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.

———-

Notes:

[1] Timothy Snyder, How a Russian Fascist is Meddling in America’s Election. Op-Ed in The New York Times, September 20, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/opinion/how-a-russian-fascist-is-meddling-in-americas-election.html

[2] Gregory Korte and David Jackson, Kremlin: Trump, Putin agree to coordinate on fighting Islamic State. USA Today, Jan. 28, 2017. http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/01/28/busy-saturday-trump-call-world-leaders-and-sign-more-orders/97181086/

[3] Timothy Snyder, The Battle in Ukraine Means Everything: Fascism returns to the continent it once destroyed. The New Republic, May 11, 2014. https://newrepublic.com/article/117692/fascism-returns-ukraine
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. https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/stop-obsessing-over-secrets-about-trump-and-russia-what-we-already-know-is-bad-enough/2017/01/13/1f6caf26-d9c8-11e6-b8b2-cb5164beba6b_story.html

[5] Julia Ioffe, What It Really Means to Be a ‘Friend of Putin.’ Politico Magazine, December 10, 2016 http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/rex-tillerson-exxon-putin-russia-ties-friend-214515
See also: Sonam Sheth, A timeline of Rex Tillerson’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Business Insider, December 13, 2016. http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-rex-tillerson-vladimir-putin-russia-exxon-2016-12

[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. http://www.economist.com/blogs/erasmus/2016/11/america-russia-and-new-right

[7] Andrew Osborn, In Trump We Trust: Inauguration prompts celebration in Russia. Reuters, January 20, 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-inauguration-russia-idUSKBN1541S6

[8] Alan Feuer and Andrew Higgins, Extremists Turn to a Leader to Protect Western Values: Vladimir Putin. The New York Times, December 3, 2016. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/03/world/americas/alt-right-vladimir-putin.html

[9] Benjamin Nathans, The Real Power of Putin. The New York Review of Books, September 29, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/09/29/real-power-vladimir-putin/

[10] Timothy Snyder, How a Russian Fascist is Meddling in America’s Election. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/21/opinion/how-a-russian-fascist-is-meddling-in-americas-election.html

[11] Bernie Sanders, Bernie Sanders: Carrier just showed corporations how to beat Donald Trump. The Washington Post, December 1, 2016. https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2016/12/01/bernie-sanders-carrier-just-showed-corporations-how-to-beat-donald-trump/

[12] Oliver Bullough, Putin’s closest ally – and his biggest liability. The Guardian, September 23, 2015. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/sep/23/putins-closest-ally-and-his-biggest-liability

[13] Ellen Barry, Russian Governor Signs up Cossacks to Police Migrants. The New York Times, August 3, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/04/world/europe/russian-to-use-cossacks-to-repel-muslim-migrants.html
Ellen Barry, The Cossacks are Back. May the Hills Tremble. The New York Times, March 16, 2013. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/world/europe/cossacks-are-back-in-russia-may-the-hills-tremble.html

[14] Damon Tabor, Putin’s Angels: Inside Russia’s Most Infamous Motorcycle Club. Rolling Stone, October 8, 2015. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/putins-angels-inside-russias-most-infamous-motorcycle-club-20151008

[15] Viljar Veebel, Russian Propaganda, Disinformation, and Estonia’s Experience. Foreign Policy Research Institute, October 4, 2015. http://www.fpri.org/article/2015/10/russian-propaganda-disinformation-and-estonias-experience/

[16] Andrew Monaghan. Putin’s Way of War: The ‘War’ in Russia’s ‘Hybrid Warfare.’ Army Strategic Studies Institute. https://www.academia.edu/24314231/Putins_Way_of_War
See also: Damien Van Puyvelde, Hybrid war – does it even exist? NATO Review, http://www.nato.int/docu/review/2015/also-in-2015/hybrid-modern-future-warfare-russia-ukraine/EN/index.htm

[17] Masha Gessen, Autocracy: Rules for Survival. The New York Review of Books. November 10, 2016. http://www.nybooks.com/daily/2016/11/10/trump-election-autocracy-rules-for-survival/

[18] Radley Balko, Introducing Trump Watch: A running tally of Trump administration policies, statements and executive actions affecting civil liberties. January 27, 2017. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-watch/wp/2017/01/27/introducing-trump-watch-a-running-tally-of-trump-administration-policies-statements-and-executive-actions-affecting-civil-liberties

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. https://www.dni.gov/files/documents/ICA_2017_01.pdf )

Saying What We’re All Thinking: Normalize Resistance

December 9th, 2016 by DarianWorden

For reactionary populism to win, it needs to tell stories about a golden past and about a future that can be great if old values are recovered and given strength. For liberty and tolerance to win, we need to tell a better story than our opponents. Against those throwing out truth and reason for comforting lies and destructiveness, we find strength in our convictions, tell the truth, and embrace the project of creating a better future. To defeat a regime, you must point out what is wrong with the regime, but you should highlight people resisting it and the world they embody.

Let’s look at the facts: Donald Trump is pursuing the agenda of a minority of a minority.

He lost the popular vote by millions.

The maps that show stark divisions between red and blue states or counties are obscuring the numerous shades of purple that stretch across the country.

Non-voters remain the largest share of the American electorate. Their dissatisfaction with electoral politics was apparently not changed by Donald Trump.

Many of the people who voted for Donald Trump did not do so because they were excited about his agenda: they were either frightened by the Clintons or they were willing to look the other way when Trump said repugnant things. Whether or not they feel bad about their decision is up to them – I just want them to help mitigate the harm that a Trump administration would do.

Trump in power is dangerous. The numerous people who are excited about what he promised to do to minorities are frightening. The numerous people who are celebrating his election as a victory in the race war are disgusting. The lack of concern that many show for this is disheartening. Yet we can take heart, be excited, and celebrate the fact that people are rejecting the divisions assigned to them and are embracing liberty and tolerance.

Donald Trump’s behavior is not the norm. It is merely one norm among many struggling for greater acceptance.

Negativity is enticing. We can throw up our arms and say that the world is generally a terrible place with only a few nice breaks here and there. Negativity allows us to feel superior to those who don’t get it, and it gives us an excuse to not try to improve the world. It is a comforting story. But there are better stories.

We can find precedents for a lot of things in the past if we look for them. History is full of war and oppression. It is also a story of change. When it comes down to it, the tribal loyalties of humanity have taken many forms in the past. While the historical record will show much prejudice and fear of outsiders, it will also show episodes of assimilation, cultural exchange, and awe of people and things from far away.

The ethnic nation state is only one of the kinds of tribalism humanity has seen. The ethnic nation state has only been around in its familiar form for a couple of centuries, and until the last few years it has arguably become more cosmopolitan.

The United States of America was founded on a lot of assumptions, but also upon great principles. “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” These are words upon which colonies in rebellion declared themselves to be a new nation. Revolutionaries like Lafayette and Kosciuszko came to these shores to fight for a new world. International revolutionary Thomas Paine stirred reason and emotion with his pen. “Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.” The revolution of 1776 could not fully overcome its flaws and another revolution was needed to unseat the slave aristocracy from power. Since then these lands have hosted smaller, less bloody rebellions: the Lawrence Strike, Civil Rights, Stonewall, etc. They have also been host to numerous quieter attempts to expand human liberty and dignity, including even the people who were left out from the beginning.

If tribalism is to be an inescapable part of the human experience, that does not mean we have to let other people assign us to a tribe. I will make my own village based on how people treat me, and not on whether the villages of our forgotten ancestors were in the same general area of the world. I will embrace a heritage of reason and rebellion, and leave the prejudices of the past to study from a distance. I embrace the strength of self-improvement that comes from examining my own shortcomings and trying to understand the experiences of other individuals. I want liberty, I want compassion, I want tolerance, and I will live my life accordingly.

If they try to insult me by calling me a special snowflake, I say that millions of special snowflakes will bury the old world in the cold. The story of humanity should be a story of liberation.

In practical matters, there are numerous men and women resisting oppression and building a better world, and their stories should be told to whatever extent they are comfortable with. Yes, we need to talk about the horrible things happening in the world, but every chapter should point the way to a solution.

The idea that Trump was “saying what we’re all thinking” gained him some popularity among people who want to say things that make them feel good and make other people feel bad. Here’s some plain talking for you: Trump is a far worse liar than career politicians, his idea of truth is little more than whatever feels good to shout at a rally or rant on social media, he has no moral compass whatsoever, and the ideas that he does adhere to are either factually incorrect, morally repugnant, or fatally corrupted by his consuming need for personal gain and glory. He represents boastful ignorance and an arrogant sense of entitlement that can and should be destroyed.

“Saying what we’re all thinking” is a statement without a precise meaning, but it is powerful. Giving voice to thoughts gives them greater power. Presenting your ideas as commonly accepted imparts a standard of legitimacy. The idea that we should quietly and meekly express a bit of displeasure to avoid offending people who are playing by a completely different set of rules and thrive on creating offense is self-defeating. An underdog story may be compelling but the heroes should win in the end. Humanity’s drive for freedom may be messy, it may be full of unresolved contradictions, and it may stumble often, but it is a path that we should show our pride for walking.

As Thomas Paine wrote in 1776: “O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth!”

Defend Freedom and Steer Away From Fascism

November 16th, 2016 by DarianWorden

Donald Trump and the movement that he has inspired threaten American liberty to a more serious degree than most of us have seen in our lifetimes, and it is crucial to meet these threats now in order to mitigate them.

In Donald Trump, observe a leader who runs on charisma and vague statements that work on peoples’ feelings. He does not just stretch the truth, but he is even anti-rational in the way that he blurts out statements and then acts as if he never said them or that it would be ridiculous to take them seriously. He has demonstrated that he has little sense of personal restraint and it is not clear how much institutions can restrain him. He has publicly stated a desire for power and privately boasted that with enough social capital he can do whatever he wants to women. He has expressed open hostility to media that is not loyal to him. He admires the governing style of a deceitful strongman and KGB officer. His campaign went beyond scapegoating to incite people to feel like they can be part of something great if they push out or push down the other, promising empowerment by holding power over others. The people who voted for him either looked the other way, or they were fooled by the fear or the promises he pushed, or they actually liked what he has done. Whatever their reasons were, the rest of the world now also has to deal with Trumpism in office.

It is no surprise that Trump has been conspicuously silent or evasive about some of his most odious fans, which include the KKK and racist cyberstalkers. Although he did belatedly disavow the verbal and graffiti threats made to political and demographic minorities following the election, he actually appointed as chief strategist a man responsible for giving a major media platform to modern-day fascists in search of a great leader.

We are living in a different world from the heyday of classical fascism, the 1920s to early 1940s, and Trump is a product of today’s unique circumstances. However, the conduct of Trump and the people he associates with make it prudent to look at the record of fascism for warnings and countermeasures. In fascism, loyalty to the leader is a primary principle of governance and civic virtue. There is typically some kind of cult behind a charismatic leader. Yet there is also a participatory process. Mussolini’s famous line “everything in the state, nothing outside the state, nothing against the state” shows the totalitarian intentions. (Giuseppe Finaldi, Mussolini and Italian Fascism, Routledge, Jan 14, 2014, 57 ; See also: “The Political and Social Doctrine of Fascism“)

The totalitarian goal of controlling society was only ever partially successful, but reaching toward this goal by assimilating more of society into its grasp is an operating principle of fascism. Such control does not stem from fear alone, but also involves inspiring people to participate in pushing the party line. A person in a fascist movement may lose individuality, but if they are open to the message, then they can gain a sense of empowerment from being part of a group that tells its members they are the strong, and they will dominate the weak. Joseph Goebbels remarked that “It is not enough to reconcile people more or less to our regime, to move them towards a position of neutrality towards us, we would rather work on people until they are addicted to us.” (Quoted in Speielvogel and Redles, Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History, Sixth Edition, 147) The regime created propaganda as well as numerous organizations to control different spheres of social life. In these days of outsourcing, contracting, and crowdsourcing, it is possible for a regime to accomplish a similar project through partnerships and incentives outside of direct state administration. In order to carry out its mission of social transformation, fascism seeks broad participation, and plants roots deeply into society.

Fascism presents a thoroughly cultivated image of order, but in reality it can be chaotic. The Nazi regime was full of bureaucratic infighting. Force of personality and personal connections could be more important than seemingly objective qualifications or even official duties. Even orders from the top were not always clear. Historian Ian Kershaw created the phrase “Working towards the Fuhrer” to describe the work of Nazi administrators trying to interpret the Fuhrer’s statements to create actual policy. Regardless of what Triumph of the Will tried to convey, a regime moving toward fascism should not be expected to operate in an orderly manner. The saying about how Mussolini made the trains run on time is actually the product of a propaganda campaign, and propaganda worked much better than actual railroad operations in fascist Italy.

Fascism carried a strong anti-intellectual and anti-rational mindset. Nazi leaders derided intellectuals and boasted that as strong-willed Aryans, “We think with our blood.” Goebbels gave a speech in which he said “the age of extreme intellectualism is over… the past is lying in flames… the future will rise from the flames within our hearts.” (Speilvogel and Redles, 146-147) Trying to grasp the intellectual basis of fascism is difficult because to a large degree it is a movement that operates on feeling. People believe in it because it makes them feel good to believe in it.

In fascism the regime is to represent the will of the united nation, and the nation is typically defined in terms of an ethnic community. The nation is not simply a political community with a common set of traditions, principles, and geographic connections. In the pursuit of power based in a particular political community, the competing social bonds are attacked. The question of which traditions will be incorporated into the national revival becomes critical as the ethnic definition of the nation rises in prominence. What defines the nation that must be made great again and who is taking it back from whom?

There are more worrying passages from the history of Nazi Germany, but it is important to remember that the current political situation is rooted in a different political moment. By now many have seen the New York Times profile of the Nazi movement from 1922, which stated that “several reliable, well-informed sources confirmed the idea that Hitler’s anti-Semitism was not so genuine or violent as it sounded, and that he was merely using anti-Semitic propaganda as a bait to catch masses of followers and keep them aroused, enthusiastic, and in line for the time when his organization is perfected and sufficiently powerful to be employed effectively for political purposes.” Unfortunately many people in the German establishment were willing to look the other way when it came to the worrisome ethnic policy of a guy who could get things done. The German establishment expected Hitler to moderate while in power. He was seen as a vulgar crowd-pleaser who could inspire the masses to a sense of national unity and purpose while keeping them away from the revolutionary left. The establishment was not able to control him like they thought they could.

While our attention is rightfully drawn to the similarities we see to fascist history, there are critical differences between now and then. A big difference is that the early fascists were shaped by their experience of facing mass death in the trenches with their countrymen during the First World War. While reverence for military values and a fascination with violence is certainly prevalent in American society, the obsession with violence and death that fascists thrive upon does not seem so widespread, and does not appear much in Trump. Trump’s personal history is not of a soldier turned demagogue, but of a con man who persuades people to trust him with their money which he drains before riding off with his lifestyle of wealth intact. If he continues in a fascist direction, there is good reason to believe that he will not be the catalyst of intentional mass murder.

Although the lessons of Putin’s Russia are striking, and Putin’s influence and worldview are important to study, the parallels with Russia can only go so far. Russia did not have a very functional or well established democratic government before Putin came to power. The type of civil society in which classical and current liberal values tend to grow had little space to develop under Communist Party rule, and the 1990s were far from stable times in Russia.

If a historical situation must be found to compare with the present, then the United States during its involvement in the First World War through the First Red Scare, 1917 through roughly 1920, would be instructive. Suspicion of foreigners and political dissidents was widespread, freedom of expression was suppressed, and organized racism grew. It was a fearful era, but progress has come since.

I understand that this writing could be considered alarmist. I do not mind. An alarm is a warning that there is a situation that needs to be addressed. A fire alarm is supposed to go off well before a building burns to the ground, but if it is ignored too long then everything around will burn.

There is much that can be done to prevent the country from taking a fascist course. If fascism requires participation, then non-participation is more than standing on the sidelines. Ensure that social or institutional spaces you can influence reject the culture of bigotry and bullying. Regardless of how easy the road to social empowerment may look when it runs on casting people out or pushing around outsiders, do not take that road. Take the high road of commanding respect for decent people.

Institutional resistance to modern day fascism can take many forms. Sanctuary cities may offer relatively safe living for people targeted by federal authorities or others doing the administration’s dirty work. Yet networks to warn of and resist deportation actions may be needed. Serious legal challenges may be ahead and supporting organizations like the ACLU, the National Lawyers Guild, and those that aid refugees and migrants can become critical.

Consider personal resistance to the fascist direction. Insist on factual correctness against anti-intellectualism and political niceties. When a person is acting like a fascist and associates with fascists, it is okay to point this out. When the regime is lying, point it out loudly and repeatedly. I do not think that much respect will be won with weak statements of disapproval, and I do not think that Trump will have sufficient reason to moderate unless doing so has obvious political advantages.

Defensively, one should understand the legal options of protesters and people targeted for acts of political dissent. Read what the ACLU and the National Lawyers Guild say. One should also consider methods of personal defense against people inspired to violence. Exercising the right to keep and bear arms can prevent some threats from being carried out, and it is a right that, perhaps surprisingly, might not be secure for everyone. There is a definite possibility that the no-fly list will be expanded to include people who have been investigated by partisan and power-hungry federal investigators with expanded budgets and loosened restraints, and this secretive list could be used to deny people other rights without due process.

Going on the offensive against modern-day fascism requires advancing an alternative. Participating in communities that embrace and defend diversity and respect the rights and dignity of the individual means making a better future. Community resilience and mutual aid are especially important to consider now that the government is led by someone who will likely make harmful economic and foreign policy decisions. Communications networks may be needed for emergency situations, including raids and arrests of dubious legality. This alternative community shows that this is not merely Trump’s world that we all live in, but that there is a world of decency assembling its strength and creating a better future.

Donald Trump has entangled himself with modern-day fascists and he will move the country toward fascism if it is politically expedient for him to do so. The world of individual liberty, of cooperation and compassion, must assemble its strength and make its strength known. We might be heading down a dark road, but we can turn a better way if we open our eyes and take the wheel.

Preventing Fascism From Taking Root: We Have Work to Do.

November 9th, 2016 by DarianWorden

I am between the shock of last night’s surprising performance by Donald Trump, the dread of checking the news this morning to see if it really did go the way I feared when I went to bed, and the anxiety of needing to start my day as if things have not changed. Where in the world could be safe when the most powerful nation on the planet has elected a reckless spokesman of hate to its most powerful office?

While it is tempting to write the epitaph of American liberty, and reflect on the fact that the years 1776 or 1865 to 2016 is a longer run than a lot of modern democratic governments, we are far from finished. There is work to do. Move if you must, and let’s not have all our eggs in one basket, but would happen if everyone with the means and desire to oppose Trump abandoned the American beacon of liberty to the dark forces overtaking it?

The most frightening thing about the Trump victory might not be the sizable minority of his supporters who are actually fascists and members of racist organizations, and it is certainly not the numerous supporters of his who are sick enough of the status quo to overlook his numerous flaws. It is frightening to see the people who have bought into his campaign of angry scapegoating – that we can make America great again by shouting down those who question us, by following a career swindler who encourages violence against protesters and opponents. There are the people for whom recent changes have not meant economic hardship, but status panic, those who feel oppressed by so-called “political correctness’ that says they have to recognize a country where being a good American does not necessarily mean listening to straight white men who are Christians or at least play them on Sundays. Those who buy into Trump’s rhetoric of pushing out and pushing down the outsiders are buying into the attitude that fascism thrives upon even if they themselves are not fascists.

The importance of a strong leader and top-down commands for fascism can obscure the fact that it is typically a popular movement – that while it does not require a majority of the population for support, it draws on a wide base of support and encourages and directs misplaced fears of change and fears of outsiders. The need for fascism to penetrate deeply into society offers a critical place of resistance. By consciously creating and defending social spaces and institutions where the culture of fascism is not welcome, we can prevent the poison tree from sinking its roots deeply. We must not internalize or embody the divisions that we are supposed to follow. We must make it clear that no matter what the official ideology says, wherever we are is a place where black lives matter, Muslims are not enemies, migrants are welcome, LGBTQ people are free, and all people who do not step on others to climb the ladder of social hierarchy are welcome.

In the long term, we should question the value of a system that would put Donald Trump in charge of millions of citizens and the most powerful military on the planet. In the meantime, any institutional impediment to his power should be utilized. The aspiring autocrat still has political opponents, and members of his party, who recognize Constitutional limits on his power.

If we survived the September 11 attacks, we should be able to survive this. Good luck out there, America.

 

Ignorance in Power

June 30th, 2016 by DarianWorden

I’ve been reading some great commentary on how the establishment is utterly baffled by, and derisively hostile to, the rise of populist movements that appear to reject some of its core positions. Glenn Greenwald’s commentary on the topic is particularly excellent. There are a lot of narratives about who the establishment is and who is anti-establishment that need to be examined.

“The establishment” is a handy shortcut to generalize about the status quo, the political, economic, and social authorities established within it, and people who support all this. Elites are people who have significant influence on the establishment and benefit most from it. There are also people with less influence who nevertheless identify with and strongly defend the status quo and its elites because their life is so tied to it.

The fact that bad solutions are popular does not mean there is not a problem. The fact that so many people demand some kind of different situation does not simply mean that there are a lot of ignorant people, but it could show how many people are negatively impacted by the current situation.

The fact is, everyone is ignorant to some degree. Some are more ignorant than others, and some are more willfully ignorant. I would say that many people have been trained to be ignorant to some extent. It provides little value to the establishment for the average person to be a thoughtful citizen of the world. What kind of power would one have without ignorant masses to rule over? Many people in various social situations see the success of others depending less on how much they study, and more on who they know. Will getting good grades, analyzing global news, and writing insightful commentary be more likely to lead to a stable living than impressing the right people? What if the right people to know are impressed by displays of disdain for for eggheads and experts? How many people who go to college are actually more interested in learning than in credentials and contacts? Ignorance is rampant among elites. Many do not understand how life is for most people primarily because they do not want to know.

The narrative that people reject the status quo simply because they are ignorant low-class racists does a lot of service for the establishment. It implies that the status quo must be working pretty well, because only awful people are against it. It directs people away from asking how many people are poor, desperate, and looking for scapegoats because the status quo has utterly failed to deliver on lifelong promises or even to deliver basic stability. It also hides how racist the establishment itself can be.

The Trump campaign runs on outrageous statements about putting things back the way they used to be, barely concealed hostility toward minorities who step out of their prescribed places, and overt hostility toward anyone who opposes the campaign. Supporting Trump means being at least racist enough to not care how minorities have to suffer while “we get our country back.” Donald Trump is hardly outside the establishment. He was born into wealth and has had a life of turning his wealth into greater prestige that nets him more money. He has continually benefited from a system that he mainly criticizes for not being hard enough on outsiders. Trump was still in with the New York elite during and after the time he called for all-but lynching a group of black teenagers who were accused of raping a white woman based on flimsy evidence – men who were later proven not guilty by DNA testing.

The elites who pretend to be against elitism probably believe in what they do and believe that things will be better with them in charge. What they are really doing is managing potential revolt and directing its anger against relatively powerless groups of people they are willing to write off as sacrifices. Donald Trump has for decades been in the business of talking himself up so people will support his schemes, and him running for president seems no different. A lot of people who claim to know what they are doing have caused serious harm to numerous people. Donald “Trust Me” Trump in political office would be one of them, and the harm he would do would almost certainly be immense.

A complete disregard for expertise is not rational. People who spend their lives examining particular issues are at least worth hearing. When people reject modern medicine, deny climate change, or insist on clear historical falsehoods, they are usually not really being skeptical. They may be deciding what to believe based on how they feel about the people speaking. If they feel more in common with someone who argues a certain way, that will substitute for critical examination of arguments and evidence. Cultural affinity becomes a shortcut for thinking.

To really change the status quo, to really have a smarter and more secure world, is a worthwhile goal. It can only happen if people refuse to be willfully ignorant, make a serious effort to understand what other people experience, try to have some grasp of the complex nature of human relations, and embrace what truly does lead to progress – a commitment to liberty for all individuals and a commitment to continually examining the nature of social relations. Those for whom personal power is too entangled with their view of progress, and those who simply prefer power over others, can get out of the way.