In defence of anarchism and antifascism: a reply to the Winter Oak

In recent months, the subject of the “red-brown” alliance between some leftists and parts of the far-right, especially around their shared fondness for Assad, has attracted increasing attention. As the anti-fascist critique of this alliance has become more prominent, it has also attracted something of a backlash, as some parts of the left wing of the Assadist coalition have insisted that there’s nothing to see here.

The Winter Oak/Acorn, a UK anarchist publishing project, recently dived into the controversy with a pair of articles, apparently guided by an understanding of “anarchism” as being all about unswerving loyalty to the Russian and Syrian governments and automatic defence of Jeremy Corbyn. Rather than treating this as a dispute taking place among different forces on “the left”, the Winter Oak position is to defend the pro-Assad leftists against criticism which they represent as coming from “outside”, from neoliberals and/or the state.

Discussing the recent chemical attacks in Syria, the Winter Oak writer states that “The war-hungry capitalist propaganda machine… has, of course, been relentlessly amplifying the views and narratives of the status quo and giving no platform for dissident opinion – that’s what it’s there for!” This is in itself something of an oversimplification, I think that famous Chomsky quote about “strictly limit the spectrum of acceptable opinion, but allow very lively debate within that spectrum – even encourage the more critical and dissident views” does a much better job at capturing how giving a certain amount of space for some “dissident opinion” actually makes the whole machine work more smoothly.

More to the point, questioning of Assad’s responsibility for various attacks is entirely within the spectrum of acceptable opinion for some parts of the mainstream media. That’s why Robert Fisk gets to write columns on the subject in the Independent, and Seymour Hersh does the same in the LRB, and Max Blumenthal keeps on getting invited to go on Fox News – or is Fox News not part of the mainstream media anymore?

It is interesting to see some of the voices that the Winter Oak wishes to cast as being somehow not really part of the status quo, as if the likes of Vanessa Beeley (daughter of Sir Harold Beeley, Knight Commander of the St Michael and Saint George, Commander of the Order of the British Empire), Max Blumenthal (son of Sidney Blumenthal, senior advisor to the President in the Clinton White House, and described as “a mitzvah” by Hillary Clinton herself), former UK ambassador Craig Murray and former US attorney Ramsey Clark were not really part of the establishment.

First, the Winter Oak (WO) writer picks up on a BBC article, which wrote about “people who call themselves ‘independent journalists’”, and noted the contradiction of those who “call themselves ‘anti-war’, but… generally back the Syrian government’s military operations…and Russian air strikes carried out in support”. For WO, this is apparently the same as saying that “There is no such thing as an independent journalist or a genuine anti-war activist, only shady agents of sinister foreign forces”. Except, of course, that questioning the applicability of a particular label in a particular case is not the same thing as saying that that label is never applicable to anyone ever.

This is particularly notable because the same writer also wrote “they are not actually anti-fascist… The witch-hunters are themselves part of a pro-war, pro-US, pro-Israel, neoliberal network.” If we apply exactly the same logic that they themselves apply to the BBC article, this would appear to be a statement that there is no such thing as a genuine anti-fascist, only agents of a pro-war, pro-US, pro-Israel, neoliberal network.
For WO, any criticism of the hypocrisy of those who criticise US/UK air strikes while cheering on Russian and Syrian ones equates to “an attempt to completely close down any possibility of dissent”. The option of criticising all powers intervening in the Syrian conflict, and so taking a genuinely internationalist anti-war stance, seems not to have crossed their mind.

Next, WO moves on to the question of antisemitism and the Labour Party, a reasonably complex situation where two different things were true at the same time – that is to say, that there is a real problem that does actually exist, and it was also being exploited and manipulated by reactionary forces. WO gives a simplistic, one-sided take, asserting that “the issue at stake is not actually antisemitism” and “it would work just as well with any allegation against any group.”

They reiterate that the point “is to attack the left using the “antisemitism” angle as the perfect weapon, because of the way that it is so difficult to refute without digging a deeper hole.” But antisemitism wouldn’t be such a perfect weapon if it wasn’t for all the instances of people affiliated with Labour doing and saying things that really don’t help. It’s not really so difficult to refute something that’s got no truth to it, and if there is a kernel of truth to what’s being said, then surely the point should be to address the issue that’s been highlighted, while also combating any distortions or exaggerations of the problem, not just to simply “refute” it in a point-scoring, propagandistic fashion.

To illustrate this, it’s worth examining two different responses to the issue. There was that open letter that described the situation as being the work of “a very powerful special interest group” – this could fairly be described as “digging a deeper hole”, but there’s nothing inevitable about that response, no-one forced the letter’s writers and signatories to use language reminiscent of classic antisemitic conspiracy theories without clarifying exactly what they meant.

On the other hand, there was also the Jewdas response – this also took quite a “defend Corbyn” tone, and Jonathan Arkush did indeed try to use their attitude, along with things like their outspoken criticism of Israel, to try and brand them as being antisemitic. But, crucially, this completely failed to stick, mainstream Jewish figures who are totally at odds with Jewdas came out in their defence, and at the end of it all Jewdas were joking about how the level of support shown for them meant that they’d become the real representatives of the “Jewish community”. This wasn’t just because of them being Jewish, because cranks like Gilad Atzmon and Tony Greenstein also have Jewish heritage; it’s because their political record was clearly one of total opposition to antisemitism, so there was nothing there for the smear to stick to.

If the point needs underlining any further, consider the fact that even Labour Against the Witch Hunt, the group formed specifically to oppose expelling people over allegations of antisemitism, ended up expelling Gerry Downing over allegations of antisemitism. Either we have to accept Downing’s worldview wholesale and accept that Labour Against the Witch Hunt was carrying out a witch hunt, or else it has to be admitted that there is a real problem there.

Next, WO gives a quick overview of pro-war centrists like Norman Geras and Bloodworth – a critique I don’t disagree with, those people are clowns – and then moves on to and Ornella Guyet. The swift movement from Geras/Bloodworth/Atoms to Guyet seems intended to suggest a connection, but no actual proof of a link is given. Instead, we just get “She says she is a “libertarian communist”, but in a piece exposing her activities, the left-wing website Le Grand Soir concluded that she was “an opportunist in thrall to the neocolonial and ultra-liberal system”.

It added: “Ornella Guyet claims to be ‘left-wing’, but her work proves the opposite.” It said she uses the cover of anti-fascism to attack genuine opponents of the capitalist system. “In this sense she is the perfect example of the Fake Antifa, a guard dog of power”.”

This article is in French, and so not immediately easy for non-Francophones to fact-check. If we just go by the extracts that WO has translated into English, they prove without a doubt that at least one person on the French left dislikes Guyet, on the grounds that Guyet criticises some people that Le Grand Soir writer likes… and that’s it. The sum total of the English-language evidence presented against Guyet amounts to the fact that someone says she’s bad, and that, heaven forbid, she criticised Jeremy Corbyn – a position that is apparently off-limits to real libertarian communists now. Oh, and the WO writer mentions her immediately after talking about some writers who do genuinely hold pro-war positions, a move that’s apparently meant to associate her with those positions, although no proof is offered to show she actually has such views.

Moving on, WO presents the current discussions among anti-fascists over Third Position/red-brown infiltration as being “centred around the work of Alexander Reid Ross”. In an example of Ross’s supposed hostility to the left, he mentions that Ross “claims that Earth First! has at some times in its history bolstered white supremacism through its appeals to Nordic paganism.” This is a nice summary of the general WO method: a casual reader could easily get the impression that Ross was out to attack Earth First! as a result of some kind of general hostility to it; it takes a bit of background knowledge or research to find out that Ross was in fact the editor of the Earth First! journal for a number of years, and so should be understood as someone with an investment in the movement taking part in an internal debate, not as a hostile critic having a go from the outside.

And presenting the current backlash against red-brown/third position politics as being solely about Ross is missing the point. Other commentators have been issuing the same warnings for years now, as with this critique of Counterpunch that was circulated several years ago, and any discussion of the antifascist response to the red-brown alliance in 2018 surely has to consider the Radical Vagabond piece.

I have no desire to defend everything Ross has ever said, because frankly he gives me careerist vibes and I’m not a big fan of his writing, but to focus on the man himself is kind of a distraction. The intensely detailed, extremely well-sourced Radical Vagabond report is the most important text to consider here, and as that writer, like myself, isn’t out to build any kind of career or radical cred and so writes anonymously, it’s not possible to discredit them through ad hominems, so any consideration of their work has to focus on the actual text, not trying to smear the author. Or, of course, their opponents can just ignore it entirely and focus on Ross.

And if we are going to talk about Ross, probably the most interesting thing about him in recent months was that SPLC article that was suppressed by legal threats from Max Blumenthal’s lawyers. Again, there may well be valid criticisms to make of the actual content of Ross’ article, as well as his decision to publish it with the SPLC; but those criticisms should be made openly, so readers can judge and make up their own minds, and Blumenthal’s decision to instead use legal threats to try and hide the article entirely was absolutely shameful. And, by passing over this whole question in silence, WO is implicitly siding with Fox News, Max Blumenthal and his lawyers, and so with the whole weight of the state apparatus – a funny position for an anarchist to take.

Discussing Ross’s writing, WO objects that “the term “anti-imperialist” has been placed in scare quotes, as if this political position didn’t actually exist!” Again, if we reflect this same level of scrutiny back on WO’s own writing, we can find them putting scare quotes around “fascist”, “anti-semitic”, and “leftist”, so apparently these things don’t actually exist either. And, of course, a lot of the time “anti-imperialism” really doesn’t exist, at least in any meaningful sense, as the term generally tends to be used by those who object to some imperialisms, but then roll out every “fighting Islamist terror” and “actually, they were invited to intervene by the legitimate government” cliché in the book to excuse others. Someone who opposes US and UK imperialism, but is fine with Russian or Iranian imperialism, cannot be meaningfully called “anti-imperialist” any more than someone who disbelieves in Allah, Thor, Krishna and Vishnu, but worships Christ, is an atheist, or a person who abstains from pork and chicken but eats beef is a vegetarian, so the scare quotes are entirely justified.

WO says that Ross’ argument is nonsense, because “The fact that some far-rightists oppose war on Syria does not invalidate left-wing opposition to the attacks, any more than the fact that some far-rightists support Palestinian rights and criticise Israel means that leftists should stop criticising Israel”. That’s true as far as it goes, because the fact of happening to share an opinion with the far-right doesn’t in itself invalidate anything, it’s the concrete political co-operation with the far-right – the shared conferences, the willingness to treat Patrick Henningsen’s 21st Century Wire or Global Research as a legitimate source, the inviting them to do radio interviews, etc – that undermines some left-wing opponents of the attacks, just as it’s fine for leftists to criticise Israel, but there would be a problem if they worked directly with fascists in organisations along the lines of the IAC or whatever.

WO objects to “Self-proclaimed anti-fascist Alexander Reid Ross… complaining about “Labour’s tepid response” to the alleged gas attack in Douma and its “rejection of any humanitarian grounds for military action””, saying he sounds more like “a right-wing neoliberal war hawk”. Of course, historically speaking there have been many anti-fascists who’ve supported various wars, that’s one of the limitations of using it as an identity or a label, but more to the point, while I have no wish to defend Ross’s phrasing, I don’t believe Ross being wrong on this issue discredits all of anti-fascism – this is, ironically, exactly the guilt-by-association logic that WO complains about and claims to oppose.

We then get a lengthy digression about how Ross quoted one Caroline O, who apparently has some dodgy neoliberal/establishment connections, and how this means that Ross is “nakedly working with the same people promoting” the US state’s agenda. But that’s a lot to hang on a single quote, so again we’re dealing with guilt by association here, as if all critics of the red-brown alliance can be discredited by virtue of Ross quoting someone.

Warming to their theme, WO adds that “it’s clear that the aim behind Alexander Reid Ross’s book Against the Fascist Creep was not to counter actual fascism, nor even to warn the left of the dangers of fascist infiltration, but to attack and undermine anti-capitalism by claiming its beliefs are tainted with fascist associations”, which is just froth. Again, I’m certainly not saying Ross and his work are beyond criticism, but if we’re making judgements about his motives, then it’s worth taking his entire CV into consideration – are we to conclude that his time spent working on the Earth First journal, his anthology of “essays against the global land grab” (featuring Chomsky, a WO-approved “proper anarchist” figure), his contributions to the scott crow anthology on community defense and the Life During Wartime anthology on resisting counter-insurgency, all of that was also written with the aim of attacking and undermining anti-capitalism? Or was the plan to work on the Earth First! journal and newswire in 2009-2011 with the aim of softening people up and getting them to lower their guards so no-one would suspect a thing when he launched a dastardly project of saying that you shouldn’t work with fascists in 2017-18?

And what about the publishers, AK Press, and all the other anti-fascist/anti-capitalist outlets that have given Ross space or favourable coverage – are they in on the plan to undermine anti-capitalism, or mere dupes who’ve been taken in by Ross’s sinister plan to say that you shouldn’t work with fascists?

WO talks about how the “real problem faced by anarchists and anti-capitalists is… ideological sabotage” and “these attempts to cripple the cohesion, credibility and effectiveness of genuine anti-capitalism, anarchism and anti-imperialism”. I honestly can’t see why anything they discuss should be seen as a problem for anarchists in particular – perhaps members of the Labour Party, or the Assad or Putin fan clubs, might have cause to take offence, but one of the main defining features of anarchism is its refusal, in contrast to much of the left, to fawn over any popular Absolute Boy or military strongman who seems to offer the possibility of wielding state power. So there’s no need for us to react as if criticisms of fascist-sympathising Assad supporters were somehow intended to undermine us – I’m all in favour of “an injury to one is an injury to all”, but treating attacks on the Syrian state and its lackeys as being attacks on “genuine anarchism” seems to be taking that principle a bit too far.

In response to this supposed attack, WO writes that “We also need to talk about what it is we really believe in, what we are hoping for, how we define ourselves in relation to Western capitalist modernity and the global neoliberal military-industrial-prison complex”. This seems sound enough, especially because I think that talking about “what it is we really believe in” can only help to underline the distinction between anarchists and the red-brown Assadist crowd. In passing, I’d also note that there’s a big difference between talking about “Western capitalist modernity” and “the global neoliberal military-industrial-prison complex” – the former seems designed to leave open space for a defence of Russian or Chinese capitalism as somehow superior, the latter is much clearer about the scale of the enemy we face.

They continue that “We need to talk honestly and seriously, ignoring the ideological smears”, which seems a bit odd, as surely talking honestly and seriously is not really compatible with ignoring people who say inconvenient things that you don’t like. If there are ideological smears being thrown around, then surely it’s worth engaging with their content and actually refuting them, not just ignoring them or using lawyers to silence them.

They continue that we should be “alert to the possibility that we may inadvertently find ourselves voicing the same views on specific issues as people whose general politics we do not appreciate”. This is always a possibility on any issue – it’s a point I keep returning to, but I don’t think that everyone who voted leave in the EU referendum should be seen as being in league with Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, or that every remainer can be blamed for the horrors of Frontex and the European Central Bank. There is a world of difference between this sort of trivial, non-substantiative agreement and Brian Becker inviting any scumbag he can find on his radio show, or Vanessa Beeley writing in praise of Orban on a website run by Infowars/Red Ice fascist Patrick Henningsen, or Max Blumenthal going on Tucker Carlson’s Fox News show… or the Winter Oak feeling the need to jump to the defence of the above.

Concluding the first article, they offer “To combat this, we need to state clearly where we stand. We at Winter Oak, for example, place ourselves firmly and proudly in the anti-fascist tradition. We are committed to its values of internationalism, equality, solidarity, mutual aid, anti-militarism, anti-sexism and anti-racism and we will never work with anyone who does not at least share these basic values. If we all adhere to similar principles, we have no reason to fear the toxic smears coming from the likes of Ross.”

This is actually really good, and important, and exactly what the likes of Ross, Vagabond and so on have been arguing all along. But what’s jarring here is the contrast between these lofty principles and the people that WO sets out to defend – can the likes of Vanessa Beeley, or Patrick Henningsen, or Max Blumenthal, or Bill Moran, or Brian Becker, really, honestly say that “We… place ourselves firmly and proudly in the anti-fascist tradition. We are committed to its values of internationalism, equality, solidarity, mutual aid, anti-militarism, anti-sexism and anti-racism and we will never work with anyone who does not at least share these basic values”? And if not, why this rush to defend them?

The second article on the same theme continues where the first left off, warning of “a bid to destroy anarchist and anti-capitalist coherency and effectiveness by infiltrating and undermining its thinking”. Again, I’m confused about where this supposed “bid to destroy anarchism” is meant to be playing out, seeing as most of the examples cited seem to be criticism of Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour Party. If we’re talking about destroying anarchist coherency and effectiveness by undermining our thinking, it’s hard to imagine anything that could do that better than a version of “anarchism” so defanged and declawed that we can never make criticisms of the Labour Party.

Repeating their criticism of the anti-fascist campaign which they see as a witch hunt, WO writes that “it condemns others as being somehow right-wing, reactionary or, increasingly, “anti-semitic”.” But there’s no attempt made to engage with the actual content of these claims – there’s very good reasons why, for instance, Red Ice, Jim Saleam of the Australian Nazi Party, Alberto Garcia Watson, and Charles Bausman are considered antisemitic, and so why those folk like Henningsen, Anderson, Becker and Blumenthal who swim in their sewers are seen as deeply suspect.

Apparently the anti-fascist backlash is in fact directed at “anyone who is critical of the neoliberal system and its imperial wars”, a claim which is simply untrue. For a measure of just how untrue it is, we can take a look at the No War But the Class War initiative which is currently being set up. Now, it’s a very new project, so it hasn’t attracted much in the way of any kind of reaction yet, but if anyone seriously associated with the current anti-fascist backlash tries calling it antisemitic, red-brown, pro-Russian, Assadist, or anything similar, I’ll eat my hat. Certainly, genuinely anti-war projects like No War But the Class War tend to have a lower profile than the likes of Beeley and Blumenthal, because there’s no cushy Fox News or Russia Today spots that go with internationalist politics, but more to the point, no-one would seriously try making those claims because there’s no evidence to back them up – in sharp contrast to the huge mass of painstakingly assembled evidence which shows that the likes of Henningsen and Anderson are in up to their necks in a very dodgy swamp indeed.

Or again, to refute this claim, we could just turn to the conclusion of the massive Vagabond article, the document that WO is so keen to ignore, where they declare “we can fight against imperialism, against racism, and against fascism at the same time, and we can oppose the American war machine and oppose colonialism without siding with reactionary and oppressive entities” – which hardly seems like the words of someone who opposes “anyone who is critical of the neoliberal system and its imperial wars”.

Again and again, WO repeats the claim that the “red-brown” charge is directed at “anyone who opposes” the neoliberal centre, at “the anti-capitalist left” and so on. But this is untrue, and only works if you decide that anyone not linked to the red-brown Assadist milieu is not really an anti-capitalist.

After making the same assertions over and over again without considering any evidence, WO finally moves on to some specifics, in the form of the recent Daphne Lawless series on the “red-brown zombie plague”. As it happens, I had my own criticisms of that series of writings, particularly the first article, because I think there are some places where she slips into a kind of “campist”, “my enemy’s enemy” mindset that does lead her to uncritically repeat some neoliberal assumptions; but overall, despite all my criticisms of Lawless, I don’t think there’s anything like sufficient evidence to back up the WO characterisation of her as “part of a pro-war, pro-US, pro-Israel, neoliberal network… attacking their targets not from the left but from the right”.

For a start, if we’re going to decide whether WO is justified in saying that this “supposed left-winger” is in fact a neoliberal, then again, as with Ross, some consideration of her past CV, and indeed that of Fightback, would be relevant. As far as I can tell, she, and they, seem to be genuine trots; one can, and should, criticise trots for being trots, but engaging with the positions they actually defend seems more worthwhile than just making ones up and claiming that they hold them. (EDIT: As pointed out in the comments below, Fightback would describe themselves as being more “an eclectic Marxist/anti-capitalist group” rather than strictly in the Trotskyist tradition.)

Moving towards a discussion of what Lawless actually says, WO notes that “Lawless approvingly quotes an attack on anti-Americanism by Moishe Postone, the Canadian “leftist” who is regarded as a major inspiration for the antideutsch movement, that bizarre pro-US, pro-Israel, pseudo-leftist German political movement.” Again, this is pure guilt-by-association stuff, proving absolutely nothing – there are Ukrainian nationalists who claim to be inspired by Makhno, and plenty of people who approvingly quote Marx, the thinker who is regarded as a major inspiration for Stalin and the Khmer Rouge. We don’t automatically write off anyone who quotes Marx or Makhno, and so if you want to prove that Postone (or anyone else) is so dodgy that anyone who cites him is automatically suspect, you need to actually engage with what Postone said and show what’s wrong with it. Just saying “these people are dodgy and they like Postone”, as if that proved anything at all about Postone and anyone who quotes him, genuinely is the kind of smearing that WO supposedly opposes.

Next up on the WO list of reasons why us “genuine anarchists and anti-capitalists” should be suspicious of Lawless is her supposed “obsession with Syria, Russia and “the Iranian mullahs””. Apparently, no matter how many civilians they bomb, how many anarchists and anti-fascists they torture, how fiercely workers’ struggles come into conflict with the state, criticism of these states is off-limits. At the risk of sounding like I’m stuck in 2013, it’s hard not to respond with “much anarchism, very anti-state, wow.”

Next on the list of Lawless’ crimes is her “quoting of the views of Alexander Reid Ross, Jonathan Freedland, Robin Yassin-Kassab and Leil al-Shami” – again, since the only actual evidence WO has presented against any of these four people is that Ross once quoted someone who has dodgy links, the attempted guilt-by-association doesn’t really work here either. Just putting Yassin-Kassab and al-Shami’s names in the same list as Jonathan Freedland is not a substitute for showing that there’s any substantial crossover between them.

Next up, the anarchists at Winter Oak are horrified by her “dislike of Jeremy Corbyn, Noam Chomsky, Vanessa Beeley, Jill Stein, Max Blumenthal, Caitlin Johnstone, Roger Waters…” It would be worth going through these one by one, with particular reference to the grand claims made about how “We are committed to its values of internationalism, equality, solidarity, mutual aid, anti-militarism, anti-sexism and anti-racism and we will never work with anyone who does not at least share these basic values”. Is that really how to characterise, say, Vanessa Beeley’s address to the British Constitutional Group? Or Caitlin Johnstone’s call to work with Mike Cernovich?

WO summarises Lawless’ worldview as one where “The “bad guys” are anyone who criticises the US empire and the “good guys” are all the cloned corporate hacks who furiously condemn them as “red-brown” pro-Russian fascists for daring to do so.” But again, this is nonsense – look at the No War But the Class War project, a genuinely anarchist anti-war initiative that is openly critical of the US empire. Again, it’s early days yet, but I will be astounded if anyone attempts to condemn them as red-brown or pro-Russian, because there’s clearly no evidence to support that charge, unlike the inhabitants of the actual red-brown Assadist milieu.

And are Yassin-Kassab or al-Shami really corporate hacks? What about Vagabond, or Élise Hendrick? More so, than, say, Blumenthal’s mate Tucker Carlson?

Next, WO returns to the antisemitism question, citing an article by Jonathan Cook as proof of how false claims of antisemitism are allegedly “being used to vilify all direct opposition to the capitalist system.”

The difficulty here is that the Jonathan Cook article is pretty bad. Specifically, a large part of Cook’s article is taken up with a defence of a cartoon of Netanyahu that was accused of antisemitism. Cook writes “There is no implication that Netanyahu represents “Jews”, or even Israelis. He is illustrated straightforwardly as the leader of a country, Israel.” Except that Netanyahu is shown uttering the phrase “next year in Jerusalem”, which anyone with a basic knowledge of the Jewish religion will recognise as being a key part of the Seder night ritual. The roles played by things like “zion”, “yisroel”, and Jerusalem in Jewish religious language make neat distinctions tricky here, but it’s nonsense to say that “There is no implication that Netanyahu represents “Jews””, when he’s shown in the act of saying a phrase that any observant Jew – or even any non-observant Jew who’s close to their family – would also say.

It’s not a perfect comparison, because no two situations are ever exactly alike, but one comparison might be the way that, while there are countless good reasons to criticise the Sinn Fein leadership, a cartoon that reacted to a Sinn Fein scandal by showing a SF politician saying “bless me Father, for I have sinned” might be seen as playing on anti-catholic sentiment.

Being charitable, we can say that perhaps Cook has never acquired a basic level of familiarity with the Jewish religion, and so could have sincerely missed the significance of “next year in Jerusalem”; but in that case, perhaps he’d best refrain from lecturing Jews about what does and doesn’t constitute antisemitism in future.

Moving on, Cook stresses the danger of false antisemitism claims, saying that they “empowered Labour’s Blairite bureaucracy to publicly lynch a well-known black anti-racism activist, Marc Wadsworth”. This is a frankly astonishing turn of phrase, and if Cook thinks it’s appropriate to talk about someone being expelled from the Labour Party as if a racist murder had taken place, then it further confirms my suspicion that he is really not a reliable source on questions around racism at all.

WO approvingly cites Cook as saying “It is an indication of how quickly this slippage is occurring that repeating now a slogan of the Occupy Movement from only seven years ago – that we are ruled by a ‘global elite’, or the ‘1 per cent’ – is cited as proof of anti-semitism”, but to talk about this as if it was a new development, and the “1%” concept was unquestioned anti-capitalist common sense seven years ago, just shows Cook’s, and WO’s ignorance. The language of the 99% and 1% was subject to a lot of critical discussion at the time, with, for instance, Spencer Sunshine writing in Shift Magazine way back in 2011 about the way that the ambiguity of “the 1%” was allowing fascists and antisemites to attempt to infiltrate the movement:

“For antisemites, the elites are the Jews; for David Icke, the elites are the reptilians; for nationalists, they are members of minority ethnic, racial, or religious groups; for others, they are the “globalists,” the Illuminati, the Trilateral Commission, the Freemasons, the Federal Reserve, etc. All of these various conspiracy theories also tend to blend in and borrow from each other… All participants might rightly see themselves as part of the 99%. The real divisive question will then be, who do they think the 1% are?”

Cook, and WO, then proceed to get irate about a New Statesman article by Matt Bolton and Frederick Harry Pitts that criticised Corbyn. Again, I have no desire to defend the New Statesman, and am happy to agree that anti-capitalists should give the scummy liberal rag a wide berth, but I’m very confused by the way that the anarchists of Winter Oak seem to see any criticism of Corbyn’s worldview as being inherently off-limits. I’m as happy as anyone else to see the New Statesman bashed, but if you’re going to criticise a specific article, then you should examine the actual arguments made on their own strengths.

Instead of actually engaging with Bolton and Pitts’ ideas, WO just goes for another cack-handed attempt at guilt-by-association, pointing out that they quote “None other than Daphne Lawless’s hero, the late Moishe Postone.” But pointing out that people cite Postone is only damning if you’ve first proved that Postone is actually bad, which WO has resoundingly failed to do. Nowhere have they even quoted a single word of one of Postone’s arguments, much less demolished them. In contrast, here’s the actual crux of Bolton and Pitt’s “insidious argument”, which is apparently designed to undermine proper real anti-capitalism, as represented by Corbyn:

“Postone’s alternative reading of Marx shows us that a critique of capitalism which focuses only on the machinations of the “1 per cent” fails to understand how fundamentally capitalist social relations shape the way in which we live – capitalists and bankers included. It does not grasp the extent to which “real” industrious production and intangible “abstract” finance are inextricably entwined. The pursuit of profit is not a choice in capitalism, but a compulsion. Failing to do so leads to bankruptcy, starvation and death. Nor are banks and the international financial sector an unproductive parasitical outgrowth undermining the vitality of the “real” national economy. They are that economy’s precondition.”

Wrapping up their attempted smear-job against anti-capitalists and anti-fascists, WO concludes that the Bolton/Pitts argument is one where “if you don’t want to be called an anti-semite and a red-brown fascist… you will have to “radically revise” your anti-capitalism so that it suits the neoliberal fake-left agenda. You will have to say that capitalism is not a rigged system, that a tiny elite ruling class does not hold all the wealth and power, that Israel is not a militaristic apartheid state, that the USA is not a warmongering imperial capitalist menace to the rest of the world.”

But as we’ve seen, actually paying attention to the articles that WO wants to condemn shows that they’re not against criticisms of capitalism, but that they specifically want to take aim at a “morally-charged, personalised critique of capitalism as conspiracy”. Is this really what WO wants to fight to defend? And does this mean that everyone who’s argued for an understanding of capitalism as a system driven by economic logic rather than a conspiracy of greedy bankers – off the top of my head, the likes of Fredy Perlman, Gilles Dauve, and Kampa Tillsammans all come to mind – are now to be dismissed as part of the neoliberal fake-left agenda?

In attempting to defend “genuine anarchism and anti-capitalism” from the alleged neoliberal offensive, the Winter Oak seems willing to ditch everything that makes anarchism distinctive, meaningful or coherent. Out goes anti-statism and an understanding of the structural constraints that make the state an unsuitable vehicle for the changes that we want to see; in comes a blind loyalty to Corbyn instead. Out with an understanding of capitalism and imperialism as genuinely global systems; in with a demonization of the US and Israel as being uniquely evil, a stance that inherently normalises every other state, and leaves the path wide open to a “lesser evil” defence of any other ruler the US comes into conflict with.

I’m sure that the Winter Oak writer genuinely believes that they’re defending anarchism by jumping to the defence of anyone on the left accused of antisemitism or collaboration with fascists; but looking at how much they’ve had to discard in the way of basic anarchist principles, just in order to mount a defence of Max Blumenthal and Vanessa Beeley, I can’t help being reminded of that famous line from the Vietnam war: apparently Winter Oak think it’s necessary to destroy anarchism in order to save it.

Posted in Anarchists, Bit more thinky, Debate, Racism, The left, The right | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

Trump inauguration trials continue to collapse, Corey Long jailed for defending Charlottesville: US prison/legal updates for early June

This week saw another big development in the “J20” trials targeting those involved in the protests against Trump’s inauguration, as the second trial group collapsed in a series of acquittals and mistrials. While the first group to be acquitted just consisted of people rounded up in mass arrests, this second group included people that the prosecution alleged could be tied to specific acts, so the prosecution is still failing to secure convictions even against those defendants who they supposedly have a strong case against.

As the second trial group came to an end, the IWW have put out a call for international actions in solidarity with the J20 defendants on June 25th. That date actually comes in the middle of a string of significant dates, as June 11th is the international day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners, June 19th is the day when the abolition of slavery is celebrated in Texas, and so has been taken up by Texas prisoners highlighting their continuing conditions of forced unpaid work, and Eric King’s support group are asking people to observe June 28th, the second anniversary of his sentencing, as a day of solidarity with Eric.

While the J20 trials ended in acquittals and mistrials, Corey Long, the Charlottesville resident famous from that flamethrower picture, had less luck, being handed a 20-day jail sentence by a judge who chose to ignore the prosecution’s request not to jail him. Outrage at the court’s decision to jail a local resident for defending the town from the violent nazi invasion led to eight further arrests immediately after the trial, including one woman who is still having to use a wheelchair as a result of the car attack. You can donate to their legal costs here.

Later this summer, a large US-wide prison strike is expected to begin in AugustIWOC Oakland and the Michigan Abolition group have both created useful printable resources for helping to spread the word.

Finally, updates on a few specific inmates:

John Cluchette, the last of the 1970s “Soledad Brothers”, has now been released from prison. Kevin “Rashid” Johnson’s support crew report that the recent call-in campaign was successful in getting the administration to back off and return his stuff. Ramsey Orta, the person who filmed the police murder of Eric Garner and was subsequently jailed after a police campaign of harassment against him, was recently assaulted by prison guards, but his supporters say that “he is persevering. He thanks everyone for their support and he’d love to hear from you.

As well as writing to him at

Ramsey Orta, 16A4200
Altona Correctional
PO Box 3000
Altona, NY 12910

You can also donate to help fund the graphic novel he’s working on here.

In Indiana, Kwame “Beans” Shakur was also assaulted by prison guards, and may have suffered a traumatic head injury. IDOC Watch are asking people to make the following phone call:

IDOC Commissioner Robert E. Carter

(317) 232-5711, press 0 for operator and ask for the commissioner, leave a message if no one answers.

Ask for the commissioner but you will likely speak to a secretary with whom you can leave a message.


“I am calling because I am concerned about the safety of Michael Joyner #149677 of Pendleton Correctional Facility. Yesterday he was assaulted by staff and likely has a severe injury to the head. I would like to know his whereabouts and request an investigation into the incident.”

You do not have to say more than that. Expect lies and dodges. Nor do you have to give any more information about yourself.

You should also be able to contact Robert E Carter and other senior IDOC staff at the following emails:,,,

Also in Indiana, another organiser, Khalfani Malik Khaldun, has been targetted for harassment by staff. IDOC Watch write:

IDOC Watch comrade and New Afrikan Revolutionary prisoner Brother Khalfani Malik Khaldun (Leonard McQuay #874304) is under attack at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility (WVCF)! In the past weeks, staff at the facility have made two attempts to intimidate him. First, his cell was raided and torn apart early in the morning, as officers searched for weapons and phones that Khalfani and his cellmate knew nothing about. Then, on June 6, counselor Brian Mifflin approached other inmates and made comments to them that suggested that Bro. Khalfani had been giving information to the staff, which he has not, tarnishing his reputation and putting his life in danger. Counselor Mifflin’s conduct is a direct violation of the DOC’s Information and Standards of Conduct Policy for DOC staff, which forbids staff from fraternizing with prisoners with the intent of harming other prisoners.

To hear Khalfani’s own account of the situation he’s in, please follow this link:

Please call WVCF Warden Richard Brown at (812) 398-5050, ext 2 and demand that Counselor Brian Mifflin be reprimanded and apologize to Leonard McQuay for his violation of the Information and Standards of Conduct for DOC Staff policy.

You should also be able to contact Richard Brown at and Assistant Warden Frank Littlejohn at

Posted in Anarchists, Racism, Repression | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Repression round-up: latest on J20, G20, and calls for support

A few recent developments:

In the “J20” trials of protestors mass-arrested at Trump’s inauguration, one trial group is currently awaiting the jury’s findings, and a key part of the prosecution’s strategy seems to be collapsing due to the prosecution not disclosing evidence when they were legally required to. It seems likely that the prosecution will now no longer be able to rely on conspiracy charges based on the planning meetings that proceeded the day itself.

Meanwhile, people across Switzerland, Italy, France and Spain were hit by police raids this week as part of the ongoing Europe-wide police operation in retaliation for the protests against last summer’s G20 summit in Hamburg, with seven people arrested. Crimethinc have produced a pair of posters in solidarity with the two cases:

Raids also took place in Hamilton, Canada, where a police operation is taking place targetting people suspected to have been involved in a rowdy anti-gentrification protest that turned into a small riot earlier this year. Hamilton comrades report that their priority is making sure everyone gets bailed out, so if you can help with that, donations at The Tower’s fundraising page will be gratefully received.

Meanwhile, Michael “Little Feather” Giron has been given a 36-month sentence for a Civil Disorder charge related to his defence of the Standing Rock encampment.

As previously mentioned, long-term black liberation prisoner Jalil Muntaqim is asking for letters in support of his parole application, and radical organizer and writer Kevin “Rashid” Johnson is asking for people to put pressure on the Florida Department of Corrections to try and lessen the amount of harrassment he’s been receiving since arguing with a group of guards who were beating a mentally ill inmate. A further call for support comes from Michigan, where some inmates who were involved in the 2016 Kinross uprising are still being held in restrictive maximum security conditions despite being told that they should be moved to lower level seven months ago.

On Tuesday, June 5th, Michigan Abolition and Prison Solidarity are asking for calls to the authorities to try and sort the situation out, recommending the following script:

“Hi. I’m calling about the remaining 20 to 30 people in Level V at Baraga Max who were approved for transfer at least seven months ago.

They’re there in retaliation for the Kinross protest that happened nearly two years ago. Lack of bed space shouldn’t be a reason to keep dozens of people in maximum security. At this point it’s obvious to the public that this is a gross punitive measure. Lansing and Baraga need to find a solution to this problem immediately.”

MDOC Director Heidi Washington:

(517) 241-7238 (if there’s no answer, leave a message)

Baraga Maximum Correctional Facility Warden Daniel Lesatz

(906) 353-7070 (when you get to the full phone menu, choose the “administration” option to reach the warden’s office)

Remember you are not required to give out your government name or phone number, or to name any groups, to make a complaint.

As I understand it, it should also be possible to contact Heidi Washington at and Daniel Lestaz at

Finally, the June 11th international day of solidarity with long-term anarchist prisoners is now just around a week away, so if you want to send any cards or letters to arrive on that date you might want to get them written and sent in the next few days.

Posted in Anarchists, Repression, Riots | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Urgent call to support Kevin “Rashid” Johnson

Prison rebel Kevin “Rashid” Johnson has been facing increased harrassment in recent days, and is requesting calls in support:

On May 21, 2018, Kevin Johnson was retaliated against for speaking up on behalf of a prisoner with a psychiatric disability named Murphy who was being brutalized by corrections officers at the Santa Rosa Correctional Institution (SRCI). As Florida Department of Corrections (FDOC) officers were gassing and assaulting Mr. Murphy for making too much noise, Mr. Johnson raised his voice from inside his solitary confinement cell (in order to be heard on the video and audio recorders on the cell block) and said that prison guards had been abusing Murphy by failing to provide him with needed mental health care, by withholding meals, and by responding to his psychiatric disability with violence by gassing him nine times and brutally extracting him from his cell.

Retaliation for Speech:

For this act, Lt. Marcus Stokes told Johnson that he was going to be put on “strip cell,” a punishment where everything in a prisoner’s cell is removed, including toiletries and bedding, and he is left in solitary confinement with nothing but his underwear. Stokes and three other officers then gassed Mr. Johnson six times. After having been put in handcuffs and taken to the showers to clean off the residue from the gas attack, Mr. Johnson was brutally thrown down to the floor, while Lt. Stokes repeatedly threatened to kill him and stated that he was “a marked man.”

Unconstitutional Pretext for Punishment:

As a pretext, Lt. Stokes wrote in his disciplinary report that Mr. Johnson was punished because his property was “not properly stored” and his “bedding was on the floor.” The practice of FDOC officers gassing and then putting prisoners on “strip cell” for minor disciplinary infractions, as a form of retaliation, or for no reason at all has been well documented by news media and courts. According to one Miami Herald report, previous instances of this kind of abuse caused FDOC to change its policies so that prison guards may no longer gas prisoners and put them on “strip cell” for improperly storing their property or not making their beds.

Interference with Access to Legal Counsel and Courts:

On May 24th, Mr. Johnson’s time on “strip cell” was to have ended; however, FDOC officials returned only one bag of his property, when there should have been six bags of property. Missing property included legal documents necessary to pursue litigation against FDOC officials for numerous violations of his constitutional rights. By withholding this property, FDOC officials were successful in denying Mr. Johnson the ability to exchange legal documents with his attorney Melinda Patterson during a legal visit on May 24th, thereby interfering with his right to legal counsel and his right to access the courts.

Reading and Tampering with Legally Privileged Mail:

A letter clearly identified as legal mail sent by attorney Melinda Patterson to Mr. Johnson on January 22nd, while he was at Florida State Prison, was received already opened and resealed with a pink glue stick. On April 1st, legal mail sent by Mr. Johnson while at SRCI to attorney Dustin McDaniel was opened, read by FDOC guards, and then resealed with tape prior to delivering to the mailroom staff. Another letter sent by Mr. Johnson on April 1stvia privileged media mail to his editor Carole Seligman was opened, read, and resealed by guards prior to delivering to the mailroom staff. These letters were delayed and received 2 weeks after the date they were submitted for mailing. Mailroom staff admitted that these letters were tampered with, when responding to Mr. Johnson’s grievances #119-1804-0722 and #119-1804-0723.

Destroying Legally Privileged Mail:

Legal mail sent by Mr. Johnson to attorney Dustin McDaniel on April 17thwas never received, is now missing, and was presumably destroyed by FDOC officials. Letters sent by Mr. Johnson to his editor Carole Seligman on April 5th, 16th, 17th, and 25thwere never delivered and were presumably destroyed by FDOC staff. Included in these mailings were three essays for publication detailing abuses inside the FDOC.


  • Return all confiscated property to Kevin Johnson #158039
  • Stop the interference with Mr. Johnson’s legal and news media correspondence
  • Stop retaliation against Mr. Johnson for exercising his First Amendment rights
  • Stop the repeated, cruel, arbitrary, and excessive punishment of Mr. Johnson
  • Immediately transfer Mr. Johnson from Florida DOC to Virginia DOC


Warden Clemmons – Santa Rosa Correctional Institution
(850) 981-5199

Kenneth S. Steely- General Counsel – Florida Department of Corrections
(850) 717-3605

Patrick Finan – Security Operations– Interstate Corrections Compact Unit
(850) 717-3222

Lester Fernandez – Inspector General – Florida Department of Corrections
(850) 488-9265

The relevant emails for those people should be:,,,

A quick script you can use is:

“Hello, I am contacting you in response to a pattern of abuse against inmate Kevin Johnson #158039. I wish to demand that you return all confiscated property to inmate Johnson, stop the interference with Mr. Johnson’s legal correspondence, stop the retaliation against Mr. Johnson for exercising his First Amendment rights, stop the repeated, cruel, arbitrary and excessive punishment of Mr. Johnson, and immediately transfer him to Virginia DOC.
Please be aware that you may be held legally responsible for any harm that comes to Mr. Johnson as a result of your failure to observe your duty of care in this case.
Yours Sincerely,”

Send reports back to:

Posted in Repression | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Call for letters in support of Jalil Muntaqim’s parole application

Jalil Muntaqim, a long-term prisoner who’s been incarcerated since his involvement with the Black Panther Party and Black Liberation Army in the early 1970s, is eligible for parole this summer. Since his conviction was for shooting a police officer, the police and pro-cop politicians always lobby hard against his release, just as they did for his codefendant Herman Bell. To write letters supporting Jalil’s release, a guide has been compiled here:

Once again, we are preparing for Jalil’s upcoming parole hearing in June. Since the PBA, the FOP, and the Correctional Officers union are able to collect thousands of signatures against parole, we must work to gain as many signatures and letters of support for Jalil as possible. A hard copy of the petition can be downloaded here. This can be signed and returned to

You can also download and print out the parole campaign brochure explaining Jalil’s case as a way of educating people about the political nature of the case and the parole board’s constant denials despite national and international support for Jalil’s release on parole.

We are making an effort to include letters of support for Jalil that are personalized and from people who are familiar with him and his work. If you want further instructions for how to write a strong, personalized letter of support, please email

Jalil has also prepared a fact sheet for those who would like to write letters to the Parole Board on his behalf.

Anthony Bottom (Jalil A. Muntaqim) has been in prison since 1971, one of the longest held political prisoners in the world. Having spent more time in prison than Nelson Mandela, in 46+ years Jalil has accomplished the following:

* In 1977, he started the first national prisoners newspaper called “Arm the Spirit”.

* In 1976-77, he initiated a national prisoners campaign to petition the United Nations on the issue of prison conditions and the existence of political prisoners. The petition was heard by a special UN Committee, and recorded as UN document E/CN.4/Sub.2/NGO/75.

* In 1986, he drafted a legislative bill for New York State prisoners to obtain good time off their maximum sentence. The bill was submitted and introduced into the New York State Committee on Corrections by former Assemblyman Arthur O. Eve.

* In 1994, while incarcerated at Shawangunk Correctional Facility, he established the first Men’s Council in any U.S. prison. His efforts were featured on television in Japan and written about in the NY Times. During this period, he also graduated from SUNY New Paltz with a B.S. in Psychology and a B.A. in Sociology. He also taught African Studies to a group of prisoners.

* On two occasions, he received commendations from prison officials for quelling potential prison riots, one in the mess hall at Great Meadows Correctional Facility and another in the auditorium of Greenhaven Correctional Facility.

* In 1998, he co-initiated a national march and demonstration in Washington, D.C., calling for recognition and amnesty for U.S. political prisoners. Over 8,000 activists from across the country participated. This led to the formation of the Jericho Amnesty Movement, of which he is a founding member.

* From 1996-99, he was the office manager of the prison computer lab at Eastern Correctional Facility. His duties consisted of teaching prisoners keyboarding skills and how to use computer software programs. During that time he also raised money from inmate accounts to support the charitable Children’s Fund.

* In 1999, in Auburn Correctional Facility, he established sociology, poetry and legal research and discussion classes under the auspices of the Lifers’ Committee that he chaired.

* He co-sponsored the Victory Gardens Project, a program in which farmers in Maine grew tons of fresh produce for distribution to poor urban communities in New York, New Jersey and Boston, Massachusetts. In the four years of its existence, the Project distributed nearly 10,000 pounds of fresh produce in urban centers.

* In response to the tragedy of September 11, 2001, while in Auburn Correctional Facility, he proposed raising funds from inmates to donate to the American Red Cross. Former Deputy Superintendent of Programs R. Nelson acknowledged Jalil’s efforts in a memorandum.

* While in Auburn Correctional Facility he worked as a Pre-GED Teacher’s Assistant and earned a vocational certificate for Architectural Drafting. He also proposed and gained the approval for a Life Skills Program for inmates.

* Over the years Jalil has filed several lawsuits on behalf of prisoners, including trying to win NYS prisoners the right to vote, and to amend Executive Law §259i for parole reform for class A1 felons.

* He is a published author of essays and poetry; his writings are also found in several University-sponsored books of compilations of prison writers. He has also written an unpublished novel and teleplay.

In the event of his release on parole, Jalil intends to establish community computer lab centers to instruct youth and seniors on computer literacy, closing the digital divide, etc.

To learn more about Jalil, check his website:

To write a letter in your own words in support of parole for Jalil, address to:

Senior Offender Rehabilitation Coordinator
Sullivan Correctional Facility
325 Riverside Drive
Fallsburg, New York 12733


Nora Carroll
The Parole Preparation Project
168 Canal Street, 6th Floor
New York, NY 10013

Also, please send a copy of your letter to Jalil for his files: Anthony Bottom #77A4283, Sullivan Correctional Facility, P.O. Box 116, Fallsburg, NY 12733-0116. NYC Jericho will send all returned hard copy parole petitions as well as the online petition to the above address.

Posted in Repression | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Deliverave, Sundance strike, and cleaners breaking the bank: workplace news round-up for late May

A quick update on a few ongoing workplace disputes:

Construction workers in Deeside, just over the Welsh border from Liverpool and Chester, are set to protest against low wages on Wednesday 30th May.

The Picturehouse living wage campaign continues with strike action planned at Picturehouse Central on Thursday 31st May, marking the opening of the Sundance Festival, and Saturday 2nd June.

On Friday 1st June, the IWGB will be hosting a “DeliveRAVE” party to raise funds to cover the legal costs of an ongoing tribunal appeal for Deliveroo workers. IWGB members at the University of London are still set to strike on the 6th demanding an end to outsourcing and equal terms and conditions with other UoL employees. The University has begun to promise concessions, but workers are sensibly refusing to call off their action until they’ve seen actual improvements.

The Kirklees bin workers who were set to strike against bullying management in early June have now called their action off after the council promised an inquiry to investigate the issue, and claimed that “a specific issue” will be resolved.

The Notes From Below project have an audio report up from the TGI Fridays picket lines. It’s not currently clear what action is planned for Friday June 1st, but an article from mid-May claimed that as many as six stores across London, Milton Keynes, Manchester/Trafford and Gateshead could be striking then.

Notes From Below also have a report from the Tesco distribution workers strike in Dagenham.

Cleaners’ union CAIWU are currently pledging to hold weekly protests every Friday afternoon demanding a wage rise at Thomas Cook and an end to racism and bullying at the Museum of London, saying “Join us from 4.30 outside Thomas Cook, 200 Aldersgate, and then outside the Museum of London from 5.” Fellow grassroots cleaners’ union the United Voices of the World are celebrating a quick victory at the Bank of New York Mellon, writing that:

“Well, the threat worked. Last night the bank’s cleaning manager announced to all the cleaners that as of next month they will all receive £10.20 per hour equating to an extra £4,000 per year per worker!

This victory was achieved within just 30 hours. To be precise it was the 23rd May at 5.17pm that we submitted our formal claim for the living wage putting the company on notice that if they did not commit to paying it within 7 days, and implementing it within the month, that we would ballot the cleaners for an all-out strike. The cleaners, who work the night shift at the bank, were told at 11.30pm on 24th May that as of next month they will all receive £10.20 per hour.

This victory was achieved is record time for UVW, breaking our previous record which was achieved at Withers Law firm in Fleet Street where within 96 hours the company capitulated to our demand to pay their cleaners the London Living Wage who were formerly on the minimum wage, and backdate it too.

This is yet another example of the so-called ‘unorganisable’ and ‘invisible’ workers getting organised, fighting for dignity and respect and winning!

If they can do it, then so can you!”

The UVW will also be making a presentation as part of a Plan C-organised discussion on “Migration and Capitalism” at the Antiuniversity on June 12th. The Antiuniversity as a whole will be running from June 9-15th.

Posted in Strikes, Unions, Work | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

LGBMI5? More on pinkwashing and guilt by association

In the recent controversy over proposed changes to the Gender Recognition Act, there’s been a lot of claims made about how each “side” of the argument should be understood. Helen Steel, one of the most well-respected and high-profile figures to have come out against allowing people to self-identify their gender, recently made a post – the original is no longer available, but copies have been publicly circulated since – that, in my view, mixes some accurate observations with some completely unjustifiable conclusions. Examining her claims seems like a good starting point to evaluate the political forces at work here.

Much of this post will be a re-statement of arguments I first made about six months ago, but it seems worth engaging specifically with such a clearly stated counter-argument, especially as it comes from virtually the only person associated with the campaign to have any credibility in anti-capitalist/anti-state circles.

Steel takes aim at the recent corporate-sponsored LGBT awards, asking “What genuine activist fighting oppression would think it appropriate to have an award sponsored by MI5 for the category which “celebrates influencers, activists, campaigners or trailblazers in the LGBT+ community, who have made an impact either on a grass roots level……..”. How were they in contact with MI5 in the first place?”

Thus far, I agree with her, the awards ceremony in question seems like a sick joke. The point where we part ways is with her invitation to “think about whether this agenda is driven by the most oppressed people on the planet or whether it’s actually driven and funded by those with power and money” – that is to say, her belief that the awards ceremony should be taken as representative of “trans advocacy” as a whole, rather than a recuperation of the least radical elements of a diverse and contradictory movement. The piece does also contain numerous other inaccuracies, such as the claim that “This movement upholds rather than destroys sexism and sexist stereotypes” – I’d love to know what particular sexist stereotypes non-binary and genderqueer people are meant to be upholding, but that’s a whole other issue.

To start off with, there’s a logical problem in leaping from “the LGBT awards” to “trans ideology” – the awards are clearly not a trans-specific thing, so if they’re taken as defining the movements and ideas that they leech off, then the problem must be with everyone who supports greater acceptance of LGBT people in general, and not anything to do with trans people in particular. A case could be made that there was a connection between corporate/state sponsorship and “trans ideology” if these things had started to appear at the same time, but “pinkwashing” has been an issue for far longer than the recent high-profile disputes about trans acceptance. For instance, Miller Lite started to sponsor the New York Pride parade in 1996, so, to use Steel’s logic, LGBT activism must have been “driven and funded by those with power and money – by predominantly rich, very privileged white men, who despite their position still want more” for at least the last two decades.

But to make the jump from “there are some people who are prepared to cozy up to businesses and the state” to “this movement/ideology as a whole is characterised by a willingness to accept corporate/state backing”, you need to show that everyone else is on board with, or at least unwilling to confront, the increasing involvement of corporate and state actors. Looking at controversies over pinkwashing, we can see that that’s simply untrue – I wrote a bit about these issues back in 2012, well before any of the recent high-profile rows over trans inclusion, and that piece was informed by a much longer history of radical queer contestation of corporate LGBT events.

Far from the picture Steel paints of “trans advocacy sponsored by MI5 and bankers”, if we examine a few high-profile recent events to disrupt corporate/state involvement in LGBT events, the pattern is actually of trans/genderqueer/non-binary people and their allies being among those who’re prepared to step up and take on the state. So accepting as correct Steel’s starting point – that the likes of MI5, NatWest and the cops are our enemies, and should be treated as such – then the logical endpoint is total solidarity with the likes of No Justice No Pride, the Black Pride 4, the Clydeside Pride defendants/Anticapitalist Queers, and so on.

But that conclusion, which should seem simple enough to anyone with an anti-capitalist/anti-state perspective, is certainly controversial among some of Steel’s allies on the anti-self-identification side of the debate. One website, which is nasty enough that I won’t link to directly but is easy enough to find by searching “anticapitalist queers”, ridicules them precisely for “protesting against police protection” – that is to say that, at the same time as Steel criticises trans people and their allies for supposedly being directed by the state, others associated with the anti-self-ID campaign are attacking them for being too hostile to the state!

So much for the idea that “trans advocacy” can be simply equated with corporate/state collaboration. But what about the other side? As I’ve mentioned before, the MayDay4Women/Women’s Place/Fair Play for Women side of the debate have a fair few connections that are easily as dodgy as anything associated with the LGBT awards – the meeting hosted with David Davies, the Sun articlesthe Daily Mail interviews, the interview with Ian Miles Cheong at Tucker Carlson’s alt-lite sitean interview that was then approvingly picked up by the Daily Stormer under the title “Tranny Freak Squad Attacks Feminist Demonstrators” –  and so on. But, and this is an important distinction, I’ve yet to see anyone on that side of the argument publicly challenging, or disassociating themselves from, the tory/tabloid-linked types.

Just to be clear, in contrast to Steel’s equation of “trans advocacy” with bankers and MI5, on closer inspection it turns out to be the case that there are some people on what I would consider to be the libertarian/anti-authoritarian side of the argument, the one wanting to reduce the amount of state and medical bureaucracy associated with gender transition, who have dodgy business or state connections, and others on that side of the argument who’re willing to actively challenge them on it; and then, on the side of the argument that maintains the current level of bureaucracy should be continued or increased, there are people with direct political links to Tory MPs, Tucker Carlson and the Sun… and seemingly no-one on that side willing to take them up on it.

Of course, to point out that it’s possible to talk about an independent working-class/anti-capitalist pole among trans/queer/genderqueer types, but not among their opponents, is not the end of the story by any means. Even if there was an organised political current that rejected working with tory MPs, the Daily Caller, the Sun and the Mail, but opposed self-identification, I’d still disagree with them, but it’d be a lot easier to see how they could claim to reconcile their ideas with a commitment to radical anti-capitalist politics. But since I’ve yet to see anyone on their side of the argument even criticise the choice made by those who’ve decided to work with David Davies MP… well, as someone once said, “the rich & powerful are always happy to use others as cannon fodder to fight their wars”.

Posted in Debate, Gender, Stuff that I don't think is very useful, The left | Tagged , , | 2 Comments