A public denunciation of militant anti-fascism by the USA-based 'United Front Against Fascism' serves to demonstrate perfectly the incautious methodology and paucity of thinking that makes up this strain of anti-fascism. G. O'Halloran investigates the multi-cultural rationale.
Within a year of Anti-Fascist Action hosting an international militant anti-fascist conference which warned of a 'fascist renaissance,' the far-right have gate crashed democratic institutions at regional level in three separate countries. The conference which was held on the anniversary of the Battle of Cable St on Oct 4 1997, was attended by twenty six different delegations from counties in Europe, America and Canada.
Central to the discussion was the need for anti-fascism to reorganise around a comprehensive counter strategy, 'The far-right have reinvented themselves and we [the radical left] must do the same.' Writing in the Guardian recently a black journalist with first hand experience of the changing political climate in Europe, echoed the conference theme: "As we approach the 21 century, fascism has reinvented itself as a mainstream ideology in European politics. In the words of the Front National's number two Bruno Megret, earlier this year: " We have brought off a great strategic victory. We are no longer demonised," (Guardian June 17 1998)
Called by Anti-Fascist Action the two day event was structured around discussion on a draft manifesto. Nine months in advance of the advertised date a 'militant manifesto' and founding statement circulated throughout Europe, involving 36 groups in preliminary discussions on plans to launch an 'International Militant Anti-Fascist Network.'
From the outset the Spanish delegates and a minority of the large German representation who attended the conference, strongly identified with the central tenets of the draft 'manifesto' which highlighted the responsibility on militant anti-fascism to put 'the whole rightward process into reverse: not merely to destroy the fascist's influence in working class areas but replace them there. But for this to happen fascism must not only be out-violenced it must be out-radicalised.'
For the majority however, when it actually came down to it, the 'working class did not [politically] exist'. Period. No meetings of minds there then. Needless to say the majority did not affiliate to the 'Militant Anti-Fascist International Network.' Along with the majority of the German delegates, other refuseniks included delegations from the Scandanavian countries and of course the USA. At one stage both the Swedish and Norwegian delegation complained that AFA was 'giving the fascists too much credit'; in effect exaggerating its potential for growth. Only later did it come out that the Norwegian far-right had itself recently received 17% of the vote in national elections and they had no counter strategy. Unlike the Norwegians, the American Trotskyist delegation; 'United Front Against Fascism' put their criticisms of the 'Manifesto', and AFA on paper and circulated it on the Internet.
Being broadly representative of the majority German/Scandanavian opinion; for the purpose of debate by proxy the UFAF document is ideal. Custom made in fact; being both entirely accurate in representing a particular mindset, and sufficiently precise.
Notwithstanding AFA organisers being described as 'undemocratic, arrogant, racist, sexist, homophobic, "anti-communist McCarthyist red-baiters," the UFAF document remains an important illustration of the incautious methodology and paucity of thinking that makes up this strain of anti-fascism, possibly at the moment the dominant one internationally. Throughout the UFAF document, the working class are mentioned only in passing, and then almost as a concessionary after thought. This, as will be demonstrated is no oversight. Slander apart, the UFAF critique is littered with quite staggering tactical, strategical and theoretical gaffs. For choice? Probably the notion that it is 'economic woes of the middle class' rather than the working class that need addressing as a militant anti-fascist priority. Fractionally less crass is the inference that all fascist parties are instigated and controlled at board room level. The list of boo-boos is endless.
But by a longshot the most telling paragraph, is the core UFAF insistence that a "successful anti-fascist movement depends on recruiting and promoting the leadership of all those who are direct targets of the fascist program of racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant scapegoating, misogyny and homophobia. For these reasons we advocate a manifesto that overtly and explicitly addresses the issues and concerns of these constituencies and a network that aggressively seeks representation from these groups."
At face value, this is the nutshell of a philosophy that declares that race, gender and sexual preference are in themselves defining qualities, governing all other considerations. Class and political allegiance included. 'Equality' regardless of colour or creed used to be the thing. Yet now in mainstream anti-racist/anti-fascist thinking, the deification of difference has replaced equality as the norm.
The implications are so glaringly obvious that even its UFAF sponsors acknowledge that it is an idea so alien to working class, socialist, anarchist and communist traditions, that it would need to be pursued 'aggressively.' How was anti-fascism reduced to this? When did it happen? Who instigated the debate? Whose interests is it intended to serve?
Reality is, the whole concept is an enormous charade foisted on us by the ruling elite, with strident middle class liberalism as the conduit. Mostly the pose is hardline anti-fascist, but when examined turns into its opposite. Stripped down, the multi-cultural mindset has it origins not in utopian grass roots democracy but in a post war establishment consensus on realpolitik.
The impetus was the Holocaust legacy, which discredited all previously cherished racial theories. This coupled with Soviet Cold War propaganda that exposed American hypocrisy on democracy and human rights was responsible for the policy review on the race issue. American President Truman set up a Committee on Civil Rights which reported in 1947. 'Throughout the Pacific, Latin America Africa the Near, Middle and Far East the treatment which our Negroes receive is taken as a reflection of out attitude to all dark skinned peoples and played into the hands of Communist propagandists'.
Then in I963 US president John F Kennedy told his audience that " if we cannot end our differences at least we must make the world safe for diversity.' Five years later the British Home secretary Roy Jenkins announced that Britain had embarked on a policy which he described as the promotion of 'cultural diversity, coupled with equal opportunity in an atmosphere of mutual tolerance'. This concept of a plural society first emerged through the analysis of colonial societies. It began as a description and ended up as a rationalisation. Divide and rule worked so well there it was imported, refined somewhat and implemented at home.
Thirty years ago the Black Panthers opinioned that " the CIA has promoted black cultural nationalism to reinforce neo-colonialism in Africa. In many cases the same techniques and occasionally the same individuals are used to control the political implications of Afro-American culture." Put simply multi-culturalism is not a creature of the left but of the right. For the establishment multi culturalism is not seen as major social change but as an alternative and bulwark against it. Today that is still the principle attraction. As social change is considered undesirable, any improvement in circumstances through the promotion of difference is accommodated, indeed encouraged within the existing economic, social and political parameters.
A direct consequence of the us and them outcome is that social antagonisms historically on a vertical trajectory are thereafter directed horizontally. From the outset multi-culturalism was conceived and implemented to serve the ruling elite. However with the enthusiastic collaboration of liberals, it has surely succeeded beyond all expectations. Where, as in America and Britain, a whole infrastructure was put in place, the result has been a fast track for blacks to rise from their class, rather than with it. 'Affirmative action' has created a black middle class directly at the expense of the black working class. For the working class majority, circumstances on the ground are widely acknowledged even by both liberal and right-wing commentators to be more desperate than ever. But only the right suggest solutions. Thinking liberals are mute.
An anti-racist/anti-fascist movement that pursues its goals from that same premise: making a fetish of the supposed virtues of any minority, is immediately forced to discard any idea of class emancipation. And by divorcing the anti-racist objective from any concept of social justice, this promotion of minority or sectional interests is itself ultimately undermined. As is generally accepted a determination to focus on minority rights and the subsequent racialising of political situations inevitably leads to an 'us or them' scenario. Normally a minority rights platform is one the liberal left is more than happy to morally endorse, with discord seen as a price worth paying (as long as they don't have to pay it), regardless of the outcome.
Essentially a missionary mindset, it is done without a flicker of recognition that in certain circumstances this same platform can be hijacked and transformed practically overnight, into its antithesis. Where once it pandered to the self-determination of the few, the same logic can be also be politically employed to justify a design; suited exclusively to meet the vengeful and equally self serving needs of the many. The 'many' of course being similarly defined along racial rather than conventional democratic lines.
Recent events in Australia provide a succinct example. "Multiracial, multicultural Australia which goes back to Gough Whitlam was thought to be so solidly established that no regression was possible. You already expect, if you are an educated Australian of the academic, professional or business elite that your greengrocer or taxi driver may well tell you what Pauline Hanson leader of the One Nation Party says makes sense." was one tortured liberal response. (Guardian 20 June I998) And if multi-culturalism is itself the basis for the regression. What then?
The Cold War is over and the consensus it engendered is fast unravelling. No longer 'demonised,' the far-right can now quite confidently dismiss the the Holocaust as a 'detail of history.' It is to this Megret refers when he talks of " a strategic victory." Primarily, it is the determined air brushing of the working class out of any serious political equation, which is responsible for allowing the far-right into working class communities in the first place. Seen as more an invitation than an opportunity, they have come to rely on it.
Placing race at the heart of the debate; then denying the political existence of the working class, prior to being forced to seek allies against them, is a compound of liberal blunders without parallel. To concede that race is the dominant motive force in society is to justify the political existence of the enemy for them: is in effect on a certain theoretical level to even take sides with them.
This theoretical displacement of class as the primary dynamic within society for one of race, gender or sexual orientation is nothing less than a fundamental betrayal and the fount of all our misfortunes. As was intended, it is the subversion of the progressive movement from within. Here is the cause of the crisis in the Left. Not one of 'leadership' as the many sects contend but of - orientation.
Given the weight of evidence and current circumstances, to deny cause and effect, and brazenly seek to institutionalise the same treachery within militant anti-racism " deserves" to paraphrase Trotsky "to be branded with infamy if not a bullet." Out of choice to deny the pivotal role of the working class in anti-fascist resistance is perverse. It is to deny history. To deny the past is a lie. More importantly the same lie, if left unchallenged now, will also deny us a future.
Reproduced from RA vol 3, Issue 2, Aug/Sept '98