Response to Devin Zane Shaw’s, Seven Theses on the Three-Way Fight, by, Bob Day, an anarchist active in both Detroit Eviction Defense and Solidarity & Defense. Originally posted to Three Way Fight.
I appreciate this piece by Devin Zane Shaw, it raises important issues and helps to clarify some of the concerns I’ve had on the political approach and strategy expressed as Three Way Fight. I recommend the article and will discuss a couple of concerns here. There is plenty of good information in the article. I try to be an anarchist and revolutionary. I hope these comments can contribute to broader and ongoing discussions.
In Thesis #3, the author says: “… we must recognize the line of adjacency between militant antifascism and the egalitarian aspirations of bourgeois democracy. It is the shared appeal to egalitarianism which makes fostering a broader sense of everyday antifascism possible. But it also means, as I will argue in thesis six, that militants must uphold a revolutionary horizon to keep the limitations of liberal antifascism in focus.”
I take this to mean that militant or radical antifascists should unite or attempt to unite forces with liberals around issues of equality and bourgeois democracy. It’s not wrong to try to unite our forces to fight fascists or racist attacks or police murders or to fight for equality. It’s right. But the fight usually comes against nazis or against police or against racists or in defense of people’s rights, and it’s a fight against the opposing side whether it’s fascists or cops. These are fights, and it seems different than “egalitarian aspirations of bourgeois democracy.” The point is coalitions and united fronts need to be built in actual struggles. We fight to defend democratic rights, and we fight to overthrow the bourgeoisie and their system.
The concern is that the “everyday antifascism” the author is talking about, is a watered down version of antifascism which focuses too much on uniting with liberals and bourgeois democracy. We’ve seen some of this in the recent past where militant antifascists, even people who consider themselves to be revolutionaries, spend their time uniting with DSA and making themselves and their groups acceptable to social democrats and liberals. That’s a hard habit to break.
I’m not saying that we don’t unite our forces for specific struggles or in broad coalitions, we do. Facing fascists or the cops, I’m glad to see folks with us. But we need militant antifascism that is radical and revolutionary and works to unite the working class and the oppressed in the fight against fascism and white supremacy and the system which produces both. My point is we need to focus on building militant and radical and revolutionary organizations to fight fascism and the state, fascism and the whole system. And if we have revolutionary organizations which are open and clear about their beliefs and approach, then we can participate openly in broader formations or coalitions which include many different forces around specific struggles and issues.
The concern is that in the absence of such revolutionary organizations, then militant antifascists orienting to liberal antifascists results in everyday antifascism, which is not enough. Which is not up to the task of taking on fascists and white supremacists and the state and the whole system.
Further in #3, the author differentiates between “system-loyal vigilantism and system-oppositional armed organization.” Supporters of the Three Way Fight approach focus to a large degree on the “system-oppositional” forces. The U.S. certainly has both and a history of both. The U.S. was founded as a white supremacist state, a settler colonial state, and that continues. There is a long history of white supremacists ruling and running the country. The revolution in the U.S. was carried out largely to extend the colonization without limits, to take more indigenous lands, and to extend, expand and maintain the system of slavery. The U.S. system was and is a white supremacist system.
The white supremacists ruled openly and directly. They still do. The Civil War ended the slave system, but the Jim Crow system, the American Apartheid system soon replaced the slave system. There is and has been a close connection between the government, the police, the Klan, the white supremacist enforcers, the overseers. This is the U.S.
There also have been and are system oppositional fascist and fascistic forces. These are fascist forces which fight the police and the state and seek to overthrow the system. It’s a mistake I think to focus on only one or the other. The “cops and the Klan go hand in hand” is true, and it always has been true. That there are system oppositional fascist forces also is true.
The mainstreaming of fascism and fascist ideas and organizing stands out in recent years. Fascist and proto fascist organizations like the Proud Boys, Oathkeepers, Three Percenters and various racist and right-wing militias have grown, expanded and become tied in with the Republican Party, Trump, the local police and so on. The mainstreaming of fascism and white supremacy was so extreme that system oppositional fascists seemed to fall from view. Doesn’t mean they’ve disappeared or aren’t a danger, but the main fascist forces seem to be out in the open. There now is a mass base for fascism in this country which numbers in the millions.
Antifascist ideas and sentiments also have grown and expanded. There is a broad antifascist base in this country, also numbering in the millions, but the antifascist movement has not kept pace. I believe the antifascist movement is in crisis and part of the crisis is tied to the linking of antifascist groups with social democrats, liberals, DSA, Democrats. This is the taming and mainstreaming of the antifascist movement. This is part of the danger of militant antifascists orienting to liberal antifascists and everyday antifascism. The Democratic Party and DSA are based on pulling people out of movements and radicalism and militant antifascism into respectability politics, into the mainstream, into supporting the system.
It’s not that the militant antifascists recruit and win over the liberal antifascists; it’s the liberals and social democrats who overwhelm the militant antifascists and tame the antifascist movement into the various channels of the Democratic Party. The Democrats pose the problem as defending the system, defending “democracy” against the fascists. In many ways, the struggle appears as the fascists and Republicans against the Democrats. For many fascists and their mass base, the enemy is the Democrats. And antifascists and the Black Lives Matter movement are seen as appendages of the Democrats.
The task for militant antifascists is to break out of this trap, to be independent of liberalism and the Democrats and DSA and the system. I don’t think the orientation to liberal antifascists or everyday antifascism aids in this task. I think it orients people to supporting the system and is a mistake.
In Thesis #4, the author says: “In North America, the historical development of liberal political and cultural institutions is inseparable from the development of settler colonialism.” 1776 was the rebellion of the slaveowners, the big property owners to defend, expand and extend the slave system. 1776 was the big landowners, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and the rest carrying out expansion of settlements into the Ohio country and beyond. It was genocide. George Washington was known as “the town destroyer” to the indigenous peoples he attacked, displaced and murdered. The “liberal political and cultural institutions” was a thin veneer on the white supremacist state, the settler colonial state, the United States of America.
This system, the USA as a country, is built on stolen land and stolen wealth. This means that the USA as a country, the USA as a white supremacist system, the USA as a settler colonial state, must be destroyed. That is the task. The orientation to liberal antifascism and everyday antifascism does not aid in the fight to destroy the system; the danger is it can help to prop up and support the system.
Many who support the fascists or are in the mass base of fascism seek the “American Dream.” They seek a return to 1776, the open white supremacist, settler state. Many are petit bourgeois, small business owners or middle class or want to be. The American Dream they seek is the white supremacist dream, which was based on forcing indigenous people from their lands and stealing, occupying those lands for small farms and small businesses. The fascist base wants status and property; they want their American Dream restored. They want status at the expense of Black people and immigrants and refugees and indigenous people and beyond. Trump and others base their success on turning people’s angers and fears on and against the Others. Instead of anger at the capitalists and the billionaires, the fascists and neo fascists and white supremacists stoke fear and urge people to direct their anger at Muslims or undocumented workers or the Black Lives Matter movement or Antifa.
Liberals have no answer, because liberals support the system. Liberals support the ruling class. Any orientation focusing on liberals to defeat fascism is destined to fail, because orienting to liberals means supporting the system and being respectable enough so as not to scare the liberals away. That’s the wrong strategy. The only way to defeat the fascists and the white supremacists is to fight them and to destroy the system which gives rise to them and supports them. The only way is revolution.
The George Floyd uprisings of last year does provide the alternative. Millions of people, Black and white and united, rose up against the racist police and the white supremacist state. This is the potential; this is the mass base for revolution against the system. Many fascists and white supremacists acted as vigilantes and aided the police in attacking the protests. The author is correct in pointing out this out: ” … a common interest in defending settler state hegemony against challenges from the revolutionary left and the liberation struggles of oppressed peoples forms the basis of the line of adjacency between bourgeois liberalism and white supremacist settlerism.” We need to take this understanding and focus on building the revolutionary left and liberation struggles of oppressed peoples. We need to organize to fight the state and the fascists. This should be our focus, and this means a break and a reckoning with liberals and progressives and social democrats who support this system. This doesn’t mean we don’t work with any of these forces; it does mean that we remain independent and critical as we work in broader formations around specific struggles.
In Thesis #5, the author recognizes or seems to recognize that fascists and white supremacists in this country have gone back and forth between system loyal and system oppositional. I think part of the problem with the Three Way Fight approach is the focus on system oppositional fascists. “Though contemporary far right movements are system-oppositional now, that has not unequivocally been the case historically.” To say the least. George Washington was president, as were Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. While the Civil War raged, Lincoln hanged 38 Sioux warriors in Minnesota, and Lincoln had built his reputation by being a leader in the Blackhawk war in Illinois, the war against the indigenous people of what is now Illinois.
The Civil War ended slavery, but within a few short years, the white supremacists and the Klan had established the Black Codes, Jim Crow, segregation and the system of American Apartheid. The apartheid system replaced the slave system and was the law of the land for the next hundred years. White supremacy was the system. The Klan ruled in much of the country, and the apartheid system was law, was the system. Woodrow Wilson screened “The Klansman” in the White House and thought it was great.
The U.S. is and always has been a white supremacist state and system. The Civil Rights movement and the Black liberation uprisings and struggles in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s forced some important changes: the right to vote, outlawing discrimination in schools, housing, public accommodations and more. But it was the struggle of ordinary people, of Black people and supporters who forced these changes. And in the 50 years since, the white supremacist system has continued and remains. The right to vote is under attack. Discrimination continues. The fight for basic rights continues; the racist system continues. Liberals like the Clintons and Biden helped to maintain the white supremacist system by crime bills and mass incarceration and attacks on welfare and the rest. The white supremacist system has changed forms but continues. The cops and the Klan go hand in hand. It was true and remains true. And the liberals help to enable this and continue to support the system.
System oppositional fascists are a danger and a threat. They are a force in the country and must be exposed and defended against. But they are not the main threat. The author says “contemporary far right movements are system-oppositional now ….”, I don’t think that’s true. There are far right white supremacists in Congress, in the courts, in the military, in the police, across the Republican Party, in conservative Christian churches, opposing vaccines and masks, doing Qanon and so on and so on.
The people who stormed the Capitol on January 6th were coming from a Trump rally. They didn’t suddenly become system-oppositional. They were demanding the system serve them and overturn the election results. They were demanding Trump. They don’t oppose the system. They oppose the Democrats. They demand to run the system and will use force to make it happen. They oppose Black Lives Matter and antifa and any force opposing them. They want their needs met, their needs first, their control, no matter what it takes or who it hurts. That’s what we’re up against.
And the liberals and Democrats will not stop them. They may see that a few of them go to jail, and they hold their hearings. But this changes nothing. The white supremacist right, the fascists, and the mass base for fascism is emboldened. This is a battle. This is class war.
This is not just Marx talking about the petit bourgeoisie getting crushed by the big capitalists. The petit bourgeois dream was the American Dream. And the white supremacist system delivered for many white settlers. They built their farms on land stolen from indigenous peoples. They built their businesses in towns where indigenous villages used to be. They were overseers and cops and managers for slaveowners and plantation owners and the white elites. That was then. Big capital has attacked small farmers for 150 years, so that small farmers are nearly extinct. McDonald’s replaced the local restaurant decades ago.
Middle class and petit bourgeois white people are losing ground, are losing status, are being forced into the working class. This is capitalism. And their kids are having great difficulty finding middle class status or good paying jobs of any kind. The great fear of being pushed into the working class, of losing status is driving the frenzy of white people and others who make up the mass base of fascism. They buy into the racist scapegoating and refuse to turn and face, turn and fight the capitalist class and the system as part of a united working class.
The author states, correctly, that “there is no way fascism can be permanently defeated without overthrowing the conditions which give rise to it: capitalism and white supremacy, and in North America, settler colonialism.” The author talks about a “revolutionary horizon,” but it appears to be a vague and distant horizon, at best. A united front of the “major leftist ideological currents – socialism, anarchism or communism ” is proposed, but there are no details. And the truth is that a united front of this sort would include Stalinists, DSA types, various Leninists/vanguardists and some anarchists and would be a mess. There would be no agreement on revolutionary horizon because the DSA types oppose revolution, the Stalinists/Leninists want an authoritarian state and anarchists want to destroy the state. It’s back to militant antifascism with the revolutionary horizon receded into the mist.
No basis is presented for organizing around the revolutionary horizon, but the author says the revolutionary horizon must be maintained “to avoid being absorbed within the ideological parameters of liberal antifascism.” Because the revolutionary horizon as discussed is so vague and limited, the conclusion is that militant antifascism will be absorbed within liberal antifascism. And this is what seems to be happening. The fascists continue to organize and grow, the Democrats do their investigations, and militant antifascism is in danger of being absorbed into the DSA and the Democratic Party and liberal antifascism.
The threat and the danger is that militant antifascism is being collapsed into a Popular Front with the liberals, an alliance with the liberal wing of the ruling class. This seems to be happening. The Popular Front, the alliance with the liberals leads to defeat.
There is an alternative to the Popular Front, to the vague alliance with the liberals. The need is for revolutionary organizations which can work in and help to initiate broader united fronts and coalitions. Revolutionary organizations which can maintain principles and critiques and beliefs, while working in broader united fronts which include antifascists, militants, leftists, community activists, workers and people from oppressed communities. These organizations and these united fronts can help to fight the fascists and help to defend our communities. This is not impossible. It takes organizations which are based in the reality of the need to fight the fascists and the state, the need to fight and overthrow the entire system of capitalism and white supremacy. Organizations which are clear that the fight is against the fascists and the state, the fascists and the police, the courts, the prisons, the government.
Revolutionaries can and must work with people who are not or are not yet revolutionaries. It’s finding common ground, whether that’s in a workplace, a union, a fight against evictions, a fight against the police, a fight against racists or a fight against fascists. The key is an honest and open approach to community self-defense, where we know we cannot ourselves provide that defense. We can work together with others in the community to build and provide that defense. So this is a revolutionary framework with some modesty and honesty. In this context, people who follow developments on the far right, people who help to expose fascists, people who participate in defense against fascist attacks, people who report on and document the fight against fascism in all its forms, all have important roles to play. The key is to have revolutionary organizations and united fronts based in communities and the working class, independent of politicians and preachers and nonprofits and the Democratic Party.
What we need are organizations which can maintain revolutionary approaches and analysis while working in broader united fronts and coalitions around specific demands and issues. The more organizations try to stay vague around militant antifascism and try to orient to liberal antifascists and everyday antifascism, the more organizations tie themselves to liberals, the state, the Democrats. And this is what we see happening today.
photo: Moises Gonzalez via Unsplash