Friday, July 28, 2023

Conflict, Compromise, and Controversy in Centralia

Whatever it is that happened in Centralia in 1919 and whatever it is that's happening there now, one thing is fairly certain:  come November, 2023, there will be a new, town-sanctioned IWW plaque in Centralia Square.

For Industrial Workers of the World wonks like me and a lot of my friends, certain place names immediately evoke powerful images and iconic moments in history.  Mention cities like Winnipeg or Seattle, and the words General Strike will come right to mind.  Mention towns in the state of Washington like Everett and Centralia, and different, more tragic pictures are evoked.

All over the US, wherever there was an IWW presence, in the fall of 1919 union halls were being looted and burned by patriotic mobs consisting largely of returned veterans from the First World War, under the protection of police, and under the very direct influence of the new national secret police force known as the FBI, formed for the express purpose of destroying the radical labor movement.  

Two years after the Russian Revolution, the propaganda against the Bolshevik Threat was at a peak.  Combine that with the prejudice that could be whipped up among some returning war veterans against an organization that was very openly opposed to participating in what they identified as a Bosses' War, and you have the formula that was needed for the kind of widespread repression against the Wobblies that happened in 1919 and 1920 to take the extremely violent forms it took. 

Seeing the armed standoffs punctuated by the occasional deadly shooting that characterized a lot of protests in Portland and other towns across the US circa 2020, trying to imagine how the shooting began in Centralia on November 11th, 1919 is not difficult.

The last time there had been a similar patriotic parade through town, the IWW hall had been ransacked and badly damaged, and IWW members beaten and brought to the edge of town.  Now the Wobblies had a new hall, and they were determined to keep it.  They mistakenly believed they had the right to stand their ground and defend their union hall.

Who fired the first shot depends on who you ask, and whether they were part of the American Legion march, or one of the union members defending their union hall from them.  The image of IWW organizer, Wesley Everest, hanging by his neck beneath a bridge, brought there by the patriotic mob whose efforts were once again facilitated by the local authorities to be tortured and killed, is the image that comes to mind for most labor history nerds when we hear the name of the town in which Everest was lynched.

The events of November 11th, 1919 were memorialized five years afterwards with a statue unveiled in 1924 of a single, proud Legionnaire, called The Sentinel.  Much later came a great mural about the day on a wall facing the park where The Sentinel stands, but for the past century The Sentinel has been the only three-dimensional memorial to the events of 1919 in Centralia.

Why this would be the case, after all this time, is at this point not hard to surmise.

Departing from Centralia for a moment:  in 2015 I was invited to Salt Lake City to participate in an event commemorating the 100th anniversary of the execution by firing squad of another martyr of the IWW, who was known to most as Joe Hill.

Joe Hill was a songwriter as well as an organizer, and wrote some of the classics of what was a very musical and theatrical movement.  He became quite a bit more well-known well after his death, his memory popularized by a song performed by well-known artists like Paul Robeson and Joan Baez.  He became the most recognizable human symbol of the IWW, and the very image of the unfairly convicted and executed.

At least that's true among the labor history geeks and the left/liberal types in New York and San Francisco.  It's certainly true among all the campers and counselors at the hippie summer camp I went to in western Massachusetts.  But not necessarily among a lot of the long-time residents of Salt Lake City.

In Utah, there are many people who consider the history "controversial," and will admit to the possibility that the trial wasn't perfect.  But there are also many who still believe Joe Hill was the guy who killed shopkeeper, John Morrison, as I discovered on that visit.  Some of them are Morrison's descendants and other members of his extended family.

Centralia also still has a chapter of the American Legion, and relatives of the Legionnaires killed there in November, 1919 still live in the area.  

A fine, upstanding little group of union members, history buffs and other folks have been patiently campaigning for a long time now to have the Centralia town council approve a plan to have a memorial to Wesley Everest, and for the IWW members given exceptionally draconian sentences of 25-40 years in prison, for defending their union hall, or, according to the words inscribed at the base of The Sentinel, for killing Legionnaires while they were "on peaceful parade."

There was first disagreement among various interested parties about whether the Legion should have a say in what goes on the plaque.  There is still disagreement about whether the events of November 11th, 1919 should be called "the Centralia Tragedy" or "the Centralia Massacre."  Ultimately the town council voted to approve the IWW's plaque, and its unveiling will be this coming November.

I was in Centralia a few days ago, because some of the folks I met there on another Joe Hill centenary-related tour in 2015 wanted to organize a little concert, which took place outside the ballroom in front of the Wesley Everest mural, the occasion being a little celebration of the successful completion of the crowdfunder for the plaque.

I don't know if there were any members of the American Legion at the gig, but among those who attended were people who had been on different sides of different arguments around the plaque over the years, and even decades.  I was told by a couple participants that it was especially good that at least some of the different sides of the long conversation around the plaque came together to celebrate that it was finally going to exist, in reality, there in Centralia Square.

Unfortunately, not only are there still some local folks unhappy about the plaque, but there are evidently some members of the local Wobbly branch, who made a point of not showing up to the concert, who are upset that anyone was involved with bringing me to Centralia, since they were informed by my cancellation campaigners that I "platformed" a deplorable person on my YouTube channel, and am thus a deplorable person myself -- an antisemitic, holocaust-denying Nazi, even, who is not "safe" to be in a left "space."

Some people come together, others fall apart.  My songs are in the modern editions of the IWW's venerable Little Red Songbook.  The most recognizable name among IWW members and aficionados in the late 20th-century, Utah Phillips, was both a friend and a fan, and the woman Utah called "the best labor singer in North America," Anne Feeney, was a regular touring partner of mine.  Separately and together, we played for IWW branches all over the US and other countries.  I've written so many songs against fascism, and about IWW history, and none in favor of fascism, or in favor of the ruling class in any other form.  

But some young folks are especially vulnerable to whatever some self-appointed guru says on Twitter, they become indoctrinated, and are no longer open to discussion.  It's a huge problem these days, as you may have noticed, if you spend much time on social media, in particular platforms like Reddit and Twitter.  IWW chapters today, despite the union's longstanding philosophical opposition to this kind of sectarianism, is not at all invulnerable to this kind of madness, although it does have the clear advantage over many other groups of having the aforementioned long history.

My attackers deliberately misquote me, and some of these impressionable young IWW branch members in Centralia apparently believe the quotes are real.  The internet is more real for some people than reality is, and apparently history doesn't matter, whether my history of the history of the union these folks ostensibly joined.  Among the other things that don't matter, or evidently have no legitimacy, are alternative views on the whole concept of "platforming" people by communicating with them.  And by "alternative" in this case, I mean views that are consistent with the IWW's ecumenical orientation towards organizing the entire working class, and not consistent with the "no-platforming" sectarian crowd that is much too busy kicking people out of groups for their transgressions than doing anything that could be considered organizing.  That is to say, those engaging in this nonsense are dis-organizers, in truth.

What's sure is the whole orientation of vetting people for their supposed political transgressions and campaigning against them incessantly for having a heretical viewpoint on some political question has very little to do with anything involved with actually building any kind of union, let alone One Big Union.  What's also sure is these campaigners are a seriously toxic bunch, who spread misery and disinformation in whatever online "spaces" they inhabit.

These days, it's really easy to be a Nazi, apparently.  In any case, long live the old IWW, and here's to the day when we have a lot more Wobbly chapters that would make Wesley Everest proud, rather than make him roll over in his grave.  It's a good thing dead people can't be on Reddit.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

The Historic Failure of No-Platforming

If we were to try to assess the overall impact of no-platforming campaigns over the course of the past century, what would we conclude?

The tactic has gone by many names, but its proudest exponents have often called it "no-platforming."  It's been an actively practiced thing on the left for a long time, including for my entire life, especially during the Reagan/Thatcher era of my youth and during the Trump era as well.

Many of my closest friends, and leftwing musicians I have recorded with and toured extensively with on both sides of the Atlantic, have been deeply involved with physical battles to shut down events of all kinds put on by far right organizers, or to defend their own events when violently attacked.  Good friends who are around my age and lived through the resurgence of the right that was happening in the US and England during the 1980's remember those times with a panoply of mixed emotions, generally including lots of pride and lots of regrets.  Many have terrible physical scars to show for their involvement with this movement.

Like so many veterans of "real" wars, they are generally traumatized by their experiences and often wonder how necessary it was for some of those fights to be fought in the way they were.  At the same time, we are all to varying degrees surrounded by a left culture that lionizes certain glorious and especially clear-cut moments of no-platforming, such as the successful, violent effort in 1936 to stop British fascists from marching through a Jewish neighborhood in London that has gone down in history as the Battle of Cable Street.

It would barely be an exaggeration to say that in England, every politically-oriented songwriter alive today, from teenage punks to elderly veterans of the Folk Scare, has written a song about the Battle of Cable Street.  Most have also written at least one song that includes the Spanish phrase, "no pasaran" ("they shall not pass"), popular especially as a slogan of resistance against the right during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930's, and during the Battle of Cable Street.

The most widespread and most violent form where we could say the tactic of no-platforming was applied was throughout the streets of Germany in the early 1930's, when the left and the right were regularly waging pitched battles, which were usually won by the left.  That was just before Adolf Hitler's National Socialist party got a significant chunk of the vote and he was invited to join the government, after which he declared himself dictator and invaded a whole lot of other countries, slaughtering tens of millions of human beings in a wide variety of ways.

Ever since that genocidal episode of the twentieth century in Europe, there has been talk about "the next Hitler" by some element of society every time a new president gets elected in the US.  Although most presidents since the Second World War share lots of things in common with Hitler, such as regularly vilifying marginalized people and having a penchant for dropping lots of bombs on innocent civilians in lots of different countries in the name of progress, none of them have quite gotten to the point of firing up any gas chambers.  Which is not to dismiss the possibility that this might change.

In any case, the received wisdom from the rise of Hitler and from the Battle of Cable Street is that when fascists are again rearing their ugly heads in society, running for office, giving incendiary speeches, holding marches, and saying hateful things on TV and on social media and everywhere else, they need to be de-platformed in every possible way, by any means necessary.  It's urgent, fascism is around the corner, and the lesson from the streets of Germany, it seems, is the left didn't fight hard enough.  If they think they can occupy a space somewhere in society and have some kind of platform, they must be shut up and beaten down.

We have all grown up in the shadow of the Nazi Holocaust.  How could this not be the case?  Hitler has been the official Face of Evil ever since he started invading all his neighbors, and there are millions of people in the US who lost much of their extended families back in Europe to Hitler's genocide (including me).  Between the reality and the propaganda, that's quite a combination.

And we have all grown up to respect and admire the brave souls who fought and often died in the struggle against fascism, whether they were part of the D-Day landings or suppressing Moseley's boys in London.

To be very clear, I am part of this cultural milieu, I'm a little part of this history, too, and I'm not at all trying to pretend otherwise.  I have also written lost of "no pasaran" songs and celebrated the many fighters against fascism in its various forms, including those who have practiced extreme forms of no-platforming, such as assassination.

In recent decades, but particularly in the past few years beginning with Trump's election, we've had a situation where media and social media figures, authors, activists and cultural figures, politicians, and so many other people are daily being denounced as Nazis and subjected to all sorts of no-platforming efforts because they're critical of Covid policies, or they support peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, or they're critical of Israeli apartheid, or they interviewed and thus in theory lent credibility to the wrong person on their YouTube channel.

No-platforming, as a tactic, has clearly been easily manipulated by those wanting to push the envelope for whatever reason, either because they're some kind of accelerationists or because they really believe the wrong kind of feminist, or those skeptical of claims made by pharmaceutical companies, or those in favor of preventing World War 3 are Nazis who need to be de-platformed, whether from Twitter, from Spotify, or from giving a book talk at a local book store.  With such a wide variety of easily-accessible "Nazi" targets to choose from, anyone who wants to write a bunch of angry, anonymous comments on a Reddit post can feel like they're proud participants in a very important no-platforming campaign that's going to somehow or other make the world a less problematic place.

But what if we were try to assess the overall impact of no-platforming campaigns?  Have they been successful in the short term or the long term, and how so?

These are questions I have noticed the people who have found an intellectual niche in life as proponents of no-platforming, as keepers of the flame of antifascism, and the historians of this phenomenon as well, have wanted to avoid confronting.  This is understandable.  Political science isn't really a science, and neither is interpreting history.  Or if it is a science, it's a really complex one for which sufficient data is never available to reach a definite conclusion about some things.

But it certainly behooves us to try to interpret the history, ancient and recent and in between, especially when we realize we might be repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

When I ask myself where no-platforming has been practiced in a big way and what has been the impact, and where has no-platforming been a less prominent part of society, and what has been the impact there, the history tells a story, at least for me, as I look at it now, with a perspective that I'll be the first to admit has been evolving over time, hopefully in the direction of more accuracy, rather than less.

If we take the most prominent and consequential example, the rise of fascism in Germany and Hitler's ascension to power in 1933, it's clear to many students of that period that the chaos on the streets characterized by constant battles between fascists and communists was a major factor in increasing support for Hitler, not decreasing it.  It was a factor in the decision to invite Hitler to join the government as well.

How far we'd need to rewind European history to get to the point where we could do some things very differently and avoid the rise of fascism during the early twentieth century is a big and important question, which I'm not going to try to get into here.  But by the time Germany was in the political, economic, and cultural state that it was in by the time fascism as a political tendency was on the rise, is there any evidence that the grassroots efforts to violently suppress the movement were successful?  No, quite the contrary.  Hitler came to power.  Which doesn't prove anything.  History is too complicated for that kind of thing.  But it sure doesn't seem to make the case for no-platforming.

Later no-platforming efforts aimed to prevent far right speakers from campaigning for office and from speaking on college campuses and elsewhere.  Such efforts have been a backdrop of college life as long as I can remember across the US, England, Germany and other places.

In a myriad of cases, no-platforming campaigns against fairly clear-cut Nazis have expanded to include all kinds of people that wouldn't normally be considered Nazis, such as peace advocates having a book talk in Minneapolis, lesbians wanting to organize a festival who have the wrong definition of womanhood, or journalists interested in exploring a wide variety of viewpoints among the people they interview.

In Germany today, the no-platformers say white environmental activists are racist if they have dreadlocks.  In England today, the no-platformers are attacking anyone who has ever been associated with Jeremy Corbyn, due to his alleged antisemitism.  In the US today, so many of the best tenant organizers, community organizers, and left intellectuals and artists are being constantly smeared with accusations of all kinds, in an online frenzy of no-platforming campaigning that could only be conceived of in a world where corporations that profit from our conflicts control our means of communication, and our lives are largely lived online, through their algorithms.

And what has been the result of all of this no-platforming?  In England, they drove the National Front off the streets, but the Conservatives running the country today have adopted policies that those racists hadn't even thought of yet.  In the US and England, my friends may have had success in their endeavors to make sure "no pub is a Nazi pub," but the next chapters in these countries has been Trump and Brexit.  

Again, no evidence that no-platforming was responsible for Brexit or Trump, but I see no evidence that it played any role in preventing these things from happening, and lots of reason to believe that these kinds of campaigns were easily weaponized by various media and social media to make the no-platformers look like wackos, which in many cases is not difficult -- just catch them on camera yelling obscenities at people waiting in line to hear someone talk. 

And what of those places and time periods where no-platforming was not a prominent feature, but where life was more likely to be characterized by popular public works projects or popular universal programs that benefit and engage all of society?  I don't want to overstate the difference between, say, places like Denmark or Sweden with places like Germany, England, or the US, but the countries that have been more characterized by polarized politics, no-platforming campaigning, and a lot more black-and-white analysis are the ones that have had the big problems with fascism and corrupt neoliberal war-making regimes like those currently running things in the UK and the US.  

When you look at the big overview of the past century there seems to be no question that the countries whose populations generally pursued a path more oriented towards finding commonalities and building a better society based on them have done much better.

I'm not only interested in history and current events, but I have spent a lot of time in all the countries I'm talking about.  One of the most notable things about Scandinavia is how much those societies are oriented towards raising happy children.  Certainly compared to most of the world, the childcare and the schools are top-notch and there's generally an emphasis on the welfare of children coming first.  See Danish pandemic policies for some clear examples of this thinking in action.

Seeing all the great parenting everywhere around me in Scandinavia and thinking about how this great parenting is largely the result of a successful, long-term social experiment to raise a society full of happy children who will make great parents, I have no doubt that this approach to society has made it much more difficult for no-platforming and widespread suspicion of each other for being closet fascists to become a widespread phenomenon.  

And it especially makes the practice of stomping out the fascists wherever they surface a difficult tactic to embrace for many people in Scandinavia, from what I've observed.  Because no one would raise their children that way, to stomp on anyone.

Yes, in early twentieth-century Germany, the US, and many other places, it was popular to believe that there was an evil spirit lurking within all babies, and this wildness must be beaten out of the children in order to civilize them.  Many people have argued that the widespread acceptance of this sort of parenting helped fuel the rise of fascism and authoritarian rulers in many parts of the world.

But for the past several generations in Scandinavia and some other places, this kind of authoritarian parenting has been rejected, in favor of fostering the emotional intelligence and general well-being of the children of the society.  The idea that some kids are just bad and need to be stomped out is not really a way of thinking there, and I think this lack of interest in stomping out the wild spirit of the children tends to extend itself into the world of adults, and a generally high degree of mutual respect in society.

When you look at no-platforming from the vantage point of good parenting, it's obviously a hugely troubling tactic.  Because if you're not going to actually kill a person, be they child or adult, how would you expect someone to react to being prevented from attending an event, or prevented from speaking, or denounced as a Nazi, an antisemite, a racist, a TERF, an abuser, etc.  Do children tend to become more civilized and thoughtful if you yell at them, denounce them, or beat them more?  I've heard they don't.  Why should adults react differently to such treatment?  History, from the 1930's to the present, would indicate that they don't.

A whole lot of anecdotal evidence suggests, on the other hand, that if you're living in a society where what's happening is the building of cooperative housing for everyone, with good schools for all the kids and a giant, tree-filled courtyard with a playground for them to play in, what happens is the parents and the kids generally learn to get along fine, whether they're white, Black, rightwing, leftwing, etc.  This phenomenon has been observed from Tennessee to Trondheim.

Now, we could have some groups building cooperatives like that, and at the same time have other groups denouncing the cooperative-builders as Nazis for daring to associate with all sorts of deplorable people who also need housing, and schools for their kids.  We could call this situation "diversity of tactics"!  Or we could embrace the tactics that work, and lose the ones that are counter-productive, and call it progress.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Sharing Trolls with Andy Ngo

What do a popular conservative journalist and a little-known leftwing musician have in common? Ask our trolls.

I met someone.  I'll refrain from describing them further, for their safety.  They had been scanning the area carefully before they approached me, both of us in the same physical location.

"I wanted to contact you a while ago," they began, "but I was afraid to use a messaging app or send an email.  I know it sounds ridiculous."

It felt very much like talking to someone who had been part of a mafia family or a cult, who was worried if they said anything or in any way identified themselves as a dissenter, they would become a target for constant harassment, like they knew well that I was, and am.

"You know that list you came up with, it's pretty good," they went on.  "You've basically mapped out Rose City Antifa." 

They were talking about the list of mostly anonymous Twitter accounts that a friend of mine put together in a graphic.  

My friend had also done a lot of research on all of these accounts, which represent most of the accounts that were actively engaged in harassing me and anyone who supported me on the platform, at the time the graphic was made.  They're also the same accounts most actively engaged in harassment campaigns of other people, and their supporters, as well.

Rose City Antifa guru Shane Burley likes to regularly announce on his many platforms that I doxxed the group with that graphic, and with the publication of my friend's research on the campaign of harassment against me and others.  This is a new use of the term, "doxxed," which means to reveal the actual names and addresses of people, not the list of anonymous accounts that have been harassing you.  Most of what Shane ever says or writes is of this nature -- untrue, misleading, inaccurate, and said with the intent to manipulate. 

Interestingly, as with many other things, Shane's acolytes are indeed responsible for having doxxed me, later proudly taking credit for the action on Twitter. They put flyers on car windshields all over my neighborhood in Portland, Oregon, with my picture and a picture of my car and with my home address, denouncing me as an antisemite, holocaust-denier, and harasser of homeless people, all completely bizarre and completely unfounded accusations.

This person was not the first or the last one I would meet in the city of Portland who was living in fear of retribution for having found themselves on the wrong side of this group's leaders and followers.

A few days later, as often happens, after I published something I had written about these kinds of problems on the contemporary left, I heard from another one.  We met up somewhere.  This was unusual.  Not unusual to hear from another person online who was terribly traumatized by experiences with associates/members of Rose City Antifa, but unusual to be in touch with someone who was willing to meet up in the real world.

This was at least the third person I have met in Portland who has been involved with the movement, only to find themselves on the wrong side of it.  At which point they all, like me, become targets for constant, sophisticated forms of online harassment involving lots of very intentional efforts at gaslighting, sealioning, and catfishing, lots of cancellation campaigning -- that is, public statements and efforts to contact employers and associates in order to cause loss of employment or damage to one's reputation -- as well as stalking, destruction of property, physical intimidation, and much more.

Good friends who used to live in town moved years ago because of the same group's efforts.  Unable to reliably do a concert tour with gigs in this kind of scene without being constantly harassed and sometimes physically attacked, they basically retired from the music scene, their cancellation effectively accomplished (and then they went and got less public jobs that also pay better).

What would happen if I tried to do regular live gigs in Portland under the current circumstances, the way they were doing before they left town, I don't know.  It's been many years since I've regularly done gigs in Portland, or more broadly in the US.  This situation predates being the subject of constant cancellation campaigning, and is more related to the dismal state of the arts economy for most independent artists in this country.  But it's also related to the collapse of the social movements -- the global justice, antiwar, and environmental movements, primarily -- that used to largely support my touring here even after the arts economy was collapsing.

"I actually feel bad for Andy Ngo," a friend recently told me.

This is a theme among a fair number of people I know around here, who are starting to reflect on some of the excesses of attack-mob mentality that was so much a part of 2020, and really the whole Trump presidency, among a certain element of society often on the streets during that time in Portland.

Andy Ngo is a conservative journalist who is now a frequent guest on Fox.  He's the sort of journalist that would be working for the tabloid press if we had one to speak of.  He's published in the New York Post, the last of the rightwing tabloid press we have in the US that's still in print.  Having read on Wikipedia that he's recently moved to London, England, where they do still have an active rightwing tabloid press, I'm not surprised.  Plus he's surely a lot safer there than he is in Portland.

To what degree did we actually create Andy Ngo, and turn him into the person he is today?  I'm not the first to wonder.

Since he was a student at Portland State University, he had been on the receiving end of campaigns from activists from on- and off-campus who were intent on shutting down events involving speakers they were ideologically opposed to.  In return for doing sensationalistic, rightwing, tabloid journalism, Ngo has been physically attacked on multiple occasions on the streets of Portland, and has been subjected to a constant campaign of harassment and intimidation -- often by the very same people who have been harassed and intimidated by rightwingers as a consequence of Ngo's reporting.

He's a human being, is what you can hear a growing number of people saying, if you pay close attention.  A lot of people jumped into the pile-ons on Twitter, saying horrible things along the way.  No person should be treated like that, as a matter of principle, more people are starting to realize, in certain circles.

As increasing numbers of us are discovering, once someone is targeted, all decency goes out the window.  Attacks against those targeted for harassment generally involve bigotry of all kinds.  They're acting anonymously on Twitter, but when you know you're dealing with people associated with an ostensibly antifascist group, it's always strange to be faced with clearcut racism, sexism, and myriad other forms of disrespect.

For many people, it's not until they're targeted like this that they come to realize the tactic just generally sucks, whoever it's applied to.  Others, like me, for example, decided a long time ago it was a bad idea, but tended to remain silent when it was just such a regular part of the scene.  And besides, mostly the targets were members of the right.  Or at least that used to be the case, and is with other groups that do this sort of thing.

This week I finally got around to reading the book Andy Ngo published in 2021.

Throughout 2020 I was mostly enthusiastically sharing posts from the folks who were involved with organizing events on the streets of Portland, and frequently participating physically in them as well.  It was a broad array of people on the streets, with different political orientations as well as different ideas about effective tactics.  While it lasted, there were active groups on Telegram and other platforms for folks to get info out about what was going on.

There were things happening every day, often multiple events in different parts of the city in a given day.  When I did show up for something I often wished I hadn't, because the NPR-sponsored identity politics and the lack of class consciousness that dominated the scene as far as whoever was talking into a microphone made it all so cringe.

Sometimes there'd be an event where even without showing up, I knew it wasn't something I wanted to help promote.  One such event was the protest at Powell's Books in January, 2021, because of the fact that they dared to carry the new book published by Andy Ngo.  The organizers were getting a lot of pushback at the time from other leftists who didn't like the idea of protesting a book store for carrying a book, but they held their protest nonetheless.  I don't know how it went, I wasn't there.

More than two years afterwards, I finally got around to reading it, in audiobook form, my favorite way to read books these days.

The book's full title is Unmasked: Inside Antifa's Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy.  The sensationalism and orientation towards the typical tabloid press reader is apparent in the title.  But despite Ngo's conservative, pro-capitalist worldview, the audiobook made for very interesting listening.  Not because of the author's many inaccurate generalizations and very selective provision of historical background, but because of the many grains of truth lurking within them.

And especially because so many of Ngo's experiences with targeted, incessant online harassment mirror my own.  The harassment is in some cases being conducted by the very same anonymous Twitter accounts, as well as by some of the very same authors and academics that Ngo has accurately observed are some of the luminaries of Rose City Antifa.

For me, getting on the bad side of this little group happened over the course of 48 hours or so in early January, 2021, only days before their protest at Powell's Books.  This also coincided with the rightwing siege on Capitol Hill, which itself coincided with me taking the initiative to interview someone who might know what all those people were doing there.  In early January, 2021 I interviewed Unite the Right protest organizer Matthew Heimbach, because he was willing to do an interview with me and because I wanted to understand what motivated these people.  

It was a fascinating interview.  It's still up on my YouTube channel.  After over two years there, it's been seen only 3,800 times, approximately nothing by internet standards.  Among those few people who have seen all or part of the interview, the overwhelming majority of reviews have been very positive.

But once you've publicly talked to the wrong guy, in the eyes of the "no-platform" activists of Rose City Antifa who organize protests against book stores for carrying the wrong books, you are then just as bad as that guy.  Communication is to be avoided, when you think the way these "antifascist" sectarians do.  Once you talk to a Nazi, whether or not he is still a Nazi, whether he's willingly and fully answering all your questions or not, then you are a Nazi, too, and should be treated as one.  

I was publicly told in a tweet that I should be treated as a fascist collaborator, on many occasions by most of these accounts, including by "antifascist" guru Spencer Sunshine.  This is a death threat, in no uncertain terms, whether legally recognized as such.

As I listened to Unmasked, knowing that the author and I are being targeted for constant harassment and defamation efforts by many of the same individuals and anonymous trolls, it was so striking to hear his account of recent and less recent history, his version of the origins of Antifa in Europe, and especially his versions of the recent history of police killings, killings of police, and the daily protests and riots that rocked many parts of Portland throughout 2020.

As I listened to him infer that people like Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, and George Floyd were criminals or drug addicts who basically got what they had coming to them, I thought, oh, I wrote very positive songs about all those guys ("Trayvon," "His Hands Were In The Air," "As I Watch Minneapolis Burn").  

As I listened to him describe the activities of the young folks trying to burn down police stations in Portland in 2020 as terrorists, I thought about the songs of praise I had written about them ("The FOP on Fire," "Anarchist Jurisdiction," "With Masks Upon Their Faces and Leaf-Blowers In Their Hands").

As I listened to him condemn people who were proudly associated with Antifa and in one form or another gave their lives in the struggle, such as Willem von Spronsen and Michael Reinoehl, I thought of the songs I wrote about them.  One person's terrorist is another's martyr.

After I finished the book, I quickly put together a playlist of over twenty songs I wrote about people and events discussed in the book.  It makes for an interesting and extremely contrasting perspective on all of the people and events in question!

But of course none of that matters for the sectarians who believe that good activism means purging the ranks of the movement of  anyone who doesn't think exactly like Shane Burley, when it comes to which people we're allowed to talk to in a public setting without getting condemned as collaborators and subjected to harassment campaigns that never end.

As I listened to the audiobook there were so many moments where I thought, oh yes, they do that to me, too.

There are the frequent public announcements full of disinformation about my transgressions.  There are the anonymously-written screeds in It's Going Down and other publications that are accurately described as riot porn websites and Twitter accounts, but which shocking numbers of people seem to think are reliable sources of news.  

There are the successful efforts to edit Wikipedia to introduce lots of "people say" this or that about me, all of it unverified and untrue, though sometimes sourced, with links to articles that are on platforms with no editor, which are chock full of disinformation, but which were somehow considered good enough to make it onto Wikipedia, after the 25th attempt at getting past the otherwise good judgment of the volunteer editors.

And then there are the many personal messages that appear to be from someone who genuinely wants to engage with you in discussion but then turns out to be a troll who just wants to call you a Nazi, after a few exchanges.  This tactic, often called sealioning, seems to be an effort to drive the victims crazy.  It's something that could easily be done by slightly intelligent bots as well.  It seems to me to be a very effective way to cause someone to feel like the world out there on the internet is full of bad-intentioned people lurking around every corner, both in public spaces and private ones.  It's also the kind of tactic that has led to actual suicides, and to people considering suicide, including a number of people I know.

One of the ways Ngo gets it wrong is he inflates the size and scope of Antifa, attributing far more organization than it's actually capable of or involved with in the US.  (As Ngo also points out, the phenomenon is bigger and better-organized in Europe.)  But one could almost understand his distorted perspective on the size and scope of Antifa in the US, given the city he grew up in and at least until recently lived in -- Portland, Oregon -- and his experiences in it.

Here and in some other cities in the US, Antifa is, in fact, an organized group.  They are not ideologically connected to the bulk of people around the world who would identify with either the term Antifa or the idea of opposing fascism, most of whom would not participate in a protest against a book store for carrying the wrong book, nor would most think it's a good policy to target leftwing artists for incessant harassment campaigns for committing a thought crime.

But with regards specifically to Rose City Antifa in Portland, officially, they organize protests, mutual aid, and educational events, and promote the wisdom of their luminaries.

It's what they do unofficially that is especially troubling for me and many others.  Most of those affected are blissfully unaware of what's going on.  

Unofficially, it is increasingly clear, they run a very active and tactically sophisticated troll farm, targeting anyone who has crossed them, whether for being a rightwing journalist or for having interviewed the wrong guest on a YouTube channel with a very small audience.  Or in the case of some former associates currently fearing for their safety and perhaps for their lives, for offenses so minor and so personal they don't even know what they are.

One of the many crazy-making qualities of being the target of such a campaign is it's pretty much invisible to most everyone else, other than the victim and the perpetrators.

Even if you're a big fan of my music, for example, you can go on listening to me on Spotify and never know the reason why I may not be playing in your town any time soon.  If you're not the person who organized a gig, ran a venue, or shared a stage with me, you wouldn't have gotten that little flood of angry messages telling you that you're organizing a gig for, hosting, or playing with, a Nazi.  If you follow me on a social media platform, you may not have seen those hateful messages that I deleted, or the users I blocked.  And you certainly didn't receive the ones destined just for my inboxes.

Ngo wildly exaggerates Antifa's actual size across the country, overlooking major ideological and tactical divisions between different groups depending on time, place, and a lot of other factors; and lumping lots of different groups and networks in that actually have little or nothing to do with Antifa, especially in its warped, specific, and peculiar Portland form, aside from having a penchant for marching in the streets.  

But where Ngo really hits the nail on the head is in his understanding of the way a relatively small network of organized individuals with a steady funding source -- which would seem to be a very accurate description of Rose City Antifa -- can mobilize so much sentiment for their side of an argument, because of the prevalence of believe-the-victim-no-matter-what thinking across so much of society these days, especially among liberals, anarchists, and the left.

The notion that anytime someone says they're a victim they should be believed is patently absurd, and an orientation obviously easy to manipulate opportunistically, and that's a tactic that Shane Burley and affiliated trolls engage in methodically.  Most recently by successfully convincing the management of our local community radio station that I should be banned from the station, on the basis that if I'm allowed on the air I'm going to say negative things about him.  (Now why would anyone do that?)

Ngo points out something which I have also observed first-hand.  A very significant number of the most militant dumpster-burners around here are living on the streets or in some state of housing insecurity.  They are young, and they are poor, by any measure.  For the luminaries it may be a different matter, but the kids burning the dumpsters, shouting obscenities at Proud Boys or evangelical Christians or whoever they're trying to disrupt, or stalking other, ostensibly fellow leftists, are generally a very troubled bunch, both emotionally and financially.

As anyone can surmise who listens to the playlist of songs up there, they will give you a very different rendition of Andy Ngo's take on history and current events than his.  I've embraced what we could call a far left perspective for a long time, and that hasn't changed.  For over twenty years now, when I find myself walking among a crowd of masked Black Bloc types in the US, Canada, Denmark, and many other countries, I'm recognized happily on a first-name basis.  This is, in fact, the crowd in which I'd be most readily recognized by people, in many different countries.  

And I still think just as I did ten years ago, twenty years ago, or forty years ago -- we here in the US live in a crumbling capitalist hellhole with a criminally outrageously huge divide between the rich and the poor, where the government is too corrupt to look after the environment, or most of its population, where the powers-that-be use race, gender, sexual orientation and other things to keep us all divided and fighting each other.

I will admit, however, that the experiences of the past 2-1/2 years of being targeted incessantly by these people has helped further clarify my thoughts regarding cancellation campaigning, the always-believe-the-victim mentality, the Oppression Olympics of identity politics, and especially regarding the notion of targeting undesirable people with incessant harassment.

Life as I've lived it, and history as I've studied it, tells me a couple things.  

One is that when you take this kind of rigid, exclusionary thinking and focus on purging the left of anyone you don't like -- which is what these people are doing on a daily basis -- you just end up with a paranoid and extremely weakened left all around, and one where everyone has to justify their existences before anyone might give them the time of day.

Two is that when you go after the right with these kinds of tactics, you only make it stronger.  Andy Ngo has 1.3 million Twitter followers.  That's at least a million more followers on Twitter than he would have if no one had ever taken the bait and assaulted him on the streets of Portland.

The "no-platform" orientation has been consistently backfiring for a century now, and it continues to backfire today.  That's another thing Ngo and I apparently agree on, though I did not learn this lesson from him.

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Cancellation Campaigner Gets Cancel Culture Discussion on KBOO Cancelled

Just the fact that the headline was real was enough to make me need to write something about it.  But it's also a development that, although very recent (July 10th), is very disturbing, for me and many others.

The discussion, ultimately, was to be between me and a radio host.  The host had invited people on different sides of the issue to participate, but only I had accepted his offer.  The subject of the discussion was to be the allegations against me, levelled by a certain sectarian fringe of the left that I like to identify as the anarcho-puritans, who like to think of themselves as something more important than that moniker would indicate. 

By design, this cancellation campaigning, and the ostensible justifications for it, get complicated.  My critics like to write lengthy explanations of their campaigning against me (without admitting to the existence of such a campaign), which make very little sense.  I feel like it behooves me to also explain what's going on, at the risk of feeding the trolls.  I thought a Q&A format might be easiest. 

What happened? 

My chief critic, or at least the one who uses his real name and isn't an anonymous Twitter account, Shane Burley, contacted KBOO community radio management and told them he didn't feel safe if I set foot in the building.  Without consulting me, KBOO management told the show host to cancel my appearance on his show, which I learned through the host.

Who is Shane Burley?

Shane is a Portland-based journalist, author, and activist.  He writes articles for a wide variety of publications, including mainstream Israeli newspapers, mainstream and progressive US publications, and the anarchist press as well.  He's very active on Twitter and elsewhere online, interacting publicly and frequently with many of the anonymous accounts that attack me and others the most.  The articles he authors range from legitimate journalistic reports in mainstream publications to verbose and academic expositions attempting to explain how much antisemitism is a problem on the left, and specifically about why I suck so much, along with others on his long list of leftists who he doesn't like.

Why does he hate you so much?

I originally seem to have gotten on Shane's radar when I interviewed former white supremacist organizer, Matthew Heimbach.  Later Shane got very upset about my interview with Gilad Atzmon and other people as well.  Shane's perspective, coming out of the specific, sectarian tradition that he comes from, which he identifies as "antifascism," is that if someone has transgressed by interviewing ("platforming," in his language) someone that he and the other self-appointed experts on fascism and antifascism don't approve of, and you then fail to apologize for your errors, make amends, take down the interview, disavow the very notion of having talked to this person in the first place, etc., then you are now a bad person, and should be forever vilified, or, in Shane's vocabulary, held to account for your actions, and kept out of movement "spaces" (but not canceled -- cancellation campaigning, or cancel culture, doesn't exist in Shane's world, and can only be referred to in quotes).

So why did you interview these terrible people, and then keep doing it?

During my brief pandemic-length career as a regular interviewer of various folks on my YouTube channel, I interviewed people with lots of different political perspectives, but mostly leftwingers of one kind or another.  With admittedly insufficient preparation, one of the people I interviewed was one of the organizers of the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville (about which I wrote the song, "Today in Charlottesville").  

It was a fascinating interview.  Rather than supporting the doctrine of the gatekeepers of antifascist thought such as Shane Burley, the interview was not at all helpful in anyone's potential or conceivable efforts at recruitment.  I'm quite certain the interview has not done Matthew Heimbach any good, if he or anyone else ever hoped or feared it would.  What the interview did do well is highlight some of the reasons why so many young white Americans join the far right in the first place.  I did the interview during the week of the Capitol siege, when it seemed especially relevant to understand the attraction.

My life experience, and that of many others, has taught me that communication can work, and can win over hearts and minds from the ranks of both the uninitiated and those already lost to rightwing thinking.  I believe in drawing lines and fighting fights when necessary in all kinds of capacities.  But to draw lines unnecessarily, rather than trying to build a bigger, broader movement of people with interests in common, is at the heart of this whole thing with Shane, and at the heart of this particular division within the left, which goes way back:  the division between the "no-platform" people who like to protest book talks and such, and those who believe the best way to combat bad ideas is with good ideas, and more communication, rather than less.  I'm on the side of communication, Shane's on the side of no-platforming.  And if you've platformed someone who shouldn't have been platformed, you become as bad as the person you platformed, and thus targeted by people like Shane and his friends for cancellation, methodically.

What do you mean when you say Shane is involved with a cancellation campaign?

Of course in this instance he actually contacted the radio station management to get them to cancel the thing.  But prior to that, in slightly less obvious example after example, the way it works is this:  someone in a leadership position within the ranks of the the gurus of antifascism, or just an anonymous poster on IGD News, declares that someone committed an unacceptable act and is now persona non grata.  What follows is a veritable frenzy of dopamine hits, as the acolytes of antifascist thought rush to please those who are now doing "research" on me, trawling through the web in search of anything I said or wrote or anyone I ever associated with that could make for good material for further attacks online.  (These public Twitter storms have been thoroughly documented, screen-shotted and saved for posterity in case you're interested.)

After the overwhelmingly anonymous members of this group of "researchers" have done their "research," the next step is contacting anyone related to the person under attack on a very regular basis to make sure they know about the transgressions in question.  So in my case this means contacting gig organizers, venues, and anyone else I might be performing with on a tour, and letting them know that I am a Nazi, an antisemite, a holocaust-denier, fascist-platformer, and other nonsense.

Shane doesn't generally directly do what he did with KBOO and get an event canceled, to my knowledge.  But the anonymous accounts that do this work are often accounts he has regular contact with, who are great admirers of his orientation, writing, etc.

Why do you believe in communication rather than cancellation campaigning and no-platforming campaigns?

Because communication works, and no-platforming and cancellation campaigning doesn't.  Well, cancellation campaigning does work in that it debilitates whole social movements, one individual organizer or artist or other figure at a time.  And no-platforming campaigns can work, in that they can get artists to cancel concert tours and authors to cancel book tours.  But they backfire in that they tend to create the very circumstances that the people organizing these campaigns are trying to destroy.  They fuel the growth of the right, consistently, now and throughout history.  They give the conservative press so much red meat, and make the left look like a collection of buffoons in the process.

Does Shane represent the mainstay of thinking within antifascist circles, or among the protesters on the streets of Portland?

Locals here in Portland may have noticed there are very few protests these days, since the media-driven movement eventually ate itself alive.  But when the protests were happening, they involved a broad collection of radicals and all kinds of other people of all ages, especially youth.  Every night for over a hundred nights in a row, I'd get regular, personal updates from participants, some of whom were providing sound, some who were participating in a myriad of other ways.  It turned out that although I haven't toured actively in the US for a decade or so now, there were still lots of teenagers discovering my music online in 2020.  This is not to suggest that the protesters all agreed with my politics on everything, but many of them were fans of my music, with whom I was actively in contact.

But certainly part of this ever-evolving, very transient group of protesters included a small set of people who were followers of the kind of no-platforming protests and campaigns against dangerous thought criminals, who ultimately I became identified with by this little crowd.

If Shane's politics are so fringe, why does he get published in Haaretz and interviewed on Oregon Public Radio?

One of Shane's hats is conducting interviews and writing the kinds of reports that are appropriate for mainstream publications.  Other times, writing in other publications, he's able to take advantage of his prestige as an expert on things recognized by publications like Haaretz to regularly throw bombs within the Palestine solidarity movement by writing about the antisemitism that is supposedly rife within its ranks, and more broadly within the ranks of the left.

With concern to the hour-long statewide interview on OPB last January that I listened to in its entirety at the time it was broadcast, I was struck by what a softball interview it was.  Here was a guy who was very openly defending the tactic of shutting down book talks by authors that someone considers to be offensive in some capacity, and getting no pushback from a mainstream journalist from a mainstream network.

Striking, but not necessarily surprising.  Since Trump's election, as what used to be more commonly thought of as mainstream media became increasingly culturally in the camp of the Democratic Party (unlike the networks that evolved into or were created as outlets for the kind of politics associated with the Republican Party), the liberal media has found good fodder in the culture warriors and those who like to protest book talks by conservative or heretical left authors.  These activities are a fine distraction from the pressing issues for which the Democratic Party establishment is just as responsible as the Republicans, such as the desperate housing crisis.  They also fit well with the new liberal media/liberal aristocracy embrace of identity politics.  In the new liberal mindset, what some used to call liberalism, or ideas like freedom of expression and discourse, is out the window, in favor of canceling book talks.

Why would a community radio station cancel your appearance?  

The station management hasn't contacted me or offered me any explanation.  According to my friends who used to manage the station, direct the news department, and other people there I've known for decades, it's a very unusual move, previously reserved for someone accused of being a sexual predator.

My guess is for KBOO's management, as with many other people, when you get a whole bunch of angry messages from 17 anonymous accounts on Twitter, which probably accompanied Shane's communique to the station management, it's scary, people get freaked out.  I've seen this happen time and again, with the local DSA chapter canceling my appearance at a labor solidarity event I was to sing at a couple years ago, right up to the Glastonbury festival management in England a couple weeks ago canceling the showing of a documentary about the campaign to undermine the candidacy for Prime Minister of Jeremy Corbyn.  I believe in so many cases, large and small, the tactics are similar.

These cancellation campaigners seem very well organized.  Who are they?

It's well-known from lots of media coverage that there are rightwingers actively campaigning to shut down events involving drag performers in many parts of the US.  Somewhat less well-known is the fact that these same sorts of efforts at shutting down events organized by or involving authors or artists that certain elements of the antifascist/anarchist/left/liberal scene dislike goes on as well.

Having been long associated with a wide variety of people on the left, I have long known many people involved in these kinds of campaigns, aimed at the right.  I know many hackers who have talked proudly about their accomplishments, doing things like hacking into the computer systems of rightwing groups or parties, making all their membership info public, and crowdsourcing efforts to get as many of them fired from their jobs as possible, if they had the sorts of jobs where membership in a rightwing organization could be a problem for the boss.

What's happening for a while now, and increasingly of late, are these kinds of efforts being directed at heretical leftists, people who are obviously life-long exponents of left ideas and supporters of left causes, but who get labeled fascists and antisemites, etc., for things like interviewing the wrong guest on a very unpopular YouTube channel.  It's been an ongoing cannibalistic affair which has left few organizers or artists unaffected.

Do you suspect the involvement of nefarious actors, Cointelpro kind of stuff?

History, including very recent history, here in the US and in many other countries, says there is definitely the involvement of intelligence agencies, perhaps from various countries acting for various reasons, trying to disrupt US society and the US left in particular.  Those who deny this history are very suspicious, but within Shane's circles it is very normal for people to be denounced as "conspiracists" for suggesting that the ranks of the protesters on the streets are massively infiltrated, very much including the dumpster-burning elements -- and this has long been the case.

History also shows that left groups of all varieties (and right groups for that matter, along with a lot of other institutions -- gangs, cults, churches, families, etc.) can attract a loyal and dedicated following, involving people willing to put in a lot of time and effort to get that Nazi's gigs canceled.  I have certainly known many people who dedicated inordinate amounts of their lives to putting the interests of cultish parties as well as really cool parties before their own or their family's interests.  The phenomenon is very common, really.  

Although it's disturbing to consider that someone or some group's politics can get so warped that a left or anarchist group possibly thinks it's a good idea to dedicate huge amounts of time and effort methodically trying to cancel all of my gigs every time I'm going anywhere -- given that I'm not any of the things they claim I am -- this is the pit into which certain elements of the left/liberal/anarchist scene, specifically in places like Portland, Oregon and Freiburg, Germany, have devolved into.

Are your critics supporters of Israel?

It's impossible to be sure who's who, given the anonymity of most of the actors involved.  It's a nuanced mess of critics, which can more or less be separated into groups.

The first groups actively trying to (and successfully) cancel my gigs were in Germany circa 2004 and since then.  This is when I first discovered the existence of a bizarre political tendency in Germany called the Anti-Deutsche.  I've written about them at for more background, but basically they are an outgrowth of a small communist group from Hamburg around the time of the reunification of Germany that ultimately became a group that identifies as communist, anti-capitalist, but pro-Israel and pro-US imperialism, because in their analysis Israel and the US benefit Jews, and therefore everything they do is good.

I guess that's not counting what was to be my second tour of Israel, which was canceled one gig at a time by the gig organizers, until there was only one gig left, at which point I canceled the "tour."  This was to be in the fall of 2000, just after the Second Intifada started, and I wrote the wrong song for the occasion, apparently.  Well, a lot of Palestinians around the world liked it, but the Jewish Israeli and mostly Anglo folk music scene didn't, for the most part.  Since that time I have been shadowed by a reputation for being pro-Palestinian, which seems to have something to do with getting gigs at folk festivals in lots of other countries other than the US, among other impacts.  Most recently, a writer for the Jewish Chronicle representing the same group that sabotaged Jeremy Corbyn's campaign tried to get Glastonbury to disinvite me from performing at the festival, but it didn't work.

It's important to distinguish both the Anti-Deutsche and the folks like the reporter from the Jewish Chronicle from the Shane Burley camp of cancellation campaigners.  What they all have in common include a belief in cancellation campaigning, and a very black-and-white outlook on everything.  But part of Shane's shtick is that he's not a rabid supporter of Israel, but supposedly cares about Palestinians, too.  I have admittedly referred to him as a stooge for Israeli apartheid.  Which in his case doesn't mean he's a supporter of it, so much as that he uses his position to do a great job of undermining the Palestine solidarity movement, and elements of the left in general.

How do we reverse course before it's too late and put an end to this kind of McCarthyite craziness?

Whether we're talking about cancellation campaigning, self-styled antifascists from Portland or good old boys in Texas trying to cancel a drag show at a bar they'd never heard of, there is no question that social media has massively exacerbated the cultural divides in this country and around the world, through algorithms that methodically feed on and feed us conflict and disinformation.  Doing something about that state of affairs would be good.

If we can't change the practices of these massive corporations that control our communications and increasingly become the lenses through which we see the world, though, perhaps it's possible for a cultural shift to take place, where we stop paying attention to all of this online nonsense, turn off the computers, go outside, and talk to each other.  It's a very nice thought, anyway.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

The Left: Understanding Our Divisions

Another effort at trying to make some sense of a wildly divided US left.

I've written a lot of articles on the subject of the many divisions within the contemporary left, including as recently as a few weeks ago, in an effort to make as much sense as can be made of the young folks in Minneapolis protesting antiwar activists for being supporters of empire, and doing so in the name of anarchism.  Massive divisions within the left characterize modern life in the US in particular, and these divisions exist on top of an already tremendous political divide within society as a whole.

Though I've made many efforts at explaining the roots of the various political divides and why they manifest the way they do today, I have been entirely unimpressed by my own explanatory efforts.  The proof is in the pudding, and I continually encounter people who have read some of what I've written on this subject who are still convinced that all of my attackers must really be coming from the far right.  Or I hear statements from well-meaning but somewhat confused arts journalists saying that I'm being attacked "by the left," which is a bit of a strange concept to try to apply to someone whose livelihood is entirely fueled by left groups.

So, this piece is going to be yet another effort at explanation, this time armed with a simple graph.  This graph occurred to me yesterday, and the more I think about it, the more I believe that it goes a long way to making sense of the different tendencies on the left currently and historically, why there is such a wide variety of approaches to applying radical ideas, and why left groups and social movements are capable of holding such wildly differing orientations around making social change happen. 

To illustrate the divide we're talking about a little:

How is it that most of my gigs around the world are organized by anarchist and socialist groups, but it is also a group that calls itself anarchist that is actively trying to get all of my gigs canceled every time one is booked?

How is it that one group led by people with horizontal organizing methods often associated with anarchism can mobilize 60,000 people to get tear-gassed constantly for days, who still manage to shut down the WTO meetings in Seattle, while another group also calling itself anarchist can denounce those organizers as reformists, preferring to smash corporate businesses or attempt to burn down a police station instead?

How is it that one party calling itself socialist can run a country and squander public resources on tax breaks for the rich, while another party calling itself socialist can organize a program to effectively eliminate hunger and illiteracy in a country once full of the hungry and illiterate?  How is it that one socialist group can work smoothly within a coalition of other groups struggling towards a common aim such as rent control or public health care, while another socialist group can only stand outside of the meetings trying to sell a newspaper that mostly criticizes the other socialist groups involved?

Much hay is made by various elements of the left, currently and for a long time now, about supposed distinctions between, say, groups or organizing methods allegedly based in thinking coming out of traditions that have names like socialism, anarchism, communism, or social democracy.  People throw around concepts like consensus-based decision-making, horizontal organizing, and democratic centralism, or they condemn these things as "utopian" or "vanguardist" or whatever other insulting terms people want to use.

During the very long period of time before there were any countries run by people calling themselves socialists, social democrats, communists, or anarchists, these political distinctions were blurrier.  Once various situations happened like the rebellions of 1848 in Europe, and various major reforms and even revolutions after that in different countries, the distinctions between different elements of the left became clearer, with some leftists in power sentencing other leftists to death; with some leftists running governments with armies and regular displays of tanks and missile systems parading down the avenue in places like Moscow or Havana, with other leftists on the sidelines of state power deriding these leftists as "tankies."

When we back away from ideological theories and assess actual practice, whether we're talking about the past few years, the past few decades, or the past century, it seems to me that certain patterns emerge that are especially notable.  Whether we're talking about groups or social movements that identify with one or another political tendency -- anarchist, socialist, social democrat, etc. -- some groups make serious progress, and others fall apart.  Of course there are always other very significant factors involved with these situations, such as state repression, corporate media brainwashing efforts, etc.  But the way groups organize and orient towards society has a huge determining effect on success or failure, and staying power of a movement.

The pattern that emerges is one where the more successful social movements are the ones that tend to embrace flexibility when it comes to tactics, strategies, and even ideological orientation, depending on the times, and what actually works under the circumstances.  The more successful movements are also the ones who have a clear tendency towards inclusiveness, towards building bridges and alliances to achieve common goals.

Then there is the flip side of these tendencies.  There are limits in terms of how flexible is good before it's no longer good anymore, just as there are limits to how inclusive is too inclusive.  A united front against poverty is probably not very useful if it's so ideologically flexible that it welcomes wealthy capitalists who don't want to be taxed.  The group advocating for the rights of children would be right to exclude convicted pedophiles from joining.

But aside from these sorts of obvious examples, it is generally the less successful movements that have been strategically inflexible and culturally exclusive.  There is also a clear pattern that when nefarious forces such as police agencies or their troll farms want to sow division within a movement, they will push groups and individuals towards thinking in terms of an inflexible, ineffective strategic orientation, and towards more and more exclusive ways of thinking about organizing.

Classic examples of inclusive-oriented organizing are the Industrial Workers of the World, where "inclusive" is in the very name of a union seeking to organize the entire industrial working class into One Big Union, rejecting divisions of race, gender, religion, or national origin.  

The inclusive-oriented organizer in this case doesn't deny the existence of divisions along various lines, but opts to organize the working class while working through the problems that arise in the process.  The more exclusive orientation dictates that potential members of the union must be vetted for political impurities -- for backwards perspectives on race, gender, or sexual orientation -- before they can be welcomed into the group.

Likewise, the orientation that calls for a flexible approach to a changing reality, whether it's announcing a new five-year plan from the Politburo or adjusting the parameters of a local community organizing initiative, when one method doesn't work well, other methods are considered.  The less flexible approach says if something doesn't work at first, try the same thing again harder and see if it works that time.  

It's clear why this continuum exists, and will continue to -- sometimes what's needed is more determination and more effort, rather than a new strategy.  Sometimes what's needed is drawing a harder line, rather than welcoming a broader array of people into the fold.

If nothing else, understanding these continuums and the dynamics involved hopefully helps make sense of certain divides within the contemporary, especially online left, and the element of the left that has been prominent on the streets of Portland and other cities in the US in recent years, particularly around 2020, when some of the limitations around the more rigid and exclusive orientations became manifestly clear.

For example:

The inclusive orientation says talk to those we have differences with and let's try to understand each other, what our differences really are, and what we have in common.  The exclusive orientation says don't talk to those people, they're not like us, talking to them endangers the rest of us and invites them to poison our minds with their false consciousness.

The organizer oriented towards strategic/tactical flexibility might think taking over the local police station is a great idea, but will be able to reassess that notion when the crowd that shows up with this idea in mind numbers fewer than 100.  Those with a rigid organizational structure or orientation will not reassess regardless of circumstances, and will just fight another losing battle, ever hopeful for a different outcome.

Or to take my very specific example, you can have an anarchist group with one sort of orientation organizing a concert for me, with another anarchist group boycotting the very same concert.  You can have one group that believes in communication across political lines and making every effort to build a broad-based movement, and another group that accuses that group of collaborating with fascists.  And both of these groups can call themselves anarchists, socialists, or social democrats -- and regularly do.

I know I'm not alone in having a hard time reconciling the fact that one group of people on the left can thank me for my endeavors to communicate, and to understand the attraction of the far right for some people, with the intent of drawing more hearts and minds to a sensible, anti-racist, egalitarian left sort of perspective, while another group identifying itself as on the left can vociferously denounce me as a fascist collaborator for exactly the same activities.  It does indeed require quite a bit of explanation to make sense of the way well-intended people can ultimately arrive at such insanely differing perspectives.

For me, the two continuums represented in our graph here (flexibility and inclusivity) are helpful in understanding the different elements of society that tend to identify as anarchists.  

There is on the one hand the more or less invisible majority, those flexible in their approaches, looking to start or build a movement.  Think the global justice movement that in the US we would tend to identify with the turn of the century, or later, Occupy Wall Street.

In another camp we have groupings that tend towards the youthful and black-clad, who have been embracing particular, confrontational tactics for a long time.  In the flexibility spectrum they tend towards rigidity, as far as tactics go.  In recent decades this element has tended to self-identify as Black Bloc, as antifascists, and occasionally as Antifa, or some variation thereof.  There have been many variants of this tendency just over the past couple decades in the US.

What has been of particular concern for me and many other people who may come from various left tendencies but who tend to agree on a whole set of basic understandings of the world, has been the rise in particular in the US and in Germany of a tendency coming out of the anarchist/antifascist scene which, ostensibly from a vantage point of being against fascism, puts most of its focus on rooting out antisemitism and "red/brown tendencies" within the left, and identifying and conducting cancellation campaigns against those found to be committing thought crimes.  Both in Germany and in the US this has regularly involved antifascists of Jewish heritage like myself being accused of antisemitism and having fascist tendencies.

At best, this political tendency within certain antifascist circles in places like Freiberg and Portland is a problematic distraction caused by very confused people, having the effect of sowing confusion and doubt within left circles around a host of different people and groups.  At worst, this tendency is a reaction by state actors intent on debilitating and destroying developments happening in society and on the left that may have concerned the powers-that-be.  

But what we now have is a warped political tendency that seems to think the biggest problem in the world today is antisemitism on the US and European left.  As the self-proclaimed Jewish State razes refugee camps in the West Bank and deprives the people of Gaza of clean water to drink, as the victims of US imperialism prepare to starve en masse in Afghanistan, as the climate crisis worsens by the minute, the obsession of this little group around rooting out antisemitism on the left in the US seems that much more freakish.  What we now have are cases of Muslims in places like Berlin being immediately suspect by these alleged anarchists for being antisemites, until they demonstrate themselves not to be.

This is a political tendency very focused on questions of guilt and innocence, which has been so focused for so long on excluding those they consider to be dissenters from their doctrine that it's a tendency that is at this point fundamentally destructive.  It's also very easy to see why people would look at the things they say and assume they're a rightwing, racist, Islamophobic, and pro-Israel tendency, because that's just what they can easily appear to be.

Among anarchists and antifascists in other European countries, outside of Germany, and more generally around the world, the worldview of this faction obsessed with left antisemitism is not the norm.  Antifascists in most of the world are especially focused on developments in places like Israel, because of the oppression of the Palestinians, and war crimes committed by imperial armies like those of the US, the UK, and client states thereof.  

Most antifascists in Germany and the US probably share the orientation of their global compatriots, which in Germany is known as "anti-imperialist," whereas the tendency represented in Portland by pseudo-intellectuals like Shane Burley is known by its adherents in Germany as the Anti-German school of thought.  In the US, this divergent tendency made up of contemporary leftwing witch-hunters seems to want to avoid naming itself, preferring instead to position itself as if it represents the mainstream of antifascist thought and practice today.

There's no doubt that social media algorithms, polarized corporate media camps, and subterfuge on the part of other nefarious actors are responsible for the proliferation of the ideologically rigid and profoundly exclusive outlook we find ourselves swimming in today.  But for those of us who are trying to do something useful in this world, and trying to find our way within this mess of a societal conversation around identity politics, who's more marginalized, who's the victim and who's the oppressor, who's guilty, who has the right to an opinion, who should be excluded and who shouldn't, my advice is to follow the examples of the social movements that have been the most effective and the most threatening, which have invariably been rooted in an ethos of inclusion, solidarity, and tactical flexibility.

And beware of those whose orientation smacks of the puritan, those who are more concerned with guilt and innocence than with effecting actual change, and those who regularly make calls to exclude one or another individual due to their perceived transgressions, or a political tendency due to its perceived impurities.  If they're not just woefully confused individuals, they might be cops.

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