Recent events at Charlottesvile and UC Berkley in the USA have been accompanied by scenes of communal violence. This was violence orchestrated by right-wing and left-wing political currents primarily against each other. More specifically, members and supporters of alternative right (Alt-Right) groups and members and supporters of anti – fascist (Antifa) groups have not just opposed each other but have fought pitched battles in which at least one person was killed and others injured. Some political elites were quick to condemn the violence of the Antifa, (left) whilst other commentators have condemned the violence perpetrated by both sides. Very few on the left have condemned the violence carried out by the Antifa left and there is good reason for this relative silence and the reason is a high degree of confusion.
This criticism from a few individuals on the left and from religious spokespersons has provoked a public defence by those on the left who are committed to oppose violence with violence. This defence has orbited around an assertion that there is no moral equivalence between fascism and anti – fascism and therefore the violence perpetrated by anti – fascists is purely a defensive form, whilst alt-right (proto-fascist) violence is primarily an offensive form. However, this self-justifying defence may have served to blurr an essential similarity between the aims of both sides and the tactics of violence chosen by them. Whilst I agree that from a revolutionary-humanist perspective, there should be no equivalence between the aims of Fascists and the aims of anti – fascists, in many respects, it has to be said, this has not always been the case.
In the past, for example, the 20th century Fascist aim was to form a one-party, state-directed, disciplined national economy enforced by organised and institutionalised armed bodies of men prepared to use violence to achieve and maintain its ascendency. In the 20th century, the aim of the Stalinist (who openly declared themselves anti-fascists) was exactly the same. This is why the systems set up by both these political tendencies were almost identical. Both where militarised, both had secret police, both had concentration camps for dissidents (Stalags and Gulags) and both used torture and assasinations to deal with internal opposition. This similarity of form occured because both political tendencies, despite many ideological differences, were unapologetically sectarian and led by forceful, determined men who managed to get control of state power and wild it.
In other words, despite having different political ideas, there was (and often still is) a clear equivalence between right-wing sectarian violence and left-wing sectarian violence. From popularised film and literature on the Second World War, the violence of Right-wing fascists has been widely understood by most people in Europe and North America, if less so in other parts of the world. So too is the violence of the various nation – state elites against their own citizens and the citizens of other ‘rival’ states. Similarly, the citizens of the 21st century are having demonstrated to them the violence of religious forms of sectarianism. However, it seems that in the 21st century, there is a need to remind those now on the left of the history of violence orchestrated by those on the left who also claimed to be simply defending themseves against fascism.
It is also instructive to remember that to be described as Fascist or a Fascist sympathiser in earlier times it wasn’t necessary to actually be one. Just being opposed to sectarian anti-fascist strategy and tactics was sufficient to (unfairly) be given this disreputable title. Such acts of derogatory labelling is the first step in the process of de-humanisation of the ‘other’; a process which can (and often does) lead to acts of violence against them. In order to dull the strong tendency for inter-human empathy and sympathy and proceed to violence it is necessary to de-humanise the target group. This requires sustained propaganda to make the case for a section of humanity (the target group) to be treated as less than human or abnormally human. This then paves the way for a suspension of humanity among the perpetrating group and violence against the demonised group can follow.
History is replete with examples of this process of de-humanising the ‘other’ prior to organising violence against them and goes some way to explain the many genocides of the past. The more recent examples of the violence against the native Indians of North America, the Armenian people of Turkey, the Kulaks in Soviet Russia, the Jews in Europe, the Bosnian Muslims and others in the former Yugoslavia and the Palestinians indicate that once de-humanisation propaganda has been successful, dreadful, shameful consequences follow. Neighbour can torture and kill neighbour, friend can brutally kill former friends, adults can mercilessly kill children and babies. The de-humanisation of percieved opponents has been a common feature of alienated humanity and the left are clearly not immune to its influence or its utility in excusing any violence carried out by them.
There is a saying, having some validity, that those who do not study history and learn from it, are bound (or prone) to repeat the mistakes made by previous generations. The left, including the so-called revolutionary left, have a long history of becoming sectarian, dogmatic, intolerant and violent, whilst claiming their violence was defensive, necessary and justified. It is a long history of disgraceful attacks against people who were already victims of the capitalist system who then became victims of the left because they disagreed or simply got in the way. We need to ask ourselves; to what extent is history repeating itself? I hope the following examples (along with other articles on this blog) helps us decide if this is the case or not.
Bolshevism, Stalinism, Trotskyism, Maoism and Anarchism.
All these four historic left tendencies and their contemporary offshoots claimed to be anti – fascist and also anti-capitalist, yet their advocates were no better than the Fascists when it came to dealing with those who opposed their views. Members and former members and colleagues of these movements and parties, who dared to express differences, could be tortured, beaten and murdered, not in ones and two’s but in thousands. When Stalin inherited Lenins position of power and influence, Trotsky a former colleague and many others were declared bourgeois apologists and fascists. Many were tortured and killed. Trotsky, previously a leading Bolshevik communist was assasinated on the orders of Stalin, another leading Bolshevik communist and one appointed by Lenin as his reliable right hand man. This dispicable bolshevised regime was an example of left on left violence par excellence.
Left on left violence, Left violence on Liberals, Left violence against trade unionists, left violence against peasants and Left violence against Anarchists went hand in hand with Left violence against real hardened fascists. And typically all these acts were described as being defensive violence. Long after, the death of millions of workers and peasants in the then ‘anti-fascist’ Soviet Union, their counterparts in the rest of the world were busy meting out violence to all and sundry who disagreed – but of course more often than not on a much smaller and lighter scale.
As a young working class activist, I was personally knocked about by three leading members of a Trotskyist group (Healey, Banda and Slaughter) for jokingly disparaging the food served at a secret summer camp for new recruits. I was subsequently told I would have my legs broken (a typical gang-land form of internal discipline) if I dared to leave the event. I also witnessed violence against non-members of this group. Left sectarian verbal and physical violence as with right-wing verbal and physical violence, is not simply used as a defensive strategy, but as a way of asserting its political agenda against other agendas and against those who are critical from within.
Many Anarchists in the past, have declared themselves anti-fascist and anti-capitalist, but some have also resorted to violence, not only against the State but against innocent citizens. One brand of Anarchism was convinced that throwing bombs into cafe’s full of ordinary people and assasinating elites was both justified and tactically shrewd as it was predicted that this might trigger an uprising leading to a revolutionary ferment. So the history of Anarchism, as with, Religion, Bolshevism, Maoism and Capitalism is littered with examples of intolerance, de-humanisation, offensive posturing and outbreaks of targeted violence.
The tap root of sectarian political violence.
Not understanding the difference between aims, strategies and tactics was not a failure exclusive to the Stalinists, but was part and parcel of a long established sectarian mind-set, rooted in centuries-old religious ideology and inserted into modern political forms of dogma. It is a mind-set which still surfaces from time to time. For the dogmatic sectarian, the everyday experience that aims can be easily frustrated or negated by the adoption of counterproductive strategies and tactics is set aside in favour of arrogant certainty. The sectarian mind-set is one that thinks it alone has the ‘correct’ ideas about what should be done now – and at any time in the future. Anyone who disagrees with this opinion is therefore percieved as an obstacle to be dealt with by shouting them down, intimidating them with threats, or when considered necessary, removing the human obstacles by violence.
Sectarian political violence is simply a mirror image of religious sectarian violence and is similarly guided and motivated by a fixed dogma, which its adherents view as a universal and beneficial ‘truth’. Every other trend of thought is considered by the sectarian as a partial and even a malicious falsehood. Sectarians (religious and political) do not just defend their own points of view they are compelled by their ideological certainty, dogmatic attitude and psychological outlook to forcibly oppose other points of view. The scientific approach of needing to understand the dialectical contradictions in human affairs is rejected by sectarians in favour of a form of simplistic ideological and emotional dualism.
Within the sectarian dualistic paradigm, everything is posed in the form of; ‘us and them’; and articulated as, ‘you are either for us, or against us’, and the solution is seen ultimately as a physical battle to be rid of the ‘other’. And as noted, the ‘other’ becomes treated as if they were undeserving humans and eventually de-humanised altogether. The real enemy of humanity, the capitalist mode of production, remains in the background, and the immediate enemy has become those among the oppressed who don’t think and act as the left sectarians think they should. If at the moment some of the oppressed think the solution to their economic and social problems (ie unemployment and austerity) lies in nationalism, controlled borders and express this, then it is dangerously short-sighted and divisive to class them as the fascist ‘other’ and declare they have deserved to be disrespected with expletive words and violent actions.
The battle of ideas.
In other words this left-sectarian attitude also exactly mirrors that of the pro-capitalist elite, who incidentally are also shrewd enough to encourage and applaud this division among the oppressed. In addition, it needs to be remembered that the battle of ideas between pro-capitalist and anti-capitalists has not yet been won by the anti-capitalist left. Indeed, the sectarian antics of this mileu has hindered this long overdue intellectual struggle. Until it is won there can be little other than internicine skirmishes among the oppressed as they struggle to make sense of what is happening to them using the only ideas and words currently available to them.
The monstrosities of 20th century Bolshevism, Stalinism and Maoism have served to almost totally discredit the aspiration of a post-capitalist future so all that is left for working people to choose from are the remaining dominant ideas of capitalism – namely Nationalism, Racism, Conservatism, Liberalism, Reformism, Religion and Cynicism. Can it be surprising therefore that in the present circumstances of economic and social distress, groups of the oppressed are orientating toward one or other of these sub-sections of bourgeois ideology in the hope for solutions to their situation? In this regard, long ago the revolutionary-humanist Karl Marx drew attention to the following;
“The class which has the means of material production at its disposal, consequently also controls the means of mental production, so the ideas of those who lack the means of mental production are on the whole subjected to it. ( Marx/Engels, Collected Works. Volume 5 page 59.)
And despite the internet this still largely the case. So if the working classes are subjected to it and do regurgitate it, is it really a sensible strategy for anti-capitalists and anti-fascists to label them racists or fascists and knock them about the heads in order to rid their brains of these dominant ideas and prejudices? Apparently, some left sectarians think so. But of course, it is not primarily the consciousness of working people which determines how they live and experience life, it is how they live and experience life which primarily determines their conciousness. Beating them about the head and body for thinking the way they do will not change their circumstances, nor their ideas. Indeed, such left violence will provide an additional negative experience delivered by the 21st century sectarian left to confirm a view that as far as sectarian violence goes, they are not disimilar to the last centuries Bolshevik, Stalinist, Trotskyist and Maoist so-called anti-capitalists and anti-fascists.
Distractions and scapegoats.
Lets be clear on something else of crucial importance. The capitalist system is undergoing the most profound economic, financial, sociological, political and ecological crisis in its entire history. This compound crisis in the economic, social and much needed ecological foundations of the capitalist system is reflected in the current political crisis, and is prompting immense social upheavals, globally. As well as causing confusion and contradiction among working people and the oppressed in general, this crises is also creating cracks in the solidity of bourgeois reality and in its ideology.
The reality of the capitalist mode of production – on a global scale – no longer matches the ideological justifications made by the elite for its continuance. There is a great desire and pressing need from within the pro-capitalist elite, therefore, to create distractions from this mismatch between a rhetoric of we are all equal and the reality that we are not. There is also a search for scapegoats to blame for the systems numerous failings. In satisfying this need they are being greatly assisted by the reformist lefts focus on secondary variations in the level of oppression of sub-groups within capitalisms overall class structure.
There are black, white, male, female, religious, secular, young, old, gay, physically and mentally challenged and immigrant workers, all with varying abilities, all suffering various levels of oppression and exploitation along with absorbing varying inherited prejudices. It helps the capitalist systems defenders and beneficiaries, if these sub-categories of workers can have their prejudices massaged and at the same time be persuaded to blame each other for the level of oppression they are all variously suffering from. That way the mode of production which has created the problems in the first place, escapes scrutiny and it’s advocates and representatives are spared the problem of facing a cohesive working class, armed with an understanding of how the capitalist system really works, why it must be changed and the necessity of their strategic role in promoting that historic transition.
Defence of communities from state or right-wing violence is a legitimate strategy for the oppressed. However, from a revolutionary-humanist viewpoint, there should be an easily understood difference between such defence and violent attack to promote and impose an alternative sectarian perspective. Seduced by the age-old militarist line of strategic thinking, that ‘the best form of defence is attack’, some sections of the alt – left have mirrored the fascistic-minded alt-right which is but an extension of pro-capitalist bourgeois thinking. This left sectarian violence is nothing new and where it occurs still needs to be highlighted and consistantly rejected and shamed.
Roy Ratcliffe (September 2017)
[There is also an alternative but complementary and interesting article on the same subject at; http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/47717.htm%5D Here is a short quote from it;
“Street clashes do not distress the ruling elites. These clashes divide the underclass. They divert activists from threatening the actual structures of power. They give the corporate state the ammunition to impose harsher forms of control and expand the powers of internal security. When antifa assumes the right to curtail free speech it becomes a weapon in the hands of its enemies to take that freedom away from everyone, especially the anti-capitalists.”