economic class nor international in nature, but is instead exclusively national and designed to cut across class lines and embrace hierarchy. In power, fascists keep intact the economic elites whose politics and ethnicity they can accept, and make few changes to property relations.

Under fascism, the individual has no liberties and is totally subordinate to the dominant community. Some individuals will have the opportunity to substitute their lost liberty with a sense of personal empowerment gained by participating in fascist violence and domination. For others, the role of enemy is assigned to them. With a totalitarian spirit, fascism seeks to invade and control spaces of private activity that it does not suppress. Typically it prescribes relatively strict roles for men and women of the nation. Always, fascism is against democratic government, and it only uses parliamentarians as allies when they are useful in consolidating power. Usually passion and will, especially as embodied by the leader, are emphasized over intellect and reason. Despite its propaganda of order and precision, fascism is disorderly and violent.

Fascism goes beyond the authoritarian nationalism that is taking over countries across Europe, supported by the authoritarian nationalist Putin. It goes beyond putting more rules on people in a project of strengthening the nation according to a set of chosen traditions. Trump has reflected the style of fascism since he began his campaign, and he has had friendly relations with fascists. Yet at some point his regime crossed a tipping point. It may be tempting to shrug it all off as a big con job and label it kleptocracy – yet fascists in history looted their way across Europe as they killed.

Three points mark the fascist progression. The rulers want the broad population mobilized, not merely passively accepting the status quo. There is a kind of official lawlessness where the ruler sets the rules without regard to administrative procedures or precedent. Political leaders openly express racist views in a way that was previously unacceptable.

Fascists seek to mobilize a broad segment of the population against internal and external enemies. Historically this was accomplished through rallies and propaganda, as well as an official party paramilitary force. The uniformed party militants might not be seen today, but perhaps they were more of a relic of interwar Europe’s fondness for military formation than a unique sign of fascism. The role of far-right groups in prosecuting the J20 Inauguration Day protesters does provide a taste of the party enforcers: a nominally private and clearly biased force providing information to law enforcement without the limited restraints that government agents are supposed to operate under.

However, mobilization of the population takes other forms today. The fascist leader is not a former soldier with a paramilitary group, but a reality television star with an outsized media presence. His followers are not merely sitting in their homes grumbling at state television but are actively involved in shaping the landscape of discussion by joining in campaigns of outrage on social media. It is a lower commitment than marching in uniform and assaulting people, but it is part of the process. It should be clear by now that creating a social media outrage can trigger harassment and lead to death threats. Without the official violent street gangs that have been common to fascist movements in the twentieth century, the administrative style of fascism may not appear to be as dangerous. Yet its violence is expressed in different ways and needs to be dealt with in different ways.

While laws are often repressive, an administration that tries to take the law seriously is at least somewhat restrained it what it can do to people. For authoritarians in general, but certainly for fascists, rules are dictated from the top. The Trump administration decided, without any legal requirement that they do so, to separate families crossing the border and deny them contact with one another. They alternately say that it is right to do so, and deny that it was them who made the decision to do so, giving a series of contradictory talking points for supporters to use.

Joe Arpaio, a sheriff who actually called the prison camps his office operated “concentration camps,” was convicted of criminal contempt for disregarding a court order on racial profiling. Trump pardoned him quickly, showing that courts will have little power over officers who go after people of color.

Leaders of the Republican Party are making little effort to disavow actual fascists, and are sometimes promoting them. The rot starts from the top and seems to have resulted in few official consequences. President Trump endorsed Senate candidate Corey Stewart, a neo-Confederate with ties to the organizer of the violent Unite the Right rally. Stephen Miller, a past associate of white nationalist Richard Spencer, was central in creating the heinous policy of breaking apart families of refugees and preventing them from contacting each other. Iowa Congressman Steve King shared propaganda from an open neo-Nazi. King was among five Republican congressmen scheduled to meet in the Czech Republic with a far-right party, a prominent member of which said Jews, gays, and Roma should be killed. The meeting did not happen, reportedly because of budget debates in Congress.

The accelerating dehumanization of designated enemies is also alarming. The obvious racism that was on display when candidate Trump associated Mexicans with rapists overshadowed an even more sinister element of his remark. They weren’t simply crossing the border, they were being “sent.” Trump said, “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best.” One of the categories of people being sent was rapists. Here was not only a disgusting bigoted caricature of people crossing the border, but the hint of of a broader conspiracy to hurt the American people.

Trump continues to associate undocumented people with violent crime, especially associating undocumented immigrants from Spanish speaking countries with gang violence. A frightened refugee from Central America is supposed to be viewed as an MS-13 criminal ready to do the shocking acts of violence that official pronouncements describe in detail. For the Trump supporter, it is easier to accept the cages when anybody inside them is likely a dangerous criminal.

Trump himself is not averse to taking innocent lives. As a candidate he openly stated that killing the families of terrorists was a good idea before public outcry got him to walk back his remarks. As president, he reportedly asked officials why they would delay a strike to avoid killing civilians. It is telling that a historical president he praises is Andrew Jackson, who is known for initiating the death march of Native Americans called the Trail of Tears.

Many of the Trump supporters who accept concentration camps may not wish to see anybody killed for crossing a border, but they may just want them to go away – to have someone remove them from society without much thought to what happens to them afterward. The process of deportation was part of Nazi and Soviet crimes against humanity. Both would take people from their communities to perform hard labor under brutal conditions, and the Nazis also brought them to killing facilities, as being “deported to the east” meant almost certain death for Jews.

The war mentality pervades the Trump camp. The photographs and boasts coming from the Singapore Summit cannot hide the fact that it was Trump himself threatening to incinerate millions of people if he did not get the praise and spectacle he expected, bringing war with North Korea closer than any recent president. He stirs up hostility against friendly neighbors Mexico and Canada. He has already deployed troops to the southern border to further militarize the repression of undocumented people coming into the US.

Trump did not need an emergency situation to establish the apparatus of oppression, as it was already created in a previous atmosphere of emergency. Following the September 11 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security was created, as was the agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which goes into American communities to capture people who do not have their papers in order. Militarized policing and mass incarceration, which the Border Patrol and immigrant detention centers are part of, have been problems for a long time. Trump is drawing from the worst of American history and tapping into resources and traditions with dangerous potential for repressive use, to assemble a fascist order.

Americans have an obligation to resist the spread of fascism whether by speaking to peers, speaking to the public, engaging in confrontational civil disobedience, donating time or money to assist people targeted by fascism, boosting legislative opposition, defending communities from violence, or any other action that prevents fascism from sinking its roots into American society and spreading out to ruin lives.

Open the Borders

May 29th, 2018 by DarianWorden

Borders should be open to all who would cross them peaceably, whether they are heroes or average folks. Embracing open borders means taking a leading role in the fight for human freedom. If you truly support the human rights inherent in every individual, you must recognize that a person’s rights are not dependent on which side of a geographic line they were born. The liberty and dignity of all honest people are uplifted when the liberty and dignity of immigrants and migrants is secure.

American workers, regardless of their birthplaces, stand to benefit from immigration. More workers means that more work can be done and more wealth will be created to go around. In housing construction alone, one may see physical labor being performed by immigrants, but the numerous workers of varying skills who make construction possible should also be seen: those who survey the land and mark out building lines, those who build and maintain machinery and vehicles, those who sell and transport materials, those who install utilities, and those who sell the property – and the immigrants in all of these enterprises should be recognized as well.

Those who are concerned that immigrants make lower wages should support immigrant and migrant labor organizing. Immigrants have put in massive contributions to the American labor movement, from the early eight-hour day campaigns to the Bread and Roses strike, to the West Virginia Mine Wars, and beyond. American workers today stand to benefit from organizing with each other regardless of birthplace.

As right-wing oligarchy becomes an international model of governance, it becomes even more important that the fight for liberty, justice, and dignity reaches across borders as well. Authoritarians want us to accept an identity based on excluding the foreign-born and other designated enemies in order to make us identify with the national elites who would loot our communities and lord over our lives. Don’t fall for this scam. Practice solidarity with your fellow liberators, not support for divisive authoritarians.

Guns, Violence, and Liberty

March 28th, 2018 by DarianWorden

George Orwell, writing about the Home Guard in 1941, declared “That rifle on the wall of the labourer’s cottage or working class flat is the symbol of democracy. It is our job to see that it stays there.” Firearms in the hands of common people have been used to uphold personal autonomy and community safety. This does not change the fact that gun violence is a serious problem, and it is reasonable to respond with legislative action and essential to respond with social activism. In any discussion of gun rights and gun violence, racism and violent hierarchies in society should be addressed.

Privately held firearms have been tools in liberation and community defense. Miners in West Virginia used them in the 1920s to fight back against violent exploitation by bosses, hired goons, and corrupt cops. Charles E. Cobb describes how activists in the civil rights movement kept firearms to protect themselves and each other as they organized non-violent action against racism. In recent years a number of groups, including Redneck Revolt, Trigger Warning Queer & Trans Gun Club, and the National African American Gun Association, have taken to firearms training in response to increased threats against marginalized people.

The amount of firepower needed to gain personal and community protection is not unlimited. Keeping personal arms including semi-automatic rifles and handguns with limited capacity magazines is sufficient for this purpose.

Any reasonable gun control would also apply to police officers, as they are also civilians and should not be given the role of occupying army. A worthwhile movement against violence in society would also address violence by police. If you are not concerned about black men being killed by agents of the state for merely holding something that might look like a gun, you are not defending the right to keep and bear arms for everyone. If you are not concerned about police violence, you are not fully committed to reducing gun violence. Philandro Castile was shot seconds after informing a police officer during a traffic stop that he had a weapon he was lawfully permitted to carry. Tamir Rice was shot while holding a pellet gun in a state where open carry of firearms is legal.

Part of reducing violence in society would involve working for fewer violent encounters between police and the rest of the public. Listen to people in communities affected by police violence. Reduce the role of police in responding to mental health emergencies and minor conflicts. End the drug war that provides limitless opportunities for aggressive policing and mass incarceration. Reduce police militarization and programs that train them to see the public as a dangerous enemy.

It is not unreasonable to support universal background checks or requiring a permit to purchase firearms. However, longstanding injustices and inequality will be perpetuated with new laws if they are not addressed. Discrimination in the justice system leads to discrimination in background checks. Inequality in firearms access is an issue of civil rights and political power. People convicted of non-violent felonies should not face a lifelong loss of a constitutional right. Gun control laws have often targeted ethnic minorities, people of color, and poor people, and gun control enforcement is often used against people in these communities. This is a legacy that any legislation will perpetuate if it is not addressed. Laws against possession create opportunities for intrusive enforcement, a problem that is not as prevalent in laws against new sales. A permit system can easily become arbitrary and discriminatory without oversight.

Gun control has long had associations with racism, but gun rights advocacy is not untouched by racism either. AR15s and other semiautomatic rifles – especially those with a modern tactical appearance – surged in popularity when Obama was elected. It would be nice to believe this was just partisan fear of a Democratic politician who was not gun friendly, but at least for some of the customers, there was clearly a fear of a black president talking about change. I worked at a sporting goods store around the 2008 election and saw many nervous white men increasing their firepower. Some called Obama a Muslim, and one stated that a cop told him “If he wins, they’re going to riot. If he loses, they’re going to riot.” Journalist Shane Bauer documented racial slurs thrown around by militiamen supposedly defending the Constitution. The NRA gave Trump an early endorsement in the Republican primaries as he ran a campaign stoking bigotry and advocating authoritarian governance.  During Trump’s presidency the NRA  produced a video stoking fantasies about shooting protesters and political opponents.

Rigid social hierarchy goes hand in hand with violence as people who want to be on top commit violent acts for performance or for a sense of redemption. Since Columbine, popular discourse has conveniently written off mass shooters as one of several available “other” types, deflecting the problem onto a marginalized population instead of examining the violence woven through society. The Columbine killers were not bullied social outcasts fighting with the popular kids. Omar Mateen worked for a government security contractor while abusing his partner and plotting to massacre LGBTQ people. Stephen Paddock was seemingly an otherwise typical conservative middle-aged white guy, yet he decided to dedicate his life to one final act of domination over fellow human beings. If the perpetrator of a mass attack is not from a demographic supposedly full of “thugs” or “terrorists” they must be “disturbed” “outcasts” or something else that the target audience of commentary can feel separate from, and not someone who learned common ideals of domination and violence but applied them in a frightening way.

It should be no surprise that violence or intimidation against women or family members is frequently in the life history of people who commit mass public shootings.  This is an issue to take seriously, but it will be challenging to address this issue without putting further burdens on survivors of domestic violence.

The biggest mass shootings in history were carried out by groups of men who apparently believed they had a duty to murder. Men armed by the Nazi regime systematically shot millions of their victims. At Babi Yar, 33,771 Jews were shot to death over a period of two days, and thousands more would be shot later. The perpetrators were not mentally ill outcasts from society, nor were they from a culture alien to the Western tradition. Yet they learned to value innocent lives less than they valued their own places in the hell they were making.

School shooters might have a lot in common with each other, and they might have different motivations, but we will not know if we do not ask the questions and instead rely on the incorrect answers we have. Nikolas Cruz, previously photographed in his Make America Great Again hat, had etched swastikas into magazines for his AR15 . Perpetrators of mass attacks are sometimes glorified among the far right.

While school shooters will never gain much political support, there are many instances of violence and intimidation by committed right-wing authoritarians. It is worth remembering that fascists have historically been handed power and weapons by supporters in government. It must be clear that giving power to fascists will be politically untenable, and that people will defend themselves and each other from those whose political action centers on violent attacks on designated enemies.

Mass public shootings are only a fraction of gun deaths. The majority of gun deaths in the United States are actually suicides.  People with little access to mental health care will see an accessible gun as an easy solution. They will not be encouraged to seek help if doing so means they will lose their constitutional rights.

Urban violence has roots in discrimination. Communities already lacking resources are shaken by the hostility of authorities, police raids for non-violent drug crimes, and mass incarceration. Building community is important to reducing violence.

We should be asking inconvenient questions. Does pursuit of profit over other values contribute to insecure living and devaluing of other lives? Do men who commit mass shootings in the US and those who join ISIS have something in common, and is there a fault in society that can be addressed? What kind of gun cultures and gun laws exist in countries where gun violence is rare?

In Canada, a holder of a firearms permit can buy semiautomatic rifles with limited capacity magazines. In Finland, guns and hunting are popular. The government of Lithuania encourages citizens to train in paramilitary organizations. The NRA will not discuss other gun cultures because they are ideologically and financially committed to the one they dominate in the United States.

Responding to those who would assert power over our lives through violence with the violence of making society more prison-like is not an acceptable solution.

Liberty and Solidarity – For Mutualist Federalism

March 2nd, 2018 by DarianWorden

The genuine defense of liberty and embrace of solidarity is a direct revolt against the politics of domination and marginalization. Mutualist federalism seeks revolution in social relations and social organization.

Mutualist organizations provide a framework for building liberty and solidarity. Federalism enables the coordination of mutual organizations and networks, and provides a basis of relations among governmental structures that are not dissolved. At every level of organization, individual autonomy and human rights are to be centered and promoted.

A mutualist organization is an association of autonomous individuals for the mutual benefit of members, not economic or political bosses. They are founded on the principles of individual liberty and social solidarity. Individual liberty rests on the ability of each person to claim the maximum freedom that does not infringe on the equal liberty of another person. Solidarity is not about self-sacrifice but about the recognition of a common interest and the effort to work together in that common interest towards a better world.

Mutualist federalism aims to disperse political, economic, and social power, and to end to the greatest extent possible the domination of one person over another. It does not focus on destroying political structures but on building new structures to support autonomy. Mutualist organizations can exist separately from the constitutionally mandated state, but they can take over and improve upon the valuable services of state administrations and mitigate or prevent the harm caused by other state functions. By creating structures that provide genuine material and political benefit to large numbers of people, they assemble the political power to challenge authoritarian institutions.

Capitalism, an economic system that prioritizes profit and defends the hierarchies created by it, can be undermined by cooperative and mutual aid organizations. The rich have little power to compel obedience from people who have economic autonomy. Labor organizing can give working people security as well as time and space to develop further mutualistic organizations. Seeking a comfortable life with a few treasures is not evil. A system that deprives people of the benefits of technical progress so that some can accumulate ever more economic control and higher competition for status symbols will create evils.

Society is woven through with numerous hierarchies. Some are not harmful, such as a voluntary hierarchy based on respect for a particular expertise. Many are harmful. The struggle for social status by claiming and enforcing prescribed gender roles, the intersection of race, class, and cultural access that would put greater value on some lives than on others, the deadening of criticism by appealing to jargon or cultural symbolism, the subjugation of youth by those who are older and often no wiser, and numerous other big and small hierarchies prevent the full development of individual autonomy. Respecting individual autonomy and embracing social solidarity will destroy harmful hierarchies and unseat tyrants petty and big. The arrogance of self-described revolutionaries who focus more on accumulating social capital is poison to true social progress.

Any movement that looks to the future must consider the ecological problems the world is facing. Humans cannot live apart from the rest of the natural world. It is wrong to regard humanity as something separate from nature, and it is wrong to view the rejection of technical progress as a viable solution for anything besides recreation. Ecological solutions will be found in individual initiative and social action. An economic system that overemphasizes profit and growth will lead to wasteful environmental destruction. An economic system run on party decree will create waste and escalating conflict between people and the surrounding environment. Those who see the environment as nothing more than a resource to exploit tend to exploit the people who inhabit profitable environments. In any economic system, rejecting science and human safety will lead to devastating environmental damage.

Mutualist organizations can put essential values like equality and ecology before the profit motive while rewarding labor for its efforts. They can also establish ways to care for those in need without intrusive bureaucracies with budgets controlled by political expediency. A society that has ample means to secure people the basic needs of water, food, shelter, and medicine, but consistently fails to do so, is a society whose fundamental values should be questioned.

The social space to build mutualist organizations, make political changes, and enjoy individual freedoms must be created, defended, or expanded, as the situation determines. Liberal democratic government has shown obvious failures in safeguarding the lives and liberty of peaceable individuals within its reach. However, the existence of competing powers and legitimating principles within liberal democracy offers a political space that may be favorable to creating the next steps in social organization. It remains to be seen how far liberal democratic government can coexist with a growing mutualist federalist political environment, and constitutional restructuring or abolition of constitutional institutions may be required. Political attacks on the restraints that liberal democracy places on the exercise of government power, however weak those restraints may appear, should be alarming to those who wish to build a more free and just society. People living in places with authoritarian regimes must devise the optimal ways for them to deal with the state, and everyone should consider which foreign and transnational movements they could support. With any government, the failures and attacks of the state create pockets of resistance or non-conformity that may benefit themselves and expand liberty through mutualist social organizing.

It is better that political offices are filled by people with good values, but electioneering is not the only political activity that will make a difference. Building mutualist organizations to disperse and challenge the power of the state and those with political influence is building the infrastructure that will best support individual liberty and social solidarity.

Revolution is rarely achieved without a single incident of violence, whether committed by the revolutionaries or by the authorities. It should be recognized that the status quo is also violent, and that rebels who are fixated on violence are unlikely to create a just and free society. The question to ask is how revolutionary aims can be advanced peaceably, and how revolutionary gains, and people themselves, can best be protected from the violence of reactionaries, radical authoritarian enemies, and people who use their positions within the movement to take advantage of others. Mutualist federalism advances revolution through social change and social organizing, and builds the solidarity that helps individuals and communities defend themselves without relying on authorities.

The world needs people who are willing to consider new ideas and to build on the past without perpetuating its mistakes and evils. Mutualist federalism ultimately rests on the autonomy of the individual. The values of liberty and solidarity are advanced by individuals who embrace them. Friends of mutualist federalism should try to enact the values of liberty and solidarity in all areas of life and consider how to improve social relations they are part of. They should encourage others to improve and also consider to what extent it is worth engaging with hostile people. They should bring personal conscience and understanding of issues to all social organizing.

We refuse to give up the future to the rulers who would steal it from us. We have in mind a better world, and we will make it happen.


More Reading:

Clarence Lee Swartz, What is Mutualism? 1927.

Abdullah Öcalan, Democratic Confederalism. 2017.

George Orwell, Looking Back on the Spanish War. 1942.

Murray Bookchin, What Is Social Ecology? 1993.

Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience. 1849.

We Must Defeat Fascism by Any Means Necessary

January 12th, 2018 by DarianWorden

(Note: This article was originally published for the Center for a Stateless Society November 2017 Mutual Exchange Symposium on Freedom of Speech and Political Violence.)

Fascist movements are made with political violence. At any stage of their development they pose a threat to the safety of individuals they target. As fascism gains momentum it becomes a threat to society in general. If national leaders open the doors of political power to fascists, disaster results. Authoritarian nationalists, like those currently in charge of the United States federal government, may ultimately support fascists if they believe doing so will benefit their political position. Fascism must be fought with strategic consideration to effectively disrupt fascist organizing and disrupt fascist narratives.

Fascism is a particular kind of violent authoritarianism. It promises a radical transformation of society based on particular national and racial symbols, mass mobilization against internal and external enemies, the command of a charismatic leader who gained his position through struggle, and a violent vanguard. Fascists’ enemies are those they blame for weakening their concept of the nation. They typically say the nation is weakened by class conflict associated with socialists, by individualism associated with liberals, and by internationalism associated with both. Fascist movements find some combination of political minorities to target, whether they be Slavic, Jewish, black, or LGBT people. Fascists usually present their nation or race as the victim of a serious injustice that can be redeemed through some kind of conquest. Fascism can be described, as Hitler did, as National Socialism. The word “national” is an important modifier, as fascist solidarity is neither rooted in economic class nor international in nature, but is instead exclusively national and designed to cut across class lines and embrace hierarchy. In power, fascists keep intact the economic elites whose politics and ethnicity they can accept, and make few changes to property relations.

Under fascism, the individual has no liberties and is totally subordinate to the dominant community. Some individuals will have the opportunity to substitute their lost liberty with a sense of personal empowerment gained by participating in fascist violence and domination. For others, the role of enemy is assigned to them. With a totalitarian spirit, fascism seeks to invade and control spaces of private activity that it does not suppress. Typically it prescribes relatively strict roles for men and women of the nation. Always, fascism is against democratic government, and it only uses parliamentarians as allies when they are useful in consolidating power. Usually passion and will, especially as embodied by the leader, are emphasized over intellect and reason. Despite its propaganda of order and precision, fascism is disorderly and violent.

In European history, conservative political elites, attempting to gain mass support and keep the political left out of power, helped fascists come into national leadership. A fascist movement with the momentum of success is always a political threat, because fascists will attempt to create the conditions in which political power will be made available to them. Fascist movements without political power are still public safety threats, as they will build their organization through violence against marginalized people.[1]

We should not pretend that a movement based on committing recognized crimes against humanity is just another political movement in the marketplace of ideas. We should not expect that people who join a movement with a history of violence at its core want to hold peaceful rallies. We should not accept the pretensions of caring for free speech from people who routinely threaten criticsdeny access to the tools of free speech to outspoken women and people of color, and cheer for those who murder opponents. Fascists use the tools of free expression to attack the freedom of expression of their opponents, whether with threats of violence, swarms that render social media difficult to use, or violent actions committed by people gathered under cover of a political rally.

Fascists invaded Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. They opened with a torchlight rally, where they chanted slogans lifted from Nazi Germany as well as their own anti-Semitic slogans. When they encountered actual peaceful demonstrators they struck them with torches, spilling lighter fluid on them. The next day, fascists launched a gang assault on a black man before being chased away and threatened clergy people taking a peaceful stand before antifa drove them off. After a fascist sped his car into a crowd like an ISIS terrorist, the excuses came out, as did celebrations of the murder of Heather Heyer, complete with the misogyny that often accompanies such displays of lacking virtue. When fascist organizing is effectively disrupted, it becomes more difficult for fascists to commit violence.

The reason fascism must be treated differently than other forms of tyranny is the centrality of violence to the fascist project. While it would be a disaster if authoritarian communism, for example, took national political power, communists are less likely to rely on violent movement building, and communist regimes did exist for decades while doing things that did not center around totalitarian violence. Communist governments killed millions of innocent people, but Soviet arms also blocked genocides. It is also highly unlikely that authoritarian communism would get close to political power in the United States any time soon.

It is worth noting that authoritarian communists have not been the most reliable allies against fascism. The USSR and the international Communist movement were important, though meddlesome, allies to the Spanish Republic in its fight against fascism, and the Soviet people fought relentlessly after Nazi Germany invaded their country in 1941. However, in 1939 Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, effectively making Communists loyal to Stalin temporary friends of Nazi Germany. The Pact enabled Hitler to begin his race war in Eastern Europe and even divided the spoils of conquest between the two countries. [2] In the early postwar Soviet Union, the anti-Semitic term “rootless cosmopolitan” was a powerful label used by the regime, which sounds more than a little reminiscent of the authoritarian right’s railing against “globalists” who are predominantly Jews.

Fascism’s position must be located relative to authoritarian nationalism. Although Donald Trump encourages fascists and has employed fascists like Stephen Bannon and Sebastian Gorka, he himself has not organized a genuine fascist movement. His administration can be characterized as kleptocratic authoritarian nationalism that feeds on bigotry that it encourages.

Vladimir Putin’s government is perhaps a model of kleptocratic authoritarian nationalism. While Russian authorities are soft on vigilantes and Cossacks taking matters into their own hands, and a motorcycle gang with ties to Putin sometimes operates as paramilitaries or propagandists, Putin does not have an official paramilitary force as a true fascist would, and it appears that he would rather have a population acquiescent than mobilized. Russian government agents promote fascist activity in the West, even pushing fascist narratives on social media, but Putin must publicly distance himself from anyone soft on the symbolism of Nazi Germany.

One could say that there is a spectrum of authoritarian nationalism with Trump at one end and Hitler at the other, but it is more instructive to see them as two distinct movements with an important relationship. This is a crucial distinction to make. The authoritarian nationalism of Trump has already caused massive damage to political culture in the United States and by itself poses a greater threat to marginalized people than presidential administrations of recent history. Trumpism must not sink deep roots into society. At the same time, it would be dangerous if outright fascism became more associated with the currently dominant force in the Republican Party. This becomes more obvious as fascists try to present themselves as “normie” Trump supporters, and portray anti-fascists as out to beat up anyone who voted for Trump. While Trump appropriates the style and language of fascism and his politics helps fascism grow, he has not fully embraced fascism – at least not at this time. He has not created a paramilitary vanguard that answers to the leader and his ideals of national renewal do not reach as far into personal life as true fascists would.

A well-functioning republican government should be able to fend off a fascist movement, but authorities cannot be trusted to fight fascism on their own. As Mussolini’s fascist movement was gaining strength, some local police and military commanders provided arms and vehicles to his squads, and sometimes police officers even joined their raids. [3] In more recent times, there is abundant evidence that Golden Dawn, Greece’s fascist movement, draws a disproportionate level of support from police officers.

Fascists in Italy and Germany needed to make alliances with political elites to gain access to national leadership.[4] While one could argue that this makes it important to not offend political elites at times of crisis with further disruptions, a more valuable lesson is that it is important that elites are shown that the public will tolerate no alliance with fascism, that the public has the means and will to prevent such an alliance from being effective, and that fascists will not bring about any order in society.

A fascist movement gaining momentum will continue to create disorder and use bold lies to blame violence on its adversaries. When fascists do not face effective opposition, they look like the winning side. Mass action may be needed to embolden people resisting fascism and to create political, social, and economic consequences for those who enable fascism. At the critical moment, if the authorities fail or refuse to suppress fascist violence, a popular mobilization must be ready to defeat fascism.

It is important to not feed the narrative that fascists create. To say “don’t give them attention” is mistaken. It is not attention that fascists crave, but power. The marginalized people that fascists attack will not be able to ignore them and without an attentive public fascists can become the enforcers of unscrupulous authorities.

Fascists like attention when it means they can demonstrate power. When they face consequences for their actions, they do not like it. Giving fascists attention does not always mean giving them power. Supporting the narrative they want makes them powerful. Not mounting an effective opposition makes them powerful.

When thousands marched in Boston against fascists on August 19, it was clear who was the powerful side. However, not two weeks later, fascists and their sympathizers rallied in Berkeley, and despite the thousands who rallied against them, the authoritarian right managed to score a public relations win primarily by manipulating the narrative on social media. Their narrative was then picked up by mainstream media and pundits. Unfortunately, it appears that many American pundits are more ready to believe that antifa will beat up random people they don’t like the look of than it is for them to believe that actual fascists are marching in the street and targeting people for violence. [5]

When no pretext for fascist violence can be found, fascists and their propagandists will not hesitate to invent one. World War II began with the Nazis creating a fake Polish attack to justify their invasion.[6] The propagandists of the authoritarian right have made up stories about anti-fascists, including fake plans to stab Trump supporters, and a fake assault on a woman in Berkeley. They have also tried to portray rioting crowds of authoritarians as if they were peaceful protesters.

Anti-fascists should be prepared to counter fascist narratives, including by the use of social media actions. The general public should acknowledge that social media has been weaponized by authoritarians and accept responsibility for checking and curating content in their feeds. Journalists should recognize the danger of false equivalencies and uncritical reporting.

It is important to build formal and informal organizations to occupy the political space that fascism wishes to capture. A focus on inclusive community building, including organizations with a militant defensive stance, can remove some of the draw from far-right organizations that support fascists. It is also valuable for some anti-fascists to be receptive – but very cautiously so – to people who defect from fascist organizations.

Anti-fascists should be proud. We may claim liberty as our heritage and anti-fascism as part of that history.

For radicals, the anti-fascist heritage can be found among the proud fighters in the hills of Spain and Italy, battling fascism in the time of its rising. American anti-fascists can look to the army of black and white soldiers of the Civil War era that became a force of liberation for the former slaves in its path, many of whom would put on its uniform and pick up a rifle. We can see how the gains made in the army’s wake were battled by the partisans of the Confederacy, some of whom would ride in white uniforms and hoods and become a proto-fascist movement, and we can see how the fight has continued. For many of us, we can boast that our grandparents fought fascists across Europe and there is no way we are going to let a bunch of Nazis terrorize our streets.

Regardless of our relatives or birthplace, we can look to the heroes who fought against fascism and to the casualties and survivors who must have wondered what else was possible. We can examine the people who bear guilt for the crimes of history and the people who tried to look the other way. We can see all this and declare where we will stand. The defense of inclusive liberty, reason, and the space needed to improve society is an important mission for those who wish to see a greater future.

An effective defense against fascism includes holding massive street rallies, organizing defensive formations, engaging in information warfare, exposing known fascists and fascist violence, providing other paths for disaffected people, strengthening the resolve of the general public to oppose fascism, and blocking fascists from opportunities for political power. It is a massive undertaking with multiple roles. It’s fully justified by the threat posed by fascism at all levels of its political development. It is urgent and requires broad participation at a time when fascists have openings to power, as people in power are conspicuously lacking in their opposition to fascism and conspicuously disdainful of the restraints that liberal democracy would place on the exercise of authority.

Notes and References:

[1] Examining the actions of fascists is the best way to understand fascism. A good overview is Robert O. Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism. 2004. For Nazi Germany in particular, see Spielvogel and Redles, Hitler and Nazi Germany. 2010.

[2] See also: Antony Beevor, The Second World War. 2012, pg 17.

[3] Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, pg 62.

[4] Paxton, The Anatomy of Fascism, 115.

[5] Shane Bauer, “What the Media Got Wrong About Last Weekend’s Protests in Berkeley,” Mother Jones, August 29, 2017.

[6] Beevor, The Second World War, 21.

We Will Defeat the Authoritarian Nationalists

July 16th, 2017 by DarianWorden

Human liberty has been won in hard fights against powerful interests and systems, but the progress of liberty can be set back. The rise of authoritarian nationalism is a serious threat to the liberty of people around the world. It is a threat that must be defeated.

In authoritarian nationalism, a select group will rule while mocking and dismantling democratic norms and liberal traditions, mobilizing the power of the nation state to reinforce their control, and often using their positions for personal enrichment. Leaders typically style themselves as champions of traditional values, selectively choosing and distorting traditions for maximum gain. The leader rallies supporters with a message of national greatness while promising that they will be part of something great if they join the movement and belittle, beat up, or otherwise marginalize its opponents. Individual differences that either do not serve the movement or make its members uncomfortable are mocked and presented alternately as threating or as evidence of weakness. While patriotism generally sees value in the home country and provides a framework for improvement, authoritarian nationalism tends to value the country only as far as it reflects the desired arrangement of society. Authoritarian nationalists view truth mainly to be whatever serves their project or feels good for their supporters to say. Spaces that other political systems allow for reasoned debate or limited challenges to the status quo are to be controlled or destroyed.

The structures of resistance created today will be the framework of liberty’s advance in the future. General principles of resisting authoritarians can provide a basis for individual actions.


1) Do not allow the culture of authoritarian nationalism to grow in your social relations.

Resisting authoritarian culture in daily life, by whatever means available, is an important task for all who value liberty.

Authoritarianism can be sustained when it becomes rooted in daily life, in language, rituals, social connections, and means of social advancement.  The track from dehumanization to denunciation and deportation can seem overwhelmingly fast, and it must be disrupted by insisting on respect for individual rights and dignity, and disgust for those who would threaten them.


2) Participate in building structures of resistance.

Each resister must be guided by their own conscience, assessment of risk, and sense of a project’s value.

Resistance networks should reduce the power of hostile governments to harm people, and support individuals in taking more effective actions against authority and retaining more personal autonomy.

Build support networks, cooperative structures with participatory decision making, for everything from supporting research to responding to attacks.

Use the power of public opinion and boycott to discourage and punish collaboration with the regime.

Build organizations to protect and empower targets of state repression. Create or support mutual aid organizations open to those the regime and its culture attempt to marginalize. Listen to people the authoritarians try to push to the margins and understand that true liberty will never be won without them.

Make alternative options for those targeted for recruitment by authoritarian nationalists. Appealing activities of resistance will divert those who may otherwise participate in repression. At a time of political upheaval and social uncertainty, participation in resistance can allow the individual to create a sense of purpose and belonging, leaving them less vulnerable to the calls of bigots and authoritarians.

Support civil disobedience against the regime and its collaborators in their attacks on the public. Share resisters’ stories as much as they are comfortable with, and be ready to back them in the streets or in the courts.


3) Participate in rallies and protests.

Recognize that appearance and symbolism are important in politics. Public displays of dissent show that the regime is not all powerful. Publicizing dissent shows that the regime cannot control the flow of information.


4) Support international solidarity.

Where authoritarian nationalists would carve up zones of control, sometimes through collusion and sometimes through conflict, the free people of the world should understand that the fight for liberty transcends borders. The freedom of the refugee strengthens the freedom of the citizen. The struggle for freedom in Russia and the struggle for freedom in America are parts of the same fight, though they be fought on different lands and different terms. The people advancing liberty against autocracy and religious terror in the Middle East are fighting for the future of our world.


5) Engage in the information war.

Authoritarians are typically not interested in rational discourse. Their pronouncements are power plays. The message in their statements is that they can define the terms of discussion and they will not be challenged. Their subjects are expected to accept reality as the rulers define it or accept a state of confusion and helplessness that prevents them from challenging the regime. Challenge their statements, boldly, repeatedly, and truthfully. Challenge them in public spaces. Challenge them in spaces where the ruling ideology is comfortable to say what it wants. Deny them control of discourse. Advance a narrative of truth and inclusive liberty.


6) Prepare for self-defense on individual and collective levels.

Reactionaries often become violent when they feel they can get away with it or when they feel their power is threatened. This can take the form of street violence against visible dissidents, and in more extreme cases it can take the form of attacks on the homes of political opponents, mob violence, or even assassinations or mass arrests. The threat of violence is often in the background, and the prudent person will take steps to prevent the threat level from rising. People resisting authoritarians should be prepared to defend themselves and their communities by any means necessary. Community resilience can mitigate the effects of violence, and a strong defensive posture can prevent attacks of opportunity.


7) Use valuable institutions and support people when they use them to do good.

Political bodies and administrations are made up of people who may respond to different pressures. It makes a difference who occupies offices. While there is a limit to how much change can be won from inside the system, people controlling various parts of the system can make the environment more or less friendly to the projects that need to be made.

Institutions of law-making and law enforcement have been used to repress socially marginalized people and dissident political movements, but they can also become roadblocks to autocratic expressions of power.


For your freedom and mine, let’s make a world we can be proud of having a hand in creating.


Spain in Our Hearts – A Worthwhile Addition to Spanish Civil War History

June 20th, 2017 by DarianWorden

Adam Hochschild’s Spain in our Hearts is an excellently written contribution to histories of the Spanish Civil War. It does have some points against it but overall I would recommend the book.

Spain in Our Hearts was a book I was considering where to place on my frequently growing reading list. I was looking through it at a store and figured I would get it. Then I saw a quote on the cover that told me I should read it soon: “With all due respect to Orwell, Spain in our Hearts should supplant Homage to Catalonia as the best introduction to the conflict written in English.” That grabbed my attention as someone who was introduced to the Spanish Civil War, as well as a world of politics I scarcely knew, by a copy of Homage to Catalonia I picked up at a yard sale as a teenager.

Hochschild skillfully brings archival research together with other histories to tell the stories of international volunteers in the Spanish Civil War, primarily Americans. The text discusses who they were, why they got involved, what they had to contend with in Spain, and how they said they felt about it. It includes wealthy, poor, black, white, male, and female actors, Loyalists and Nationalists. The narrative is gripping, moving, informative, and punctuated with memorable episodes like a writer tagging along on a daring sabotage raid.

A significant strength of the book is how it locates the Spanish Civil War in the international political situation of the time: Mussolini’s attack on Ethiopia, Hitler’s maneuvering in Europe, Stalin’s ruthlessness, politics in the USA.

The two major flaws I see are that the book could use more background on the situation in Spain prior to the outbreak of the war, and that its sample of American volunteers focuses too narrowly when it comes to political affiliation.

To be sure, a large percentage of the Americans who fought Franco were Communist Party members, and the book does look into what they believed and whether their beliefs were shaken. However, a book about Americans in the Spanish Civil War ought to include some of the anarchists who went to Spain, whether famous personalities like Emma Goldman or lesser known activists.

As for conditions in Spain, the young Spanish Republic was trying to overcome a near-feudal situation in the face of stiff opposition from monarchists, fascists, and the politically powerful Spanish Catholic Church, all while dealing with anarchists and radical socialists pushing for revolution. Spain had a long history of violent politics, including brutal crackdowns and assassinations carried out by partisans of various political affiliations. Hochschild does give a brief overview, but much of the situation in Spain comes in trickles and a reader might not get a sense of why there was a war to fight in Spain.

Overall I would say Spain in our Hearts is a good book and I would recommend it. It does indeed make a good introduction to the war, though Antony Beevor’s The Battle for Spain is certainly a stronger overview. Whether it makes for a better introduction than Homage to Catalonia is another question, but I would certainly say the books are different in scope and style.

Adam Hochschild, Spain in our Hearts: Americans in the Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939 (2016, paperback 2017)

The Time to Decide the Future is Now

January 28th, 2017 by DarianWorden

The Putin gang and the Trump team will likely act on their common interests as authoritarian nationalists. What will they do and how can they be stopped?

The Trump brand of authoritarianism has ideological and personal connections with the Putin regime, and Trump has openly admired Putin, meaning that precedents set by Putin may be attempted by Trump, albeit in Trump’s personal style. Of course, the oversensitive and vindictive nature of Trump’s personality means that any foreign policy up to and including global nuclear war are possible. Apparent common interests do not always prevent conflict. However, looking at the connections between the Trump administration and the Putin administration is valuable.

It is in the common interest of authoritarian nationalists to undermine the current Euro-American order, which they see as corrosive to the nationally-oriented society rooted in their idea of traditional values. Trump has immediate benefit for Putin in that he throws the United States and its European allies into chaos. But Trump further undermines the existing order by encouraging nations to reject universalism, go their own way, and ignore Putin’s aggression.

In Russia, the work of twentieth century political philosopher Ivan Ilyin has seen a revival, with new print runs, references to his work by Putin, Ilyin’s archives imported from the United States, and even his remains repatriated from Switzerland. Timothy Snyder writes that “Ilyin believed that individuality was evil… According to Ilyin, the purpose of politics is to overcome individuality, and establish a ‘living totality’ of the nation.” [1] This is an extreme view to be sure, and it is hard to say exactly how far Russian leaders have bought into it. However, it really only differs in degree from the derision heaped on the “special snowflakes” who are protesting the Trump order, as if individuality were a moral failing or a weakness that will melt when exposed to the harsh world. Trump opponents are simultaneously treated as being obsessed with themselves, and being irrational for standing up for others. There is also a focus on national greatness with a very narrow view of what kind of individuals will benefit.

Neither regime is interested in supporting democracy in the Middle East, apparently banking on brutality holding the world together. [2] Such a strategy may feel good to those who want to wall off their civilization from the world, but it is highly unlikely to produce a lasting peace or keep Americans from risking their lives overseas.

A common interest in Trump and Putin policy that will probably develop over the next few years is the interest in undermining environmental protections, especially international agreements made to combat climate change. Russia is a state enriched by oil and natural gas that wants to extract more resources from a warming Arctic and increase shipping in Arctic waters. As Timothy Snyder explains,

A united Europe could generate an actual policy of energy independence, under the pressures of Russian unpredictability or global warming – or both. But a disintegrated Europe would remain dependent on Russian hydrocarbons. [3]

In addition to common interests, Putin and Trump have some important associates in common. Before Paul Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager, he made a living advising and polishing the image of Viktor Yanukovych, the corrupt Ukrainian president backed by Putin and eventually ousted after a popular uprising. [4]

Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil executive picked by Trump to head the US State Department, has long been personally involved in the fossil fuel industry in Russia. He has made multibillion dollar deals and met with Putin several times. Tillerson has been personally affected by sanctions against Russia and has lobbied against them. [5]

Steve Bannon, Trump’s campaign advisor and now chief strategist, has stated an ambiguous view of Putin: on the one hand, Putin and his cronies are kleptocrats and imperialists, but on the other hand, Putin is a smart guy with a lot of appeal who can be useful in the fight against liberal internationalism and Islamic terrorism. Bannon has also shown awareness of Alexander Dugin, the Russian philosopher of geopolitics who has influence on Putin. Dugin was delighted by Trump’s victory. He went on to say “We need a Nuremburg Trial for Liberalism, the last totalitarian political ideology,” showing the selective memory of the authoritarian nationalist regime that celebrates the victory over the Nazis with little discussion of how Soviet collaboration helped the Nazis begin the European war in 1939. [6] Dugin was not the only one happy in November, as a number of Russian politicians as well as state television programs celebrated the victory of Trump. [7]

Bannon has said that he turned Breitbart News into a platform for the alt-right, a group of polished racists and fascists who know how to act well-mannered until they swarm in harassment campaigns. The alt-right tends to view Putin as an ally in the racial conflict, with Richard Spencer saying “We can look to Putin as someone we can admire and understand.” [8]

It remains to be seen how much influence the Putin crowd will have versus other Trump advisors who do not share a friendly view of Putin.

The Putin model of governance pushes a steady escalation of authoritarianism. The world of Vladimir Putin is one of power, deception, and misdirection. Freedom of assembly is suppressed and voices that do not support the regime are marginalized. “Managed democracy” has become a term for Putin’s regime. [9] The regime withstood large protests that erupted in the wake of manipulated elections in 2012, branding protestors as national enemies and even claiming that Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, “gave the signal” for protestors to take the streets. [10]

Expect the Trump regime to go after independent media and keep pushing its own alternative facts. Trump’s obsession with his loss of the popular vote is likely a sign of voter suppression to come. After all, if demographics are not on your side, manipulating vote counts is a logical choice for an immoral regime obsessed with the personality of the leader. Those who protest will soon be labelled enemies of the nation.

Expect the administration to make big shows of helping some people to distract from the more numerous people the administration is harming. A blueprint will be the pronouncement of jobs “saved” at the Carrier factory where many jobs were still transferred to Mexico despite a large taxpayer subsidy. [11] It is perhaps a less poetic image than photographs of a shirtless Putin enjoying the beautiful Russian countryside while the rush for fossil fuel and mineral wealth poisons the environment.

Putin’s Russia has a complicated relationship with ethnicity. Russia is a multiethnic state. It positions itself as defender of Russian ethnicity in Ukraine, where it encourages ethnic divisions through propaganda campaigns. It appeals to Russian speaking people in the Baltic with Russian language media. In Chechnya Putin has the flashy Ramzan Kadyrov living like a king and having opponents tortured and assassinated, so long as the ethnic Chechen leader keeps Chechnya under control and helps trash talk the West. [12]

The culture of authoritarianism is possibly more harmful than any particular policy the administration could be successful with. The encouragement of bullying to put people back in their place will be used as a tool of control and it will have severe consequences.

In Russia, enforcers outside of official channels are deployed for a variety of ends. Cossack groups are used to intimidate people, including ethnic minorities living where the authorities do not want them to live. As a local official said, “What you cannot do, a Cossack can.” [13]

The Night Wolves motorcycle club pushes nationalist propaganda and fights opponents in the former Soviet empire, including in operations with pro-Russian militias in Ukraine. The leader of the Night Wolves, a man known as The Surgeon, said of the fighting in Ukraine:

For the first time, we showed resistance to the global Satanism, the growing savagery of Western Europe, the rush to consumerism that denies all spirituality, the destruction of traditional values, all this homosexual talk, this American democracy.

The motorcycle club has close ties to the Russian government, receiving government grants for events and even riding with Vladimir Putin on several occasions. [14]

If things get too out of hand, the regime can use extreme tactics of propaganda and hybrid warfare. The Baltic states were once officially Soviet republics and are now relatively free, successful, and stable nations. In 2007, a memorial to Soviet soldiers in Estonia was removed. Estonia was then hit with cyber attacks, Russian government propaganda targeted its Russian-speaking minority and encouraged sabotage, and deliveries of petroleum and coal were cut off. [15]

Russia’s attacks on Ukraine in 2014 have been characterized by Western analysts as “hybrid warfare.” Andrew Monaghan describes the concept of hybrid war as follows:

In sum, Russian hybrid warfare as widely understood in the West represents a method of operating that relies on proxies and surrogates to prevent attribution and intent, and to maximize confusion and uncertainty. Conventional force is often obliquely mentioned as a supplementary feature, but the main feature of hybrid warfare is that it remains below the threshold of the clear use of armed force. Hybrid warfare is thus tantamount to a range of hostile actions of which military force is only a small part, or “measures short of war” that seek to deceive, undermine, subvert, influence and destabilize societies, to coerce or replace sovereign governments and to disrupt or alter an existing regional order.

Monaghan is critical of the concept of hybrid warfare, suggesting that it was a useful concept for understanding Russian actions but has outlived its usefulness as Russia has engaged in conventional military actions such as operations in Syria. However, hybrid warfare may continue to be a useful concept for understanding an ideological war against an opposing worldview in a divided population. [16]

It will be useful to keep in mind the rules Masha Gessen lays out in Autocracy: Rules for Survival.

Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization.
Rule #2: Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.
Rule #3: Institutions will not save you.
Rule #4: Be outraged.
Rule #5: Don’t make compromises.
Rule #6: Remember the future. [17]

We must tell the truth, defend those under attack, and recognize attacks on freedom as soon as they come.

It is good to see that the media is not backing down from the threats that the Trump administration has made. A helpful feature is the Washington Post Trump Watch, a running tally of Trump administration policies, statements and executive actions affecting civil liberties.[18] It remains to be seen how far this fight will go. Cyberattacks by hackers employed by authoritarian nationalists are not out of the question. It is necessary to think outside of what seemed possible a year ago and prepare for the threats of the new environment.

Rallies and mass demonstrations build morale and are important symbols of opposition. People shut out of the country must know that they are not on their own.

As the federal government increases its hostility, it will be necessary to find or build alternatives to the federal government for everything from civil rights protection to funding of sciences and humanities. Establish the infrastructure of resistance.

It is good to have politicians and institutions that will impede attacks on freedom, but we cannot expect them to protect us on their own. Institutions are composed of people. They will face pressure to do wrong. They need pressure or support to do right. Politicians are people living in a world of moral ambiguity, competing interests, deal-making, and compromise. They must be reminded that unity and peace will not be found in repression.

I am not going to say that people who voted for Trump are all bad people, but there is no way around the fact that they voted for a very bad person, and they should also be mitigating the evil that his administration will do.

There will certainly be differences in the regimes of Trump and Putin. The political environment of the United States will almost certainly be a more difficult place to establish an authoritarian nationalist regime than that of Russia. The United States has a stronger history of nationwide activism and mobilization, and a civil society that has flourished in the relative freedom of liberal democracy. Disrespect for the president is a national pastime and a big business for sellers of shirts and stickers. The national story is generally one of rebellion, a series of triumphs against oppression, and a nation strengthened by acceptance of different people. There are problems with this story, but it does provide a lot of material for those who want to continue the march of freedom.

The status quo is not an option. From now we move either in the Trump-Putin direction or in a different direction. Saying “things were working okay before” is both boring and exclusionary. Saying “here is how we will make things better” is engaging when an inspiring vision is combined with practical plans.

When we fight for a world of respect, diversity, and connectedness, we make a world that is more interesting than any instructions the authoritarian nationalists can give us. Exciting possibilities are found in liberty, individual autonomy, cooperative association, and social solidarity. The mission to protect human rights is a glorious struggle that we can all feel good for playing some role in.

Why go through the drudgery of putting together broken molds to jam ourselves into when we have the opportunity to remake ourselves how we want? As Pussy Riot said, patriarchy is boring.

Likewise, why have a federal program to remake the economy in the mold of an idealized 1950s when there are better ways to create opportunities for fulfilling work? Instead of a Soviet Five Year Plan of big factories with little environmental or worker protection, or big walls and infrastructure projects built with prison labor, let’s look forward to education and cultural shifts that prepare the technicians and engineers for the economy of automation and greener energy, and imparts pride and social awareness to everyone from the plumber to the professor, where their gender, race, or orientation will not be used to hold them back.

The future will be Putin or the People, Trump or Liberty.

The future will be authoritarian nationalism or pluralistic liberty. The future will be populism manipulated by elites and social division by government command, or the future will be freedom of association, cooperative individualism, and universal human rights.

The world will not go back to the way it was. The future will build on the past to make something new. It is up to all of us to do some part in making sure the future moves forward from the best of what we have. Authoritarian nationalists are acting in their common interests and the free people of the world should do the same.



[1] Timothy Snyder, How a Russian Fascist is Meddling in America’s Election. Op-Ed in The New York Times, September 20, 2016.

[2] Gregory Korte and David Jackson, Kremlin: Trump, Putin agree to coordinate on fighting Islamic State. USA Today, Jan. 28, 2017.

[3] Timothy Snyder, The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything: Fascism returns to the continent it once destroyed. The New Republic, May 11, 2014.
On Russia, fossil fuels, and climate change, see Paul R. Josephson, The Conquest of the Russian Arctic, Harvard University Press, 2014, 350-354, 370- 377

[4] Anne Applebaum, Stop obsessing over ‘secrets’ about Trump and Russia. What we already know is bad enough. The Washington Post, January 13, 2017.

[5] Julia Ioffe, What It Really Means to Be a ‘Friend of Putin.’ Politico Magazine, December 10, 2016
See also: Sonam Sheth, A timeline of Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Business Insider, December 13, 2016.

[6] Erasmus, America, Russia and the new right: Russian anti-liberals love Donald Trump but it may not be entirely mutual. The Economist, Nov 20th 2016.

[7] Andrew Osborn, In Trump We Trust: Inauguration prompts celebration in Russia. Reuters, January 20, 2017.

[8] Alan Feuer and Andrew Higgins, Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin. The New York Times, December 3, 2016.

[9] Benjamin Nathans, The Real Power of Putin. The New York Review of Books, September 29, 2016.

[10] Timothy Snyder, How a Russian Fascist is Meddling in America’s Election.

[11] Bernie Sanders, Bernie Sanders: Carrier just showed corporations how to beat Donald Trump. The Washington Post, December 1, 2016.

[12] Oliver Bullough, Putin’s closest ally – and his biggest liability. The Guardian, September 23, 2015.

[13] Ellen Barry, Russian Governor Signs up Cossacks to Police Migrants. The New York Times, August 3, 2012.
Ellen Barry, The Cossacks are Back. May the Hills Tremble. The New York Times, March 16, 2013.

[14] Damon Tabor, Putin’s Angels: Inside Russia’s Most Infamous Motorcycle Club. Rolling Stone, October 8, 2015.

[15] Viljar Veebel, Russian Propaganda, Disinformation, and Estonia’s Experience. Foreign Policy Research Institute, October 4, 2015.

[16] Andrew Monaghan. Putin’s Way of War: The ‘War’ in Russia’s ‘Hybrid Warfare.’ Army Strategic Studies Institute.
See also: Damien Van Puyvelde, Hybrid war – does it even exist? NATO Review,

[17] Masha Gessen, Autocracy: Rules for Survival. The New York Review of Books. November 10, 2016.

[18] Radley Balko, Introducing Trump Watch: A running tally of Trump administration policies, statements and executive actions affecting civil liberties. January 27, 2017.

It is also worth considering a quote from a recent US government intelligence report:
“In trying to influence the US election, we assess the Kremlin sought to advance its longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order, the promotion of which Putin and other senior Russian leaders view as a threat to Russia and Putin’s regime.” (Assessing Russian Activities and Intentions in Recent US Elections, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, January 6, 2017. )