It is still early days and I don’t expect the alt-right to start waving flags with Stalin’s image on in it any day soon but the man who was once the top villain in the right’s roster of the evils of socialism is getting a new image.
For those of us on the left this is both unexpected and predictable. As the right has increasingly ditched a facade of libertarianism and increasingly become open in its authoritarianism, the attraction of the ultimate ‘strongman’ politician is obvious. Stalin has a lot of innate appeal for the alt-right: unlike Hitler, Stalin was not a loser; Stalin was a nationalist and Stalin enacted extreme ethnic policies including forced relocations of populations. An ideology that is intent on valourising the powerful man who exerts his will on the world around him may be ideologically closer to the Nazis but by their own standards Stalin better resembled their ideal. Looking for a superman, they start to eye the self-styled man of steel.
In my sample of one, crypto-fascist Vox Day has of late been making some steps in this direction:
“One thing that you really come away with is a tremendous respect for the evil intelligence of Stalin, he was much, much brighter than Hitler.” http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/06/darkstream-wrong-about-hitler.html
A minor comment but remember this is from somebody who values IQ and military prowess as core aspects of a man’s worth (“man” used there not in a gender-neutral sense).
This rehabilitation is wider and deeper than Stalin’s own shift towards fascism. The pro-Trump right necessarily has to admire Vladimir Putin — by casting Putin as an ally, any collusion between Trump and Putin becomes a matter of Trump pre-emptively working with an ally rather than obvious treason. Putin himself, as an authoritarian, anti-progressive nationalist is an attractive figure to the pro-Trump right. Putin’s public statements on Stalin are mixed, condemning Stalin’s more obvious evil acts while praising his WorldWar 2 leadership, nationalism and industrialisation. The extent to which Putin’s government is itself funding or promoting the alt-right is not known.
The deeper aspect is the weird mythology being embraced by the alt-right. This mythology is hard to describe as it is often contradictory or so absurd as to be unclear whether it is genuinely believed. The mythology embraces such things as the bizarre ‘Pizzagate’ conspiracy theory, the related ‘Storm’ conspiracy theory (fabricated from an offhand comment by Trump regarding the ‘calm before the storm’),existing anti-semitic/anti-masonic conspiracy tropes from the nineteenth century refurbished for modern times and to top it all Christian apocalyptic millennialism.
In Vox Day’s version of this mythology at least, Trump and Putin are heroic figures saving the world from a globalist conspiracy (or “Neo-Babylonian Death cult” aka “The Cabal”) that would have otherwise led to a US/Russian nuclear war, in the aftermath of which the conspirators would have taken over the world (or what was left of it). I’m afraid this requires a lengthy quote from Vox, as it is one of those Jordan Peterson-like flights of association that make very little sense in their full context but even less sense as small quotes:
“Now what is the architectural statement that is being made by the EU Parliament in Strasbourg? What they are very clearly stating in a language that anyone who speaks architecture can understand is that they represent Babel. They are the new Babel, and so the connection that a lot of people don’t make, the connection that a lot of people don’t realize is that these are the same people who in the U.S. are called neocons. They’re the same people who in the old Soviet Union were called communists, Bolshevik, and eventually, Trotskyites. The difference between Stalinism and Trotskyism in the 1930s was that Trotsky stood for world revolution.
Stalin on the other hand picked up the idea of communism in one country. Now obviously the Soviet Union was not a good place, it was not anywhere you’d like to live, it was a economic contradiction in terms, it was bound to fail. Alexander Solzhenitsyn did a good job of chronicling the evils of Stalinist communism, but the fact is was that once communism ceased to be Trotskyite, it ceased to be the primary vehicle for world revolution. And because of the growing power of the United States, because of the fact that in the United States you had the only surviving industrial economy, you know you had the only global power that had not been destroyed during World War II, that became the center of the world revolution. They don’t call it Trotskyism, they called it neoconservatism, but if you read Irving Krystol – he’s the father of Bill Kristol, the fake conservative and Never Trumper – the neoconservatives were the heirs of Leon Trotsky, they’re the heirs of global revolution, and that’s why the neocons are constantly pressing for war with everyone, but they’re particularly pressing for war with Russia because Russia has escaped their grasp. They began to lose their grasp on it thanks to Stalin.” http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/07/darkstream-trump-putin-and-religious-war.html
I leave the anti-semitic subtext as an exercise for the reader.
The key sentence is this: “They began to lose their grasp on it thanks to Stalin.” In the mythology Stalin’s struggles with Trotsky where the struggle of a nationalist versus an agent of the globalist conspiracy which by the distorted reasoning of the mythology puts Stalin on the side of the Christians against “the Cabal”.
I suspect we’ll see more favourable or nuanced takes on Stalin from multiple far-right sources in the future.
[Links included for reference. I’m not doing archived links currently as it felt like I was archiving obnoxious stuff as free labour.
Additional link: http://voxday.blogspot.com/2018/07/qanon-users-guide.html ]
There is an excellent Tweet thread from the consistently insightful Alexandra Erin here:
She finishes with this observation:
‘the way Trump will deprive us of democracy is by two years of his collaborators sitting here and saying “But surely you wouldn’t suggest that he is.”‘
It’s an alarming thought and some might say it is itself alarmism. Afterall, I’ve heard (and considered) whether numerous leaders would somehow rig or cancel elections to stay in power permanently. I thought Margaret Thatcher would do that, I was worried that George W Bush might do that – I certainly read worried rightwingers who thought Bill Clinton or Brack Obama might do that. Notably, none of them did. Power shifted using normal means. Phew!
Yeah but…Vladimir Putin? Robert Mugabe? Or we cast the net wider and think of leaders who had to be forced from power by more assertive means such as Alberto Fujimori of Peru who ran for a third term as President when the role was limited to two terms (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alberto_Fujimori#Third_term ). The point being is that leaders in recent history have found ways to cling to power by authoritarian, corrupt and anti-democratic means. There is no shortage of cases and the leader subverting democracy doesn’t need to be a literal Hitler to do it. That’s not to say the Hitler comparisons are in-apt or a case of Godwin’s law – that Hitler came to ultimate power in Germany by quasi-constitutional means *is* a highly relevant example, it’s just that it is one of many.
So why aren’t we in the fifth term of a George W Bush presidency? I think two factors are in play:
- George W Bush really wouldn’t want to be President for life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not joining the rehabilitate-George campaign — his presidency damaged the world and damaged American democracy — I just don’t think he was ever really the sort of person who would want to cling to power. The key point being character. It takes a particular kind of paranoid narcism to want to hold on. It requires fear of your enemies gaining control and unwillingness to accept anybody else can rule.
- Civic society and institutions. Power requires societal co-operation. It requires generals to carry on running the army and the army to carry on following the orders of generals. It requires courts to continue functioning. It requires the police to carry on policing. It also requires people to literally carry on turning up for work each day.
For the kind of slow-coup to happen, where a leader can move beyond constitutional/formal limits and effectively suspend democracy both elements need to exist. You need somebody willing and eager to take control and weak institutions who won’t provide adequate resistance.
This latter point isn’t even one requiring powerful entities to be progressive or pro-democracy. What is required is that there are powerful groups who an aspiring dictator needs for his rule to proceed who would refuse to cooperate for reasons that could be cynical or high minded. The armed forces are the most obvious example and is why the slow-coup scenario is more likely to be of a rightwing nature (counter-examples would be when the military was born from a revolutionary movement in the first place).
So how do those two conditions apply now?
- I can’t say I understand Trump’s character. I openly wondered prior to the election whether he even wanted to be President. However, whatever his motives are they clearly aren’t uncynical or motivated by a desire to provide good stewardship. There are good reasons to think that by being President he avoids deep financial troubles and possible criminal prosecution — both of which are reasons that he wouldn’t want to stop being President. He really wouldn’t want to lose in 2020 either just in terms of ego.
- US institutions have been actively weakened. Congress is not holding the President to account. The courts and federal agencies have been politicised in the sense that any actions they take are cast in party-political partisan terms by the GOP and the wider right. The press is economically and institutionally weak and news media is fractured and distorted.
Niether of those mean that Trump will attempt to remove democracy but it is more than fair to say that:
- he has no deep attachement to democracy as a principle
- the GOP has been acting anti-democratically with regard to a whole host of issues for some time (covered in Alexandra Erin’s thread above, i.e. ‘voter fraud’ fakery, gerrymandering & voter supression
- US civic institutions are weaker in various ways and being actively weakened.
In other words, the concerns are real and the risks higher than they have been for a long time.
Part of the long political propaganda campaign to create confusion about the authoritarian right has been to see it as indistinct from all the other forms of totalitarianism. The distinction that is most relevant is neither an ethical one nor an ideological one but one of steps and process.
Terrible and appallingly murderous regimes have existed in many forms. Some come to power after the collapse of the state and society. Others are murderous at a distance, inflicting mass systematic violence on parts of a far-flung empire – such as the horrors of the Belgian Congo. Fascism though creeps. It coopts institutions and policies that already exist. It exploits social fears and it targets those who are already marginalised first. It ramps up the prevailing authoritarian tendencies in a society.
The incarceration of refugees is a policy that has been adopted by centre, centre-left and centre-right governments with a “tough but fair” rationale or via appeals to social stability or on the basis that it will somehow pre-empt more reactionary racist politics. It doesn’t do the latter. Instead, the policy has enabled dehumanisation of immigrants and helped create an infrastructure of control that can be used against people.
“Moderate” governments in Australia have established offshore camps for refugees. By doing so the effectively demonstrated that a government could get away with locking people up without access to due-process in camps from which the press and independent inspection were excluded. Even if it was possible to follow policies like this with benevolent intent, it is still a recipe for abuse and suffering.
These policies create the apparatus for fascism by:
- by creating a class of people without the normal legal rights
- by creating a mechanism of mass incarceration of this class of people
- by creating quasi-police forces to operate such camps
- getting ordinary, non-extreme voters to go along with such policies as supposedly reasonable and humane.
It’s that last point that should frighten us all.
The horrific policy adopted by the Trump regime of kidnapping children as a deterrent against immigrants and asylum seekers is rightly outraging people. It is important to be clear that it is a definite escalation of policy imposed by the Trump regime. However, it has its roots in ‘moderate’ policies that preceded it.
Supposedly, conservatism, libertarianism and liberalism all accept the principle of natural human rights i.e. that individuals have rights that exist not because the government or government structures grant those rights but because a person has those rights regardless. However, this supposed core belief is so fragile that it is easily ignored for expedient policy. Fascism is never warded off by compromising with it. There isn’t a safe way for a liberal government to be a bit fascist in one arena in the hope of keeping extremism at bay.
The ease with which the Trump regime could shift the full power of the American state into stealing children from families and imprisoning them should be a warning to every other Western democracy. Dismantle the apparatus that enables shuch abuse before your own Trumps come to power.
In current news, the current US government appears to be actively alienating America’s closest allies. The G7 meeting is in disarray and the president is pointing out past hostility (from 1812) of Canada towards the US.
It all seems so long ago that the rightwing press was far more worried about the sensibilities of its allies. Remember this from 2009? http://www.foxnews.com/story/2009/03/10/obama-administration-foreign-policy-gaffes.html Yes, back then diplomacy was a fragile thing — like a beautiful flow that had been dipped in liquid nitrogen, ready to shatter at any moment. Move a statue? Give a PM DVDs with the wrong region code? Oh no!
In 2012 they were still going on about it. Here’s Bill O’Reilly: http://www.foxnews.com/transcript/2012/08/01/churchill-bust-brouhaha.html The location of one or more busts of Winston Churchill was a story that US news media covered for several years on the slim pretext that maybe the whole thing was symbolic of bad US/UK relations. On the other side of the Atlantic, Boris Johnson also tried to make capital out of the bust(s) positioning.
So, if you are worried that maybe you are being overly alarmed by Trump’s current behaviour, you can use this simple yardstick as a guide. You aren’t engaging in a multi-year freak out about the location of a metal head.
The false flag, the fake scandal, the weird double bluff – there is a set of things that live somewhere between conspiracy theory and the art of political ‘ratf_cking’ i.e. one faction messing with the heads of another political faction.
So far we haven’t yet had a case of something that looks hyper-plausible about Trump, with plausible evidence that’s so tempting that a media source jumps on it but…it turns out to be demonstrably false and everybody looks both foolish and crooked. Whether created by con-artists looking for money/attention, or created by over-eager Democrats hoping to find a shortcut to impeachment, or created by the likes of ‘Project Veritas‘ – the rightwing propaganda group infamous for their fake media ‘stings’, the source almost doesn’t matter. What matters is the creation of doubt.
Create a fake & easily discredited scandal and the perception of actual scandals becomes tarnished. As a tactic, it is risky because it necessitates creating a scandal about the person the process is designed to help. However, if that person is already mired in myriad scandals then the downsides to such a fake scandal become less.
Trump would seem to already well past the point where it would be worthwhile for some supporter to fabricate a fake scandal for the purpose of discrediting the media. I suppose the main barrier to such a scheme would be it being drowned out by so many other scandals.
Maybe I’m overthinking things. However, I’m mindful of how the ‘Killian Documents‘ proved so effective at undermining media investigations into George W Bush. Roger Stone, a man with many and murky links with Trump, has denied in the past any involvement in the Killian Documents:
“Those papers were potentially devastating to George Bush. You couldn’t put them out there assuming that they would be discredited. You couldn’t have assumed that this would rebound to Bush’s benefit. I believe in bank shots, but that one was too big a risk.” https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2008/06/02/the-dirty-trickster
Stone has a point and I think the potential for such a scheme to backfire on George W Bush is a compelling argument that the Killian Documents were actually a Republican operation. But it is notable that Stone’s argument was not an ethical one or an argument about practicalities or feasibility. Instead, it was essentially an argument that applies to Bush but doesn’t apply to Trump.
I’m back to the same observation: embrace a healthy scepticism about things.
If you wander through the comment sections of rightwing blogs, as I do, you probably will have noticed repeated references to free-speech in England or even the end of England itself. Lots of histrionics, lots of ranting about injustice. John C Wright has pronounced that “England has fallen”, and elsewhere our old pal Phantom is getting agitated by events too.
So what the flip is going on? The answer is that these various people are super, super upset that some people accussed of quite appalling crimes haven’t been set free due to a mistrial. Cue paroxysms of rage at that statement from that same quarter. True, that isn’t what they THINK they are getting upset about but yes, that is ACTUALLY what they are getting upset about. It is yet another case of people on the right 1. forming opinions based on limited and biased sources and 2. not thinking things through. Reality the conspires to make them look like fools.
So first to the specifics. Stephen Christopher Yaxley-Lennon aka Paul Harris aka Stephen Lennon but better known as Tommy Robinson is a convicted fraudster with a long history of violence including football hooliganism, as well as other crimes such as entering the USA using a false passport. He has also had a long association with a British far-right group called the English Defence League or EDL. The EDL is interesting as an example of changing patterns in extremist politics – it is something of a transitional group between the far-right neo-nazi thugs of groups like the British National Party and the more recent (and more international) Alt-Right. The set of racist, authoritarian and violent views are similar in all cases but the emphasis shifts. The EDL was specifically more overtly anti-Islamic to the extent of being nominally pro-Israel, whereas the BNP had tended to attack Muslim communities in the UK based on ethnicity (often targeting Bangladeshi and Pakistani communities).
Robinson’s current attempt to find celebrity and relevance is to highlight ‘Muslim rape gangs’ – i.e. cases of sexual abuse committed by ethnic minorities (while ignoring cases by non-ethnic minorities). A relevant case is being tried in England currently. England has strong limitations on reporting cases as they are being heard. Why? Because the civil right to a fair trial is an important one AND public claims about defendants PRIOR to a verdict can lead to a mistrial. n addition to this, cases involving child witnesses have even tougher reporting restrictions to protect the victims of crimes. Apparently people like Wright or our old pal The Phantom regard this as objectionable*.
Robinson has previously attempted to broadcast from the courtroom of a different case and was held in contempt of court (but not at that point detained). His sentence was suspended for 18 months. That means he didn’t go to prison but intead there was an 18 month period in which he could be sent to prison if broke the law at all in that time. Suspended sentences may look like an easy escape but they are tougher than they look.
Now let’s be quite clear what his actions were at that point: he was sabotaging a court case and that sabotage could only make it more likely that the defendants would be found not guilty. Whatever his intentions were, and whatever sympathies his supporters might have, that is the actual, factual core of the issue here. The best spin anybody could put on this who has thought about it for more than a minute is that Robinson was only thinking of his own self-publicity rather than the consequences of his actions.
Having been charged by the court of contempt, Robinson apparently had not learned his lesson and returned to outside of a court holding a trial with reporting restrictions, caused a disturbance, was arrested by the police and BECAUSE he was still within that 18 month period of the suspended sentence ended up in gaol. Something he knew would happen,
There is a lengthy breakdown of the events here: https://thesecretbarrister.com/2018/05/25/what-has-happened-to-poor-tommy-robinson/amp/?__twitter_impression=true
Rightwing extremists then used these events to portray Robinson as a martyr, eben though 1. he’s a convicted fraudster and 2. his actions could well have led to guilty people avoiding a conviction.
Now all of that is not is what is interesting.
What is interesting is the collision of worlds here. Robinson and the EDL (more history here https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Tommy_Robinson ) are a slightly updated version of how the far-right has been in the UK: a mix of semi-plausible spokes people at the tob (sometimes trying to get electoral respectability) above a movement of street thugs and football hooligans. Moseley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, the National Front in the 1970s, the BNP in 1980s and 90s – the template is similar but the names change.
However, the EDL did three things. Firstly, they repackaged their targetting of immigrant communities in the UK as an attack on Islam, secondly they toned down their anti-Semitism (it’s still there but less public) and thirdly they started making links with US rightwing groups. That last step isn’t new in itself but whereas in the past British far-righ groups tried to court similar white supremacist groups in the US, the EDL targetted the Tea-Party and vocal anti-Islamic activsist in the US.
The long term impact of the courtship is a channel of propaganda from the ‘traditional’ far-right in the UK to the pseudo-libertarian right in the US. There’s no conspiracy there, it’s just where different groups tap into for memes, propaganda and news. And hence why somebody like John C Wright is busy pushing a garbled account of events in the UK around a football hooligan fraudster finding himself in gaol for attempting to sabotage a court case.
*[Again, they’ll say they don’t but this is the actual reality they are objecting to rather than their private fantasy.]
A longish post on Debarkle history today. Too many elements for me to resist – in particular, an overlap between the nature of truth, belief, memory, knowledge and ethics. Also, can a genuinely held belief still be a lie?
One reason I decided to keep a timeline of quotes and events in the Puppy Debarkle was that I suspected that quite rapidly people would start distorting events – indeed it had already begun early in the conflict. I didn’t assume having a timeline would stop that process but I did think it would help me not add to the process. It is easy to confuse cause and effect around events that occur in close proximity and it is easy to conflate somebody saying something that IMPLIES X with that person directly saying X. Worse, such error compound themselves as people come to believe the revised version of what was said in a revised order in which it was said.
There are a few things I would still like to unravel and find the ‘real’ story for as a version still gets repeated in Puppy circles. Some though are lost for all time… [more after the fold]