Fistycuffs with a petty demagogue in a black satin dress16 01 2011
I was on the verge of deleting this blog as I have no time or patience in maintaining it no more. And then I got into a prolonged scuffle on the LeftLibertarian forums with Jeremy Weiland who identifies as a “Left Libertarian” and hosts AttackTheSystem.com(ATS), for free, mind you. Naturally, fate intervened when Keith Preston, who was the subject of much debate in that thread, picks up my post, publishes on ATS (without accrediting me at all mind you) and then tries to haul me over the coals in front of his Third Positionist buddies. All I have to say is that if Preston felt threatened enough by a forum post to rebut it to a post published on ATS, and in such a condescending manner, then I must be doing something right.
It is necessary to elaborate a little on the context of my original post, to which Preston responds. After a prolonged back and forth between Jeremy, myself and some others, the post itself was directed at ctmummy and summarised my overall arguments. Material, such as the quote from Staceyann Chin, was included in the context of elaborating on certain principles to a fellow LeftLibertarian using the words of a radical LGBT activist rather than my own and was not, in itself, an argument against Preston and his ideology.
You can read my original post and Preston’s full response here.
So let’s get down to brass tacks.The Label
As per usual, Preston begins his response by defining Anarchism on his terms, citing dictionary definitions of “Anarchism” and “rulership”.
‘From Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: Anarchism /’an-er-,kiz-em/ noun (1642) 1. a political theory holding all forms of governmental authority to be unnecessary and undesirable and advocating a society based on voluntary cooperation and free association of individuals and groups. 2. the advocacy or practice of anarchism.
From the Oxford Dictionary: ruler 1. a person or agent exercising government or control
The critic offers no explanation of how “rulership” is to be differentiated from “the state” or “government.”’
So “critic” (i.e. me)(I mean honestly, I don’t even get a proper noun?) apparently provides no explanation for how my conceptualisation differs.
“…as has been said more than once here, Anarchism has never been reducible to “anti-statism” and is much broader, having declared it’s opposition to all forms of rulership.”
But interpretation is a tricky thing and you can hardly blame someone for not taking the time to really come to grips of another’s reasoning. So, at the risk of being drawn into a “my Anarchism is bigger than yours”, let’s clear some things up: Anarchism is the rejection of the right to rule over others and the rejection of the right for others to rule over you. And to make it abundantly clear, ‘rulership’ is given a broad definition to encompass all forms of rulership. This includes all specific forms of rulership including government and state, but also, importantly, those behaviours which reduce one individual to a position inferior to another on the basis of some abstract marker of identity. In short, it is opposition to all forms of authority. Another contributor to the LeftLibertarian forums writes in this regard:
There is a difference. Michel Foucault articulated the main idea here better than I can in An Archaeology of Knowledge, but essentially the right is only anti-establishment if we rework what the establishment has been throughout history. Any concept of the libertarian right requires knowledge and situations that did not exist during the inception of the Right/Left dichotomy. The Libertarian Right is a term that is retroactive in its historical placement. It takes the anti-government (meaning this government, the one that empowers minorities and poor people more than most have in the past) feelings of the right today and then tries to place them in-line with the anti-government (meaning all governments) ideas of the past.
Declaring oneself to be ‘anti-establishment’ does not an Anarchist make and yet Preston ties his “Anarchism” specifically to the exercise of the institutionalised power of the state. He constructs his “Anarchism” with a narrow interpretation of ‘rulership’. His “Anarchism” ends at this point and goes not much further.
In my original post I wrote that Preston’s whole approach to discrimination and oppression is pragmatic; he aims to convince the Left to join his alliance by saying that oppression such as racism can be dealt with after the revolution (FYI, when there are 1000 governments operating instead of 1). Elsewhere in his response, Preston responded by dismissing this and making irrelevant claims about how he has read widely the works of writers belonging to Indigenous rights activists, marginalised minorities and anti-globalist’s aiming their pens at the “American Empire”. In answer, I point out that just because Preston has read widely and cherry-picked ideas from marginalised peoples which reinforce his ideological stance is of no consequence to the argument itself. The point still remains; for Preston there is nothing else, all that should be opposed is tied to the state, if it is not, it is valid and legitimate and “natural”.
This is evident where Preston writes:
Instead, it means that all issues and matters of controversy must be evaluated on their own terms, with an attitude of civility towards all but the incivil, and a fair hearing for all contending points of view, on which no one is to have the last word…
…sexual minorities who claim they are oppressed by sodomy laws, legal repression of gay-oriented businesses, or violent crimes by private individuals who target them on the basis of their gender or sexual identity are legitimate within the anarchist paradigm. Neo-Nazis who claim they are oppressed by the mere existence of Jews are not legitimate. Racial separatist whites (or of any other race/ethnicity) who claim their rights of property and association are being violated by discrimination prohibition are legitimate. Feminists who would legally require churches to accept women into the ranks of the clergy are not as this violates the associational and religious liberties of others. At the same time, there would be nothing inherently un-libertarian about feminists within a church organization agitating for altering church policy regarding gender exclusivity in the clergy if they so desired.
Under this construction, racism, sexism, gender discrimination and bias only become relevant issues to be targeted and challenged when they are institutionalised as acts of state power. His first sentence asserts that it is necessary for marginalised people to allow those with privilege to adjudicate over whether those who are marginalised are oppressed in the first place. After all Preston does not recognise the existence of privilege, for that would be “Marxist” and “Leftoid” and if he does, he does not see any need to challenge it, demonstrated in the following quote:
I share most of the political and philosophical presumptions Paul enunciates: natural inequality of persons at both the individual and collective levels, the inevitability and legitimacy of otherness, the superiority of organic forms of human organization over social engineering, rejection of vulgar economism, and a tragic view of life.
Despite repeated assertions that he does not support racism and the like, Preston’s shared assumption that there is ‘a natural inequality of persons at both the individual and collective levels‘ only has a limited number of interpretations, and, just to make it abundantly clear, all of them are bad. Use of the qualifier “natural” to allegedly justify a belief that, for example, “those little brown people have lower IQ’s than us, civilised white men” is hardly consistent with Anarchism as a political philosophy.
To translate, the rest pretty much states an opposition to egalitarianism of any kind, opposition to multiculturalism and asserts an absolute freedom of association which acts as a limit on other freedoms. In short, his ideas match up squarely with “National Anarchism” and Third Positionism. But most who have had an encounter with “National Anarchists”, Third Positionists and ATS know this and would be familiar with the whole spiel which involves invoking the discussion of various reactionary Nationalist movements and a brief discussion of economics.
Here’s a good way to look at it: Libertarianism is neither left nor right in that it opposes both conservative as well as leftist forms of statism. There are also anti-capitalist and pro-capitalist forms of libertarianism. Likewise, Third Positionism is neither left or right in that it opposes both capitalism and communism, and there are statist and anti-statist variations of third positionism. So a technically proficient application of political language would indicate that I am both a libertarian and a third positionist, given my radical anti-statism and my free-market syndicalist-mutualist-distributist-communitarian economic outlook.
Of course this conclusion is ridiculous. It again commits a logical fallacy. Just because there are similarities on certain points between two political position, it does not follow that those two positions are politically compatible. As I said in my initial “critique”: Milk is white. Chalk dust is white. Would you drink a glass of chalk dust?
It should be noted that responding to this point in my original post (not that there is really a response to basic logic) Preston took the opportunity to preach to the faithful.
However, this all assumes that Preston only rejects “Leftist cultural orthodoxy” when it is involved with Government and the State. Fact is, Preston regards “Leftist cultural orthodoxy” as “totalitarian” and rejects it irrespective of whether it is “in power” or not. As Johanna pointed out during an exchange with Jeremy Weiland:
My impression was that Preston’s idea is that leftist cultural “orthodoxy” (not clear what that means) is totalitarian. IIRC, someone asked him this point blank on some forum (may have been LL2, but I don’t really remember now) and he answered with an unequivocal “yes”. No need for the “in the service of the state” business to pretend that this is necessarily an anti-state position.
It was intended to nail him down on whether the “totalitarian humanism” he’s talking about is, for instance, hate-speech laws where the state is enlisted and then the word “totalitarian” is doing something in his formulation, or cultural leftism itself where humanism=totalitarianism. Being it’s the latter, then TH is nothing more that “Preston hates lefties”…
And if that doesn’t do it for you, consider the following quote:
The real enemy is those who actually hold state power, not exotic cults despised by the wider society. As for movements that are currently out of power, the greatest potential threat in posed by an insurgent Islam made possible by demographic change in the West. This the primary reason why I endorse the European New Right as the best available metapolitical framework for present day anarchists. More than any other contemporary intellectual current, the ENR has developed a critique of the philosophical underpinnings of totalitarian humanism, as well as a rational response to the question of threats posed by demographic transformation.
Preston’s narrow interpretation of rulership combined with the use of this logical fallacy promotes “Third Positionism” by rendering any connection to “Anarchist” political philosophy so tenuous that it’s very use can only be considered a form of propaganda, especially when coupled with an inversion of the terms “Left” and “Right” that retroactively alters their use and applied meaning.Third Positionism as Fascism
Time for a little history:
The origins of Third Position are in National Bolshevism, which originally referred to Communists who sought a national (rather than international) revolution. It soon came to refer to Nazis who sought an alliance with the Soviet Union. The most important of these was “left-wing Nazi ” Otto Strasser, a former Socialist who advocated land redistribution and nationalization of industry. After criticizing Hitler for allying with banking interests, he was expelled from the party. His brother, Gregor Strasser, held similar views but remained a Nazi until 1934, when other Nazis killed him in the Night of the Long Knives.
A number of postwar fascists continued this train of thought, including Francis Parker Yockey and Jean-François Thiriart. They saw the United States and liberal capitalism as the primary enemy, sought an alliance with the Soviet Union, and promoted solidarity with Third World revolutionary movements, including Communist revolutions in Asia and Latin American, and Arab anti-Zionists (particularly those with whom they shared antisemitic views). Thiriat’s followers in Italy formed a sect of “Nazi-Maoists” based on these principles, and after a gruesome August 1980 bombing in Bologna which killed 85 people, 40 Italian fascists fled to England, including Robert Fiore.
Fiore was sheltered by National Front member Michael Walker, editor of the Scorpion. This paper subsequently spread Third Position and New Right ideas into Britain’s National Front, and Troy Southgate openly credits it as a major influence. Third Position ideas also spread through the National Front via the magazine Rising. After a 1986 split, this new influence resulted in a reconfiguration of the party’s politics. Prominent members visited Qadafi’s Libya, praised Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and forged links with the Nation of Islam in the United States.
…National-Anarchists retain the two main philosophical threads of Third Position. The first is the notion of a racist socialism, as a third option between both capitalism and left-wing socialism like Marxism or traditional anarchism. The second is the stress on a strategic and conceptual alliance of nationalists (especially in the Third World) against the United States. Just as the National Front praised the Nation of Islam and Qadafi, the National-Anarchists praise Black and Asian racial separatist groups, and support movements for national self-determination, such as the Tibetan independence movement. Unlike many White Nationalists (such as the British National Party), National-Anarchists are pro-Islamist —but only “if they are prepared to confine their struggle to traditionally Islamic areas of the world.”
As Chip Berlet and Matthew Lyons note, Third Position fascism influenced U.S. groups such as the White Aryan Resistance (WAR), the American Front and the National Alliance; Christian Identity pastor Bob Miles also held similar views. Often overlooked by commentators is the American Front’s affiliation with Southgate’s NRF, which he boasted of for years. Like the National Front, U.S. fascists Tom Metzger and Lyndon LaRouche also forged ties with the Nation of Islam. More recently, the National Alliance has incorporated Third Position politics. They attempted to cross-recruit left-wing activists by launching a fake antiglobalization website, and, in August 2002, held a Palestine Solidarity rally in Washington D.C.
Matthew N. Lyons writes a good introduction to fascism here
while Roger Griffin writes in a draft for a chapter that appeared in the book, Fascism and Theatre: The politics and aesthetics of performance in the era of Fascism that at their core, all fascist ideologies are driven by a definitional “palingenetic ultra-nationalism”.
Palingenetic’ refers to the myth of `rebirth’ or `regeneration’ (the literal meaning of `palingenesis’ in Greek). Clearly, the triumph of a new life over decadence and decay, the imminent rebirth from literal or figurative death, is a theme so universal within manifestations of the human religious, artistic, emotional and social imagination throughout history that it is in itself inadequate to define a political ideology… The adjective`palingenetic’ first acquires a definitional function when it is combined with the historically quite recent and culture-specific phenomenon of `nationalism’, and only when this takes a radically anti-liberal stance to become ultra-nationalism. Fascism thus emerges when populist ultra-nationalism combines with the myth of a radical crusade against decadence and for renewal in every sphere of national life. The result is an ideology which operates as a mythic force celebrating the unity and sovereignty of the whole people in a specifically anti-liberal, and anti-Marxist sense….
what all permutations of fascism have in common (i.e. the `fascist minimum’) is that their ideology, policies and any organisations are informed by a distinctive permutation of the myth that the nation needs to be, or is about to be, resurrected Phoenix-like from the forces of decadence, which, without drastic intervention by the forces of healthy nationalism, threaten to extinguish it for ever.
Both Third Positionism and National Anarchism are a reworking of WWII era fascist ideologies, that conform to the definitional structure set out by Griffin. This is necessary to note as both terms are often used interchangely and Preston explicitly identifies as a “fellow traveller” of National Anarchism. Third Positionist’s generally outright reject both Marxist ideas liberal ideas. Preston is no different in this regard (Preston refers directly to Jacobin, Marx and Marcuse in particular), but, like his use of the Anarchist label and libertarian terminology, he incorporates “classical liberalism” to the extent it frames and validates his strategy of “pan-secessionism”. Similarly, the idea of Preston promotes a concept of a greater, abstract ultra-nationalism, which he from which all individuals spring, an aspect of his philosophy that remains the domain of the Right. The ultimate aim of rebirth is expressed through a network of racial and ethnically pure communities where property is distributed evenly among members, free of interference from the “Left” which is characterised as having held down society with their “totalitarian humanist” views.
A look at the agenda for the American Revolutionary Vanguard (ARV) reveals two other notable characteristics common to fascist movements the world over: it is leader-focussed in the sense that a Third Positionist revolution depends on the leadership of the Vanguard guiding the average person who is considered too “simple” to understand ideas like feminism. In a comment section on another post, Preston writes, I think we need for leaders to emerge in the various anarchist factions as well as overlapping and allied movements that are committed to the common plan of action we’ve outlined
Secondly and just as importantly, ARV/ATS maintains a heavy focus on recruiting the youth or young people to the cause.
To quote the agenda:
5. Recognizing that youth are the future, American Revolutionary Vanguard focuses its primary recruiting efforts towards intelligent, committed and capable young men and women who will naturally develop into the leadership corps of the struggle to come.
6. American Revolutionary Vanguard supports the establishment of special clubs for youth oriented towards various forms of fashion, music, entertainment, sports and other features of youth culture along with the parallel provision of sound political education and training in firearms safety, competency and civilian defense techniques.
It is from this analysis that any claim by Preston to have transcended ideology is farcical. The concepts being promoted are rooted firmly in far-Right ultra-nationalist ideology. The “synthesis of ideas” Preston claims does not exist and are merely cherry-picked thoughts grafted onto a far-Right ideology. More importantly, despite claiming to distance himself form European neo-fascists, his “Third Positionism” is not much different and meets, to borrow a phrase of Griffin, ‘the fascist-minimum’.
I hardly expect Preston to respond to this in any great detail. He has written before about how he is not a fascist. I will leave that up to the reader to decide.A petty demagogue
Preston is of course correct when he notes that populism in and of itself does not explicitly belong to the Right and there is no direct relationship between Fascism, the Right and populism. Populism, after all, is a tool that can be employed by the Right or the Left. However, Preston’s response does nothing to answer any real questions and instead dodge the argument entirely.
Preston’s populist rhetoric, his embracing of the ultra-nationalist doctrine of Third Positionism as outlined above, over-emphasis on the American Empire as the only real oppressor and his narrow definition of rulership from which he constructs his “Anarchism” is an issue of serious concern to any Anarchist, any outsider and any individual belonging to a marginalised or alienated minority. It is a means by which people are gradually introduced to attitudes and behaviours which they would normally reject. These attitudes and behaviours then become normalised and the individuals identify increasingly with the Right.
Couple this with common techniques of propaganda and spin and a more developed picture emerges. There is a tendency of Prestons to equate or use interchangeably the terms, Anarchist, Radical, Libertarian and Conservative which, though a curious aspect of American political discourse, is imprecise, misrepresentatitve and breeds confusion. Further, in my original post, I noted the use of common techniques of propaganda and spin, which I called out. These include appeals to “everyday people” and stating that “most people agree,” to stand in for coherent arguments. Likewise, when I noted and called out Preston’s selective name-dropping of Kropotkin to give credibility to his “classical Anarchist” credentials, he responded:
Kropotkin’s strategic outlook regarding anarchist organizing among common people was the same as mine. For instance, he opposed trying to teach peasants about things like atheism, rationalism, Darwinism, etc and instead favored respecting their cultural and religious traditions while offering assistance on their own issues of concern like economic oppression and exploitation by the state and feudal landlords. And, if this means anything, Kropotkin’s daughter Alexandra actually immigrated to the USA and became a Goldwater supporter while continuing to claim her family’s anarchist heritage.
Fortunately, we don’t have titled aristocrats in modern Western societies, or where we still do, they are toothless. What “privilege” is it that we alternative anarchists are defending? The critic gives no examples or illustrations. Are we defending the military-industrial complex? Seeking to uphold the American empire? Are we Ayn Randian-fans of the corporate overlords? Are we apologists for the bureaucratic overlords of the New Class? Do we heap praise on the elites of the media and the world of academia? Do we going around displaying slogans like “Support the Troops” or “Support Your Local Police”? Not that I can tell.
Both these responds to two separate sections of my overall argument do not address the issue at all. Instead they raise the volume in a direct appeal to emotion and deliberately deflect the question. The point is that, Kropotkin recognised his privilege as an aristocrat afforded to him as part of a feudal system and rejected it in an act of solidarity with the peasantry. Importantly, Preston makes an assertion about Kropotkin’s attitudes and behaviour towards the peasantry without citation or reference which would enable a reader to check context and exact wording. All we have is Preston’s word and his particular phrasing that this is the case. Even still, looking at Kropotkin’s life, though he remained insulated from the peasantry and romanticised them, that he rejected his aristocratic privilege to the greatest extent possible for a man of his time and historical context, is an impressive feat. In a modern context that understanding of privilege goes further to other critical theories of gender, race and sexuality.
Later in his response, Preston concludes by insulting me and calling me ignorant of political history and political terminology. This is despite Preston’s claim to be a “classical Anarchist” and “fellow traveller” to NA while self-identifying as a “Third Positionist” which is about as good attempt as any at obfuscation which relies on the contradictory use of technical political terminology to create confusion. Then Preston apparently has no grasp of the concept of “privilege” as it relates to social inequality (I guess I took that for granted) but then, even if he does, he is playing games because it doesn’t exist in Preston’s ideological world view. All talk of ‘privilege’ is “Marxist” and therefore evil. Where he does acknowledge privilege however is where it remains consistent with the overarching narrative of the Great American Empire to the exclusion of any other form of oppression:
…Most of us are certainly privileged compared to our counterparts in many other parts of the world. Fortunately, most of us are also stridently opposed to the oppression inflicted on people of other nations and civilizations by our own ruling classes such as people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Columbia, Latin America, Iran, northern Africa, Southeast Asia, etc.
Importantly, Preston again employs a favourite rhetorical technique of propaganda throughout his response; the labelling of opposition as “Politicly Correct” or “Leftoid Marxists” in an attempt to create and designate an enemy. Anyone who is too vocal about oppression or who too enthusiastically voices dissent is given either label, characterised a certain way and derided for ‘the reflexive dogmatism and cultic psychology common to so much of the Left.
’ Never mind existential Absurdism tends to inform my philosophical background more often these days, but whatever. Any discussion of racism or bigotry is derailed most frequently and most expertly. In the comments section and the response itself, I’m characterised as a “Leftoid Anarchist”, or words to that effect. This is scapegoating and is yet another disturbing feature about Preston and ATS. The Left-bashing that occurs so frequently, while another glaring factor that roots Preston’s ideology firmly in the Right, treats the Left as the great Other, the unifying factor around which the “Alternative Right” can gather. The Left is repeatedly constructed as the oppressor, the great evil that threatens the narrative being spun by Preston:
The present day ruling class paradigm is a synthesis of classical bourgeoisie liberalism and socialism (i.e. a capitalist/social democratic hybrid) and the institutionalization of the values of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. Therefore, the Left is indeed “in power.”
Behind his attempts to demonise “the Left”, there is the overwhelming sense that Preston and others genuinely believe that all those associated with “the Left” are only “following party lines” and are essentially feigning their commitment to dealing with and resolving serious social issues. There is no “party line”. There is no centralised cadre or leadership (unlike Preston’s vision for his own “movement”). Those who adopt the LeftLibertarian label generally have formed a broad interpretation of rulership and so declare their opposition to all forms of rulership. After all, self-liberation is the ultimate goal of Anarchism and Left-Libertarianism and no individual wants to live in a world where they know, that if they walk over the hill to a homogenous self-segregated community they are going to be lynched because of their identity, because they were simply being themselves and happened to violate a term stipulated by some local tyrant.
Preston’s conclusion reinforces this scapegoating and attempts to reinforce his legitimacy by falsely invoking historical struggles and drawing false parallels between them, himself and his ideas:
ARV/ATS… recognize(s) the dangers posed by authoritarian leftism (in spite of the history of bloody conflict between anarchists and left-statists). This is simply a replay of the battle between Bakunin and Marx, between the Kronstadt rebels and the Bolsheviks, or between the Spanish anarchists and the Stalinists.
So far this analysis has taken up almost 4000 words, and this is without going into explicit detail regarding how the Third Positionist and National Anarchist goal of “pan-secessionism” does not act as a “realistic” solution to racism or discrimination. The very notion of forming alliances with the reactive Right to bring about any real, functioning Anarchism remains a downright absurd notion. However, Preston frames any debate on the subject by discussing the need to build big tent coalitions between tendencies in order to achieve any real change and then immediately leaping to the conclusion that such an alliance must include the far Right.
Anarchists and Left-Libertarians have long recognised the need to work with and build large coalitions composed of all groups fighting oppression in some form, but this does not mean they should they form these alliances with reactive forces who outright reject any attempts to combat oppression against minority groups, or at least do so under the guise of “pragmatism” and “realism”. These groups, treat certain identities as a virus and under certain far-Right ideologies are either to be crushed (i.e. White Nationalism) or can be told to “like it or leave it” in the form of “self segregation” (i.e. Third Positionism and National Anarchism). Better yet “pan-secessionism” combined with self-segregation (absolute freedom of association as a express or implied limit on other basic freedoms) are said to be the only “realistic” means of solving oppression. Otherwise it is argued that the average person is too stupid to understand such ideas that “women/people of colour/indigenous people/gay/lesbian/transgender people are people too” or that oppression and privilege is so ingrained in people that it is “unrealistic” to try to change it and any attempt to do so is that evil “Leftistism” or “Leftoidism”. If anyone dares challenge this logic, the word “realistic” is thrown about like water and then a strawman is invoked in the sense that you are “Leftist” and you want to “shoot anyone who opposes you”, another condescending, melodramatic strawman. Well, either this or you are some “evangelist Leftoid” promoting universalist values, because somehow it is feasible that just because everyone has different understands of what is “good” or “evil”, we must allow our neighbourhoods and spaces to be transformed into conversative theocracies or racially homogenous no-go zones for the rest of humanity.
If you want to talk realistic, discrimination and marginalisation caused by ultra-nationalist tendencies reinforces abstract concepts which define individuals and inevitably manifests conflicts that wouldn’t otherwise occur. The marginalisation of the Japanese people and discrimination against Japanese migration (particularly to Australia) on the basis of race prior to WWII actually facilitated the rise of Japanese militarism. The repeated humiliation and sense of inferiority inflicted upon the Japanese by European countries and Australia with their own nationalist policies for maintaining homogenous “White” societies actually helped to birth Japanese ultra-nationalism. Cyprus is another good, complex, multi-dimensional example of the dangers created by abstract ultra-nationalism and proposed “self-segregation” (I could write an entire series on the subject and it would take only the first chapter of the first volume to show Preston’s ideology to be silly).
After all this, I can only conclude that Keith Preston is little more than a petty demagogue in a black satin dress.
(and just in case there are any issues regarding interpretation, yes the “black satin dress” is a metaphor for Preston’s false appropriation of the label “Anarchist” and his particular method of dealing)