Saturday, 19 August 2017

2 Points of View: Chomsky vs Antifa.

Conflict between the Right and the genuine Left (TM ;-)) may be getting hot. We've seen violence displayed in the streets against lefties. Maybe things won't get worse, but we cannot be sure of that.

So, what to do?

We can start by thinking.

There are two points of view:
  1. Noam Chomsky is a well-known and respected leftist intellectual. A middle class one, I'd add. He represents one point of view: he thinks violence against racist thugs is self-defeating. This is what he has to say.
  2. The Libcom folks, among others, think it's Chomsky who's wrong. They represent the other point of view. This is what they have to say (as usual, I highly recommend the comment thread).
I'm not here to tell you who is right. That's your job and your responsibility. It is, after all, your personal safety, that of your comrades, and of the public in general that is on the line here. What you do may affect you personally in the short and in the long run, it may affect your family and it will affect the rest of us by association, because it is a political issue. Take it seriously.

Do what right-wingers and pseudo-leftists don't: read and think with calm. Exercise critical thinking.

After reading those two pieces, I'd urge you to keep in mind a few things they did not mention. Readers in general must make their own research, but Australian readers may want to start with this:
  1. As socialists, experience tells us we cannot trust blindly in the bourgeois police to protect us or in the bourgeois justice to be lenient with us.
  2. Bourgeois law does recognise the right to self-defence but makes it conditional upon the specific circumstances of the case. This is no trivial matter.
  3. Proportional force is a must in self-defence: for instance, it's not self-defence to punch someone who insulted you, yelled at you, or pushed you. Your goal is to avoid harm to self and others. You are not there to teach anybody a lesson, or to punish them. Do not over-react. Your reaction must be proportional to the threat. Reasonable. I am no lawyer and it's tricky to explain; it's much harder to exercise, even for people trained, so keep your cool. Guidance from someone qualified would be best. Lacking that, if someone experienced and trust-worthy is with you, maybe you should try to follow his/her lead.
  4. There's safety in numbers. If you decide to take part in a public manifestation -- whatever its character -- don't fall behind or isolate yourself, stick to those you know and trust. Mutual protection and assistance are fundamental. You may need witnesses, too: keep your eyes peeled.
  5. Be wary of provocateurs and infiltrators. 
  6. Load emergency service numbers in your mobile phone. (UPDATE: Hedlund has reservations about the use of mobile phones. His reservations are valid -- particularly if one takes a more confrontational approach or if one keeps sensitive contact details in one's phone -- and you should keep them in mind. See below, comment thread, 21 August 2017 at 07:18. Thanks Hedlund!)
  7. Learn what's legal and what's not in your locality: weapons, weapons permits, requirements for public events. Avoid mistakes.
  8. Legal representation may be required and it's costly.
There are many things to think about. That list is far from comprehensive, but you should at the very least discuss those points with your mates. Decide things democratically. I repeat, I'm not a lawyer: if possible, try to get qualified legal advice. Preparation for the event, too, is crucial. Make sure you and yours are in contact with the event organisers. This is not a game. There are many important things at stake. Take care and good luck.

UPDATE: I expanded a bit the point on proportional force. 


  1. Use whatever tactics you (individually or as a group) feel are justified or effective. This is not a debate.

  2. This is not a debate.

    I'm sorry, Bob, but I disagree.

    Socialism is democracy, in democracy people debate. That's how they reach their decisions.

  3. Antifa have reached their decision and have moved from talk to action. The socio-political consequences of their actions will never be clear.

  4. Antifa have reached their decision and have moved from talk to action.


    What is not evident to me is how they reached that decision and why they didn't reach a different one. What arguments they considered?

    To me at least, all that is unclear. What's clear as day is that people like me were not consulted.

    We are not an army at their disposal nor are they our generals. It's not their place to issue marching orders. And I won't just snap to attention.

    It's up to us to make our own minds.

    The socio-political consequences of their actions will never be clear.

    Again, I don't agree. Their's is an ongoing campaign. Whatever the consequences of the actions already taken, it is not too late to modify the future course of action, so as to increase the likelihood of a better outcome.

    I sympathise with what I imagine it's their main goal: to defeat the neo-Nazi scum. (It's a sad and telling thing that one must resort to guessing what their aims are).

    But I do worry that they may doing it the wrong way.

    1. Lately I've been growing very disillusioned with the self-identified progressive intellectual. You know the kind: upper-middle-class graduate (often, but not always, philosopher) of a leftish-Clintonite persuasion. Frankly, I have come to believe their discussions, in the best of cases, are more attempts to impress their sparring partners with displays of trivia masquerading as erudition, than an attempt to elucidate something of any importance. Something like "extra points go to X for quoting more authors".

      Since last year, with the US election campaign, the discussions in Robert Paul Wolff's blog have degenerated into that kind of thing.

      A recent example was an exchange over Roman Polansky and his taste for young girls. That says it all, doesn't it?

      I fear that quest for irrelevance is symptomatic of the so-called liberal-left. There's something fascinating about it, which makes me go back for more. Don't get me wrong, I don't think those commentators are themselves "thought leaders", no. They never managed to be in the limelight. I however, do believe they may be parroting things they heard somewhere else.

      That's when the worst case arises: I've seen among them a surge of anti-free speech sentiment. Now, the Antifa in their anti-neo Nazi fight have adopted that banner as their own.

      But the thing is, those commentators at Wolff's blog first flew that anti-free speech banner against Julian Assange and Wikileaks. They blamed those leaks for HRC's defeat and their argument was that censorship (re-Christened "epistemic arbitration" in the classical pattern of two-word euphemisms, like "collateral damage", "enemy combatant") was justified in order to ensure her victory over Trump. They didn't need to choose a better candidate, only to cover their candidate's putrefaction.

      Someone (guess who?) must be the arbiter of what can be said, and what must remain unsaid, what is news and what "fake news", which websites get hits and which does not. (One of those geniuses said he wouldn't mind Milo's book being censored. Because, you see, in his mind, in Trump's era, censorship would apply only to neo-Nazi. Milo should be really mortified.)


      Anti-free speech is a two-edged sword: it cuts both ways. Maybe that's not what the Antifa intends, but it could be the end result of this. I'm not going to be a useful idiot for Clintonites, sorry.

      I'm also disappointed in Wolff's politics, by the way. He, however, sees the dangers inherent in those ideas and he himself produces counter-proposals worth considering.

    2. Lately I've been growing very disillusioned with the self-identified progressive intellectual. You know the kind: upper-middle-class graduate (often, but not always, philosopher) of a leftish-Clintonite persuasion.

      There is the chattering class, who are ineffectual, and the authoritarian minded. The latter do more damage by way of secrecy than through the limiting of free speech. Limits to free speech that are explicit can be managed and don't necessarily threaten democracy or civil society. Removal of legal protections and secrecy leads to corruption, which then leads to the destruction of democracy. This has been the case in the US, which has some of the best free speech protections, yet is on the brink of becoming a police state.

    3. I think RPWolff's idea is a good one. For those not interested in having to sit in silence, there is the option of ignoring them completely. To go about your day as usual would force the police to do their job, as usual.

    4. I think RPWolff's idea is a good one.

      I agree. I think he's onto something. Perhaps one could even generalise from his observation.

      The neo-Nazis seem to be trying to attract free publicity, of any kind. They gained a lot of attention around the time of the US election. After that, the "alt-right" bubble burst and for a time was replaced by a "fascism" bubble, which soon enough deflated as well.

      Check the self-updating Google Trends chart I included in this post:

      The Doctrine of Fascism. (Mar 24)

      Both bubbles reflated again after the Charlottesville events.

    5. Speaking of Milo Yiannopoulos, did you know that his own bubble collapsed of its own accord? I didn't and only learned of that today:

      Milo Yiannopoulos Loses Book Deal and Speaking Slot Following Child Abuse Comments. (Feb 21)

      Think about it. The guy made a career of outrage; outrage brought him the public's attention.

      The thing with outrage is that it wears thin after a while. So, like a junky, he had to produce more and more outrage, until one day -- pop! -- he crossed the -- until then -- invisible red line.

      Not all publicity is good publicity, it seems. We socialists should keep that in mind.

      The more I think of it, the more the Red Bloc sounds like a good alternative: workers of all races marching peacefully, orderly under the red flag, avoiding as much as possible street brawls and chaos.

    6. Milo is a provocateur, a troll. He was never meant to be taken seriously. Another example could be Ann Coulter.

      Nazis want to be taken seriously, but there are too few of them to be effective politically. As terrorists, they are about as much of a threat as radical Islam is in Europe.

      The Alt-R is the seed which can grow into a sufficiently large, populist, and reactionary force. If they disassociate themselves from the supremacist nonsense and focus on economic policies to protect the American working class, watch out!

  5. Antifa groups were formed during the 1930s as a response to the rise of fascism in Europe. Following World War 2, the lesson was drawn that fascism must be fought and prevented from taking power. The cost of not doing so is assumed to be war, genocide and the loss of democratic freedoms.

    Antifa is associated with Anarchism. To understand Antifa, one must understand Anarchist theory.

    Antifas believe in direct action, which includes the use of force. Like the Nazis, they are not interested in winning popularity contests. Unlike Nazis, Antifas are not a movement seeking power. They are anti-statist.

    No one is forcing you to join the anti-fascist movement. There are other courses of action you can take, from non-violent protest to advocating greater censorship. Whoever claims that there is a 'right' or 'wrong' way to fight fascism is making assertions without evidence. We don't know what works and it's doubtful we ever will.

    Personally, I've decided to ignore racist and bigoted behavior. I don't consider it my job to debate them, nor do I believe that engaging them intellectually is effective. According to people who used to be part of these racist movements, what is required is compassion.

  6. "Load emergency service numbers in your mobile phone."

    It's one thing if we're talking about being out on the town and prepared to defend yourself from a random scuffle. But if you're at a big, publicized event with major police presence, it's probably better not to carry your personal phone; if you get arrested, it's liable to be confiscated and subject to snooping.

    In a major mobilization, consider instead carrying a "burner" phone with prepaid minutes, and/or writing important numbers in permanent ink on your arm. (Coating the ink in that "liquid bandage" stuff can also help keep it intact.)

    But then, please note I'm not Australian and can't attest to the worth of these suggestions in all contexts.

    1. Good points, Hedlund. I updated my list with that. Much appreciated.