A Review of Alexander Reid-Ross’ “Against the Fascist Creep”
by Keith Preston
Academic Gloss for the Antifa
For decades, a minor cottage industry of professional “anti-racists” and “anti-fascists” has existed for the purpose of perpetually sounding the alarm about the imminent threat posed by supposed “far right extremists.” The most well-known and influential of these is the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has raked in millions of dollars largely by frightening elderly liberals and Jews old enough to remember the Holocaust with hobgoblin tales about the supposedly persistent rise of neo-Nazism in America. The fundraising tactics of the SPLC are nearly identical to those of televangelists soliciting funds from elderly Christians by spinning tales about the supposed infiltration of the public schools by gay pedophiles. If one reads the literature of the SPLC and, for example, the publications of religious right organizations such as Focus on the Family and Coral Ridge Ministries, parallel themes will soon become noticeable. While the SPLC and a similar organization, the Anti-Defamation League, are the major league players in the “anti-fascism” industry, there are a number of minor league players as well ranging from the Ford Foundation-funded (how is that for irony?) Political Research Associates to AK Press, a small publisher oriented towards the “antifa” sector of the wider “anarchist” milieu.
The antifa (an abbreviation for “anti-fascist”) are a loose collection of leftist youth gangs that exist primarily in Europe and the United States, and whose participants typically fancy themselves as front line warriors against the always imminent Fourth Reich. In reality, the antifa are largely a collection of overgrown juvenile delinquents specializing in petty vandalism and stalking activities. The antifa occasionally engage in physical assaults, but only when they greatly outnumber their intended victims, and with the most defenseless people often being the target. I have personally witnessed the antifa attacking both women and elderly people. When the antifa have targeted more formidable enemies, their limited capabilities as street fighters have been quickly revealed. During a confrontation with members of white nationalist organizations in Sacramento during the summer of 2016, a group of approximately 200 “anti-fascists” attempted a swarm attack on about 30 members of the “right-wing” organizations that were present. Half a dozen of the antifa consequently received stab wounds in what was a pretty puny performance on their part, to say the least.
Multiple individual writers also exist who attempt to provide an academic gloss for the antifa, including Chip Berlet, Matthew Lyons, Spencer “Sunshine,” and others. One such individual is Alexander Reid-Ross whom the leftist webzine Truth-Out describes as a geography instructor at Portland State University. Reid-Ross recently released a book titled “Against the Fascist Creep,” published by the previously mentioned AK Press. This book has since been praised in some leftist circles so it is interesting to take a look at its actual claims and arguments.
The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Thule
“Against the Fascist Creep” presents a lengthy narrative that purports to outline the means by which “fascists” are supposedly engaged in a persistent and ongoing effort to infiltrate and co-opt the left in order to advance one or another nefarious agenda. Reid-Ross takes his seemingly intricate knowledge of “far right” movements and organizations and spins this into a conspiracy narrative about the endless effort by fascists to infiltrate the perpetually beleaguered and victimized left. How does this “fascist creep” actually work? Reid-Ross describes two methods:
“Hence, fascism creeps in two ways: (1) it draws left-wing notions of solidarity and liberation into ultranationalist, right-wing ideology; and (2), at least in its early stages, fascists often utilize ‘broad front’ strategies, proposing a mass-based nationalist platform to gain access to mainstream political audiences and key administrative positions.”
Interestingly, the above definition of the “fascist creep” offered by Reid-Ross is a near perfect description of how totalitarian leftist movements, including Marxist-Leninists and others, have typically functioned. Indeed, a study of this kind that actually provided a serious examination of the methodologies that totalitarian movements and regimes utilize in order to propel themselves to power would be quite interesting, as would an examination of the role of these in fueling the great ideological wars that Nietzsche presciently predicted would characterize the twentieth century. There are indeed many extensive and important scholarly examinations of totalitarianism available, including the works of Raymond Aron, Hannan Arendt, Lawrence Aronsen, Franz Borkenau, Karl Bracher, Robert Conquest, Carl Friedrich, Eckhard Jesse, Arthur Koestler, Leopold Labedz, Walter Laqueur, Claude Lefort, Juan Linz, Richard Löwenthal, Karl Popper, Richard Pipes, Rudolf Rummel, Leonard Schapiro, and Adam Ulam. However, “Against the Fascist Creep” is hardly such a study. Instead, this book is a one-sided, extended conspiracy tract that advances a Manichean view of the ideological struggle between angelic leftists and right-wing demons. Clearly, Reid-Ross’ beef is not with political violence or state repression per se. The lengthy history of leftist terrorism, not to mention the genocides, massacres and general repression carried by leftist regimes receives no mention or recognition in this work. A “man from Mars” reading this book would never guess that for the majority of the twentieth century nearly half of the world’s population lived under leftist dictatorships whose own political structures greatly resembled those Reid-Ross regards as the purview of “fascists.”
What Is Fascism?
The matter of how “fascism” should be defined in the first place is a question that Reid-Ross attempts but never fully answers in a satisfactory way. This is not his fault, because historic fascism was indeed a murky ideological framework that was capable of assuming various circumstantially-determined forms. To his credit, Reid-Ross is familiar with the scholarly literature on historic fascism, such as the works of Roger Griffin, Stanley Payne, Robert O. Paxton, Zeev Sternhell, Umberto Eco, and others. The working definition of fascism that Reid-Ross offers is as follows:
“In short, fascism is a syncretic form of ultranationalist ideology developed through patriarchal mythpoesis, which seeks the destruction and the spiritual palingenesis (“rebirth”) of an organic community led by natural elites through the fusion of technological advancement and cultural tradition.”
This may be as a good a definition of fascism as any. However, Reid-Ross is not consistent in his adherence to this definition throughout the book. He clearly understands that simply defining “fascism” according to the popular meaning of the term as synonymous with “right-wing authoritarian states” is inaccurate, and highly problematic from an analytical perspective. However, he subsequently proceeds to at least implicitly characterize as “fascist” any kind of ideological framework or political tendency that involves any sort of real or perceived ethnic, racial, or national differentiation. Among these are the highly diverse right-wing populist movements of Europe, right-wing socialists, various anarchist tendencies, and American political currents as varied as neo-Confederates, the Ku Klux Klan, Libertarians, the militia movement and the Tea Party.
The bulk of this work focuses on what Reid-Ross defines as “those messy crossovers on the margins of left and right, the ways fascism cultivates a movement, and the ways that the left often unwittingly cedes the space for fascism to creep into the mainstream and radical subcultures.” Reid-Ross then begins the broad narrative of “the fascist creep” in a way that invites comparisons with old John Birch Society tracts about “the insiders,” the various manifestos purporting to expose the “Jewish conspiracy,” J. Edgar Hoover’s anti-communist screed “Masters of Deceit,” and evangelical literature from the 1980s representing the “Satanic panic” of the era. It is a narrative that begins with the “first national socialist,” supposedly a French cattle ranch investor in the Wild West of 1880s America, who befriended the French nationalist thinker Maurice Barres, and ends with the Alt-Right, Donald Trump, and the identity politics that dare not speak its name, that of the white working class.
The Funhouse Mirror Effect
I have a personal interest in “Against the Fascist Creep” because about a dozen of its pages are primarily devoted to a discussion of my own work. One of the main things that I have noticed about attempted critiques of my work over the years is that while I have plenty of critics on both the left and right, right-wingers are typically capable of understanding and interpreting my actual views correctly, whether they are high-brow conservative intellectuals or knuckle-dragging neo-Nazis. However, my leftist critics often present what amounts to a funhouse mirror distortion of my perspective. Indeed, given the distorted perception Reid-Ross presents of my work and the projects I am associated with, I have to wonder how much he is also getting wrong about the other groups and tendencies he describes.
For example, I am known for advancing a strategic concept known as “pan-secessionism.” In his discussion of yours truly, Reid-Ross starts off on the wrong foot by describing “pan-secessionism” as a political ideology (a mistake he repeats throughout the book). Pan-secessionism is a tactical or strategic concept (like a general strike, civil disobedience, electoral campaigns, counter-economics, or armed struggle) and not an ideology. He also presents one of our editors at AttacktheSystem.Com, Vince Reinhart, as a white supremacist though Vince is actually a Native American. Curiously, Vince is based in Portland where Alexander Reid-Ross is also located, so it should not have been that difficult for Reid-Ross to verify Vince’s ethnic background. This leads to the conclusion that Reid-Ross is either a sloppy scholar and writer, or someone that just does not care about facts that are ideologically inconvenient.
He also tries to make it appear that there was a much closer relationship than there was between myself and an individual named Michael Schmidt, who is apparently some kind of South African anarchist-white nationalist (if Reid-Ross’ characterization of Schmidt is to be believed), and who has apparently used the pseudonym of “Francois LeSueur” in the past. I did indeed include a quote from Schmidt’s book on anarchist anti-imperialism in one of my own books. “LeSueur” posted on my Facebook page a few times (though I did not know that he was the same person as Schmidt), and I used a quote from one of these posts in one of my books as well. At the time, “LeSueur” described himself as a Platformist (a tendency within anarchism largely derived from the Makhnovist tradition). I do not recall him ever making any comments about race. That is as far as the connection between Schmidt and I extends.
Reid-Ross tries to make it appear as though white nationalism is some kind of central component of my own philosophy and strategy, claiming that AttacktheSystem.Com “…fantasizes about a hopeful alliance of…various ethno-nationalist groups. The goal is for white nationalist identitarianism to gain credibility through association with other ethnic and racial identities, underwritten to respect one another’s ethnic boundaries and spaces.”
No, the goal is to build a consensus among all anti-system or oppositional subcurrents towards pan-decentralization. Ethno-nationalists, of any kind, could potentially be part of this but are no more inherently relevant to such a project than gamers or the Church of Scientology. He also says I was radical leftist in the 1970s. No, I was on the religious right in the 1970s, became involved with the left in the 1980s, and libertarianism in the 1990s. Reid-Ross’ summary of my alleged views is almost a perfect inversion of my actual views.
“Although it can appear to be a cogent radical, leftist ideology, pan-secessionism actually attempts to convince the left to join the fascist movement through PLEs [Pioneer Little Europes] and white nationalist enclaves in order to bring down the ‘system.’”
A more accurate summary would be
“Pan-anarchism appears to be a cogent radical, leftist ideology, and introduces the tactical concept of pan-secessionism to convince the range of oppositional political and cultural undercurrents to join the anarchist movement, possibly including even fascists through PLEs and white nationalist enclaves, in order to bring down the ‘system.’”
At various points in “Against the Fascist Creep,” Reid-Ross hints at his own anarchist sympathies. Given this and the claimed anarchist identity of the publisher, it might be useful to consider the relevance of this work to the anarchist cause. Anarchists, of whatever hyphenated kind, can agree that right-wing authoritarian regimes (whether identified as “fascist” or something else) are undesirable. This much is uncontroversial. However, the same would hold true of left-wing authoritarian regimes (whether identified as “communist” or something else). Even with the hyper negative spin Reid-Ross puts on the myriad of right-wing groups he describes, he fails to explain how most of these are any more authoritarian or “un-anarchistic” than many tendencies on the Left, particularly the many varied Communist cults, whether Stalinist, Maoist, Trotskyist, Kimist, or Castroist. Predictably, he lacks any interest in critiquing authoritarian characteristics to be found among sectors of the general left, including many conventional “Social Justice Warrior” types, his own Antifa milieu, the Democratic Party (the only political party in history to actually use atomic weapons), or what might be called “racists of color.” Nor is there even much discussion of “actually existing authoritarianism” of the kind that is commonly displayed by the centrist-capitalist regimes that dominate most Western industrialized nations. These limitations are indicative of the range of problems that are endemic to hardline leftist manifestations of anarchism.
Leftism as Conservatism
Perhaps the most valuable aspect of “Against the Fascist Creep” is that this work provides a shining example of why the general anarchist milieu needs to forge an independent identity for itself beyond that of the general left. It can be reasonably argued that the original left was the Enlightenment and classical liberalism which formed the intellectual foundations for the historic revolutions of the eighteenth century. Once liberalism essentially became institutionalized, the left became identified with anti-capitalism during the industrial revolution, and much later with countercultural politics in the 1960s. However, the cultural left has likewise entered the political and social mainstream to the point of becoming thoroughly institutionalized. Indeed, it should be recognized that the left is now an inherently conservative, even reactionary, force.
The ideology of the contemporary reactionary conservative “left” is one where “white privilege” assumes the traditional role of the “Jewish conspiracy,” and where the religious apocalypse is eclipsed by the ecological apocalypse; where anti-abortion fanatics are overshadowed by vegan fanatics and anti-porn/anti-sex work feminists replace anti-porn/anti-sex work religious crusaders; where the preferred obscenity laws of anti-sex conservatives are replaced by the preferred hate speech laws of anti-bigotry leftists; and where the “liberal” war on guns parallels the “conservative” war on drugs. It is left that is silent about US imperialism (with happy exceptions such as Counterpunch, Black Agenda Report, Dissident Voice, and the Green Party) unless some anti-Republican mileage can be gained from it. It is a left that is silent about the police state, drug war and prison-industrial complex, unless some racial mileage can be achieved.
The reactionary left is a left that is silent about the excesses of statist oppression of the kind critiqued by Harvey Silvergate, and instead goes into full law and order conservative mode when alleged hate crimes or alleged manifestations of rape culture of are involved (recall, for example, the way the left uncritically sided with the prosecution when bogus rape charges were brought against the Duke lacrosse players by an unscrupulous district attorney). The reactionary left either ignores class issues altogether, or simply regards “class struggle” as synonymous with advocacy for a larger welfare state, while ignoring genuine oppression at the hands of state bureaucracies, along with the ways in which state intervention in the economy has the impact of distributing wealth upward.
The reactionary left attacks Donald Trump’s travel ban and deportations as a manifestation of incipient fascism while ignoring the wider police state apparatus, and yet compares the likes of Milo Yiannopolous to the Nazi persecutors of Anne Frank. This is a left that loudly proclaims its anti-racism, anti-sexism, and anti-homophobia, and yet wants nothing to do with minorities, women, or gays, that do not toe the leftist ideological line, and arrogantly insists on telling minorities how to go about being minorities, telling women how to go about being women, and telling gays how to go about being gay. It is a quasi-theocratic left that simply declares homosexuality to be a sacrament rather than a mortal sin, and where anti-smoking crusaders and the food police assume the role of the anti-vice crusaders found among conventional religious conservatives.
The implicit view of the state in reactionary leftist ideology is one that insists on the subordination of civil society to the state, the ever greater centralization of government, global “human rights” crusading, and the eradication of traditional liberal rights in favor of bureaucratically imposed equality. The reactionary left is one that attempts to shut down free speech by means of mob action, in a way that is reminiscent of the tactics of anti-abortion crusaders and their past mob actions against clinics, and where the antifa are the merely neo-Nazi skinheads of these new reactionaries.
What a Serious Anarchist Movement Would be Doing
While anarchism was the world’s largest revolutionary movement at the beginning of the twentieth century, the anarchist milieu as it has existed since the emergence of the New Left in the 1960s has functioned primarily as a youth subculture. This second wave anarchism has overwhelming failed to establish any kind of political identity for itself beyond that of an appendage to the general left. This is certainly regrettable because now as much as ever there is a need for the development of mass movements to oppose imperialist war, oppose the police state, oppose bureaucratic oppression, and oppose the centralization of wealth by means of the alliance of state and capital. There is a need for voices that offer models for alternative economic arrangements beyond state-capitalism or state-socialism, for dismantling the state-corporate apparatus, and for creating an alternative economic and social infrastructure rather than merely demanding state welfare. A genuine anarchist movement would be on the front lines in the defense of civil liberties across the board: gun rights, sex workers rights, drug legalization, prisoner amnesty, free speech, and free association.
An anarchist meta-politics would regard skin color as being no different than eye or hair color while recognizing that ethnic communities are no different than religious communities or sub-cultural communities (such as Star Trek or comic book fans). Sexual minorities would be considered no different than Catholics or New York Yankees fans or vegetarians, but it would be accepted that some people oppose homosexuality on religious grounds, just as some other people oppose eating pork or consuming alcohol on religious grounds. Ethnic separatist communities would be lifestyle preferences no different than nudist colonies. Lesbian separatists and MRAs would be viewed no differently than the variations regarding gender roles found among different religious communities. Meanwhile, there would be a complete separation of race, gender, sexuality and state. The state would neither facilitate nor prohibit immigration. There would be no singular “immigration policy” but myriad of “immigration policies” based on the principle of free association and organic migration. A real anarchist mass movement would protest all police state organizations, not merely those such as ICE which offend the sensibilities of leftists.
An anarchist inspired civilization would have its own left, right, and center wings. The philosophical dichotomies between tradition and progress, authority and liberty, equality and hierarchy, cyclical and. linear interpretations of history, the universal and the particular, and the material and the spiritual will probably always exist. There would likely continue to be contending views of controversial moral questions like abortion, animal rights, children’s rights, crime and punishment, war and peace, euthanasia, scientific and historical controversies, and preferred economic arrangements, just as there would be rivalries between contending groups with conflicting interests.
In any kind of libertarian or anarchic system there would need to be a basic cultural, social, and political consensus in favor of the need to uphold classical liberal/Enlightenment derived principles of free speech, freedom of religion, free press, free inquiry, academic freedom, scientific freedom, legal equality, due process, separation of powers, divided sovereignty, civil society, plus classical anarchist principles such as opposition to statism, capitalism (or at least the state-corporate kind we have now), imperialism, aggressive war, and authoritarianism, and to uphold individual liberty, free association, decentralism, voluntarism, federalism, mutual aid, cooperativism, sortition, demarchy, community self-determination, pluralism, and human scale institutions. As for what the relationship of anarchism to other movements, whether left, right, or center, should actually be, it should noted that other movements are compatible with anarchism to the degree that they uphold the principles and ideas described above. To the degree that other movements do not uphold such ideas, they are not compatible with anarchism. Nothing more needs to be said. Many interesting activities are currently taking place that exhibit an anarchist influence. Among these are the revolution in Rojava, the ascendency of the Pirates in Iceland, and the creation of micro-national projects such as Liberland. It is necessary to grow all forms of anarchism, along with a “let a thousand flowers bloom” approach to strategy and activism.
Historically, authoritarian leftists have been just as great an enemy of anarchism as authoritarian rightists, and perhaps even more insidiously so. While many “antifa” identify as anarchists, their ranks also include many Maoists and other left-wing totalitarians. Indeed, what could possibly be a greater manifestation of a “creep” by potentially murderous political thugs? Of course, none of this figures into Reid-Ross’ analysis. As with much leftist writing of this kind, “Against the Fascist Creep” would appear to be little more than 390 pages of wasted trees devoted to special pleading. If Reid-Ross’ presentation of the other movements, organizations, and tendencies covered in the book is as distorted as his discussion of myself and AttacktheSystem.Com, then “Against the Fascist Creep” belongs on the shelf alongside the Harry Potter books as a collection of fairy tales.