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