Alt-right vs. alt-left silli­ness is just a dis­trac­tion from the real is­sues at play

The Woolwich Observer - - COMMENT - EDI­TOR'S NOTES

THERE ARE FEW IF any real Nazis in the United States. Per­haps a few Hitler Youth – the Sec­ond World War has been over for 72 years, so math and time are not on the side of ac­tual diehard Nazis stick­ing it out. Far fewer would have ad­hered to the ide­ol­ogy. None of them are out march­ing in the streets of Char­lottesville and be­yond.

Sure, there are some neo-Nazis who’ve adopted the sym­bols of Hitler’s Ger­many to bring at­ten­tion to their racist, white su­prem­a­cist ideas. The vi­o­lent skin­heads make great the­atre, but don’t have num­bers to jus­tify the kind of sen­sa­tion­al­ist cov­er­age we’ve seen of late.

Much more wide­spread in the U.S. – and here, and ev­ery­where – is the un­der­ly­ing racism that is not new, and cer­tainly pre­dates Don­ald Trump the pres­i­dent ... and Don­ald Trump the liv­ing per­son, in fact.

Many of the peo­ple from what’s called the alt right who we’ve seen march­ing are less-than-stel­lar hu­man be­ings, but they’re a mi­nor fringe. The same is true as those in­volved in the an­tifas­cist move­ment (an­tifa) who turn to vi­o­lence in protest. In­con­se­quen­tial, but they make for good drama, and good vi­su­als. See film at 11.

Trump was skew­ered for his moral equiv­a­lency ar­gu­ments about both sides in Char­lottesville, yet the me­dia in its at­tempt at ob­jec­tiv­ity and even­hand­ed­ness do much the same thing – there are two or more sides to every story, after all. And, for rat­ings, well, con­flict is bet­ter – if it bleeds, it leads.

So what we’re see­ing now is some at­tempt to tar the an­tifa move­ment with the gun-tot­ing far-right. That’s a good story, even if the num­bers are minis­cule to the point of in­signif­i­cance. More trou­bling, how­ever, are at­tempts to turn this into yet an­other ra­tio­nale for the grow­ing po­lice state, an­other way for the real threat – the cor­po­ratism at the heart of fas­cism – to crack down on the peo­ple and their rights.

This is what prompted noted ac­tivist Noam Chom­sky to de­clare that vi­o­lence from the left plays into the hands of the alt-right and their sup­port­ers in gov­ern­ment, of which there are more than a few. His com­ments met with much push­back from those on the left who called his po­si­tion a sell-out to the pow­ers that be, though they missed his point: any amount of vi­o­lence from the fringe will be used to jus­tify harsh mea­sures.

To bring it back to Nazis – be­cause, well, that’s just what we do ... to the point of God­win’s law – Univer­sity of Wash­ing­ton his­tory pro­fes­sor Lau­rie Marhoe­fer ar­gues we should stand up to fas­cist and racists, but not in a way that helps their cause, just as Chom­sky ar­gues.

“Vi­o­lent con­fronta­tions with an­tifas­cists gave the Nazis a chance to paint them­selves as the vic­tims of a pug­na­cious, law­less left. They seized it,” she writes in a re­cent piece, draw­ing on her his­tor­i­cal stud­ies of ac­tual Nazis.

“One of Hitler’s big­gest steps to dic­ta­to­rial power was to gain emer­gency po­lice pow­ers, which he claimed he needed to sup­press left­ist vi­o­lence.”

While Europe at that time was gripped in a more pal­pa­ble strug­gle with fas­cists and com­mu­nists, the sen­ti­ment re­mains in force to­day. Fall­out from the “red men­ace” was a big­ger is­sue in the U.S. and even Canada than was fear of fas­cism, war ef­forts not­with­stand­ing.

Lim­it­ing talk of cur­rent events to the ex­treme fringes on ei­ther side of the is­sue leaves un­said the un­der­pin­nings of the prob­lem, namely the eco­nomic and so­cial marginal­iza­tion that has fos­tered an in­crease in trib­al­ism. There’s us and there’s them – which­ever “us” you want to iden­tify against what­ever “them” you choose.

In essence, you have be­nighted work­ing class right­ies out fight­ing be­nighted work­ing class lefties.

The re­sult is the real prob­lems – roll out the one per­centers – not only es­cape no­tice, but get to in­tro­duce more re­stric­tive laws and boost spend­ing on the mil­i­tary in­dus­trial com­plex (on a side note, arms deal­ers are happy to see Ja­pan mak­ing noises about remil­i­ta­riza­tion in wake of the North Korean threat – fear helps sell what real fas­cists pro­mote).

The sit­u­a­tion brings to mind a quote at­trib­uted, per­haps apoc­ryphally, to 19th cen­tury rail­way rob­ber baron Jay Gould: “I can hire one half of the work­ing class to kill the other half.”

Peo­ple are an­gry and afraid, which is per­fect recipe for tribal di­vi­sions, with power and money go­ing to those stir­ring the pot. Or com­bin­ing matches and gaso­line, as it were. That peo­ple are an­gry and afraid in large part due to the in­se­cu­rity of dereg­u­lated, fi­nan­cial­ized, ne­olib­eral cap­i­tal­ism – to use lan­guage rem­i­nis­cent of the time of Euro­pean fas­cism and com­mu­nism – goes largely un­no­ticed. It’s a sys­tem that is gut­ting the mid­dle class and the al­ready long be­lea­guered lower classes.

Peo­ple have good rea­son to be an­gry, as mil­lions have seen their com­fort­able mid­dle class lives stolen from them over the last few decades as jobs have gone over­seas, wages have stag­nated, un­em­ploy­ment has sky­rock­eted.

Like mak­ing scape­goats of “the other,” di­vi­sive right-left bat­tles on the fringes prove both a great dis­trac­tion and a way to chan­nel more pub­lic money from those who have lit­tle to those who have a lot.

To counter the vi­o­lence of fringe right-wing ex­trem­ist with vi­o­lence from the left just en­hances the po­si­tion of those who want con­trol. And those in power have a much greater fear of move­ments that would make so­ci­ety fairer, more eq­ui­table and demo­cratic than they do of racist thugs who have bought into the sta­tus quo.

“Street clashes do not dis­tress the rul­ing elites. These clashes di­vide the un­der­class. They di­vert ac­tivists from threat­en­ing the ac­tual struc­tures of power. They give the cor­po­rate state the am­mu­ni­tion to im­pose harsher forms

of con­trol and ex­pand the pow­ers of in­ter­nal se­cu­rity. When an­tifa as­sumes the right to cur­tail free speech it be­comes a weapon in the hands of its en­e­mies to take that free­dom away from every­one, es­pe­cially the anti-cap­i­tal­ists,” writes au­thor Chris Hedges of the sit­u­a­tion.

To­day’s de­bate about neo-Nazis and an­tifa is re­ally just a dis­trac­tion from the big­ger is­sue, namely the frame­work of our civil so­ci­ety. In short, it’s about who ben­e­fits from the po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic sys­tems we’ve cre­ated – and let’s be clear: they are man­made, not pre-or­dained. For much of the post­war era, it was a large seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. For more than 30 years, how­ever, the num­ber of ben­e­fi­cia­ries has grown smaller, in­creas­ingly in favour of the wealthy and cor­po­rate classes.

Re­cent events are a pre­dictable off­shoot. It will only get worse in the ab­sence of real change.

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