repressive tolerance, no platform, and "extremism"
Response to Sir Einzige on the Therapy thread about repressive tolerance and no platform – also trying to situate this more broadly in terms of the origins/structure of the far right today.
Yeah, I can see how RT [repressive tolerance] would be used that way [i.e. to support suppression of dangerous views]... and I agree, it's dangerous in the present environment. No Platform as I understand it was invented by Trotskyists from the IMG and IS in Britain, against fascist *organisations* (not individuals with offensive views). The idea was not that fascist speech is intolerable but that fascist organisations which gain a base in an area will engage in street violence against black people, Jews, gays, leftists etc. Which at the time was very much true as regards the NF, the largest UK fascist group, which was strongly based in street gangs and prone to violence, and I can see it being justified in this sense in countries like Greece today. There were rather unrelated but similar actions as part of the South Africa boycott, or against politicians with particularly obnoxious complicities (e.g. Samuel Huntington who designed concentration camps in Vietnam) but they weren't justified as "no platform". And TBH I can see the appeal of shutting down someone like Bush's torturer-in-chief or a minister responsible for atrocities.
These days it's become a lot more dangerous. Firstly because the boundaries between fascist and regular political opponent are so blurred. I can see how this could be grounded in Marcuse but I'm not sure the idpols and radlibs even read his stuff these days, they're reading people like Spivak, hooks, Butler, critical race theory and this whole line of post-Foucauldian theory where "power is productive not repressive" and discourse "constructs our subjectivities" and therefore referring to someone a certain way actually makes them what they're referred to and is an act of violence (e.g. Butler on grievability of lives), and certain speech-acts are enabled and others restricted (e.g. Spivak on sanctioned ignorances) and therefore there's no common field of free speech which is protected, there's just endless battles as to who gets silenced and who gets enabled to speak. In some ways the anti-porn feminist campaigns provide a model (the idea that performative speech is a form of violence) even though idpols are pro-sex-work. It's bizarre how it's happened, 30 years ago the cultural effects approach (Gramsci, Foucault, feminism etc) was counterposed to the hypodermic effects bullshit which underpinned censorship (e.g. "violent videos/video games/comics cause violence and should be banned") on the basis that the effects are diffuse and indirect. The switch has come I think, because a rational-choice-theory model of culture derived from people like Robert Putnam and Francis Fukuyama has become prevalent... culture is a set of sanctions which regulate rational subjects in line with norms.
Also a lot of the targeted people are internet celebrities with no real involvement in violence and no organisational commitments. And actually, stopping them speaking or even banning them from Twitter has a very limited effect on their reach, particularly if the process of silencing them gives them visibility (we've seen this down the years with the popularity of Islamist speakers, who recruit through the outrage they cause). Thirdly because the far right today is a largely marginal movement drawn from the socially marginalised, while fascist forms of power have been normalised through 40 years of neoliberalism. Very different, therefore, from the 30s, when fascism was a distinct rising movement trying to take power from outside the establishment, or the 70s, when fascist groups were trying to shift things away from a social-democratic consensus. Reagan is semi-fascist, the New Right had fascistic views particularly on law-and-order, and these ideas were normalised by the Third Way and then deepened by the neocons in the 2000s, so we're now dealing with a climate where about 70% of fascist ideology is absolutely mainstream - paramilitary policing, aggressive warmongering, sweeping criminalisation, racial profiling and so on. The threat-profile of the far right building at a local level then seizing power through elections or a March on Rome type of event is just unrealistic, that's not how repression happens today, it's not an imminent threat, the far right are not part of the core power structure in the US or other major western countries (the situation in southern Europe is rather different) and the real threat-profile is more about how neo-populist media drive public opinion and push the "centre" right and left further rightwards, and the ways far-right tendencies in the police and army and deep state are able to drive state ideology (e.g. through counterinsurgency ideology and zero tolerance). In this climate everyone's repressed and alienated, and at the same time overexposed to beliefs of a far-right kind in mainstream outlets, so we get this bizarre phenomenon of alienated youths turning to fascism as a resistance ideology, plugging their feelings of despair and anger into ideas they repurpose from the dominant discourse. So the anti-far-right campaigns end up focused on overstepping the remaining small boundaries, people openly talking about racial superiority rather than dressing it up in risk-profiling, talking about genocide instead of hiding it behind impersonal effects of free markets, using swastikas or KKK hoods or nooses, instead of just glorifying police murders of black people which are actually killing far more people than lynching ever did. Targeting some idiot who's a bit more open in their authoritarianism than the political establishment, instead of targeting the authoritarianism of the establishment, plays into the system's hands - it helps the system to deflect attention away from the latent fascism of its own structures and onto extreme individuals it can effectively "other".
I'm even more disturbed by the way anarchists and the left are jumping on the “let's label spree killings as terrorism” bandwagon. Exposing the hypocrisy of the use of the “terrorist” label against Muslims is one thing. Extending this COIN discourse to more and more groups is another entirely. And aiding capitalism, which wants this to be a security issue about suppressing “extremists”, and not a pattern of mental health breakdown arising from unbearable levels of social stress.
In fact very often we are seeing anarchists targeting other vulnerable people who if things had gone a little differently would also be anarchists.Looking at Dylann Roof, James Fields, Thomas Meir, Darren Osborne, Anders Breivik and suchlike, it's pretty clear to me that we're looking at nihilistic insurrectionaries whose grievances about their shitty lives are basically valid, who lack a sense of direction and have been pulled towards right-wing shit by the *mainstream* political climate (and are not really all that different from those pulled towards radical insurrection, like Kaczynski or ITS, or apolitical insurrection, such as school shooters) - and the function of such people for the system is not that they're the cutting edge of repression or terrorising the black community, but that they're deflected from attacking the elite or the system (the type of assassinations we saw roundabout 1900), they allow the system to pass off its internal problems (which vent in these kinds of explosions) as a kind of radical otherness arising from "right-wing extremists" who can be analogised to "Islamic extremists" and "left-wing extremists" and then the system can pose as the protector from all the "extremists", holding together a society which would otherwise turn into genocide among different "extreme" groups. This is an exact replica of the way they handled and contained the import of attacks by aggrieved Muslims in the 2000s, many of whom have/had a very similar profile also, and the response - suppressing the enabling "narrative" by denying them a platform - is actually embedded in the COIN response to Islamic extremism post-9/11 - a major part of which, is covering up the relationship between western imperialist foreign policy and the Islamist "blowback" (as it is well-known that, if the government gets the blame for putting its people at risk by provoking such retaliation, the entire legitimacy of the war on terror will go the way of Vietnam). I remember in the 2000s the state mobilising identity-based groups - Jewish activists, feminists, LGBTQ groups - to shut down Islamist speakers who were on the state's COIN watchlists, the state would put the initial call out but would crowdsource the actual enforcement and it generally worked. And people taking part in the no-platform shit and the hate campaigns against far-right terrorists/spree killers/assassins (not to mention the pro and anti gun lobbies) are playing into the state's hands in concealing the root issues of despair, nihilism, psychological breakdown, the subjective experience of being on the receiving end of social war and the near-genocidal hatred of social "failures", the loss of any kind of meaning-reference and the sense of siege resulting from recurring social hostility - phenomena affecting all people of all races and classes, but which are socially managed through identity politics of both ingroups and outgroups. And the narrative often barely works. So for instance, Osborne was a depressed alcoholic with no history of racist views who was "radicalised" in literally two weeks before the attack, initially by a *BBC documentary* and not by far right groups. We're looking at an intersection of very ordinary despair and alienation, with the prevalence of far-right themes *in the mainstream discourse*. James Holmes was a previously harmless bipolar man tipped over into extreme mania by a misdiagnosis of depression and SSRIs (which are known to have this effect of causing extreme psychotic reactions in bipolar people) and believed he could obtain superpowers and do good for the world by killing people - yet still people are putting him down as a "white terrorist" or instance of toxic masculinity, yet this is textbook clinically-induced temporary psychosis, in a civilised country he would not even be in jail. Yet the idpols want this to be a case of a white man who thinks he's so "entitled" to public spaces that he can massacre other people, even though there's nothing in dominant social rhetoric which confers any such "entitlement", and even though many of these spree-killer types are recluses who feel excluded from public space. Of course the idpols are just re-running what the state has said about Muslims for 18 years now, and some of these cases are just as absurd: Nicky Reilly for example, or Zacarias Moussaoui or Junaid Hussein (who was literally "radicalised" from being imprisoned for involvement in Anonymous - classic deviance amplification). Or Mohammed Merah, a kid with severe psychological problems who snapped after being jailed for next to nothing. Sometimes it's almost as if the ideology (Nazi, Islamist or whatever) is just a rationalisation of the nihilistic drive to hit back at a hostile world which treats people like shit. And we're seeing it with people who have no ideological motivation, and increasingly people who have no "red flags" showing, like the Las Vegas and Austin cases, nobody knows the motive except that they're angry about something and they want to watch the world burn (and that's a pretty common position nowadays). Maybe we should ask in these circumstances: what would Bakunin say? I've read cases where Bakunin praises conservative and liberal terrorists simply because of their courage and anger and consciousness of the corruption of the system, but criticised the limits to their political perspectives - but also, said how they were showing up the limits of the left because they were channelling the rage of the oppressed more effectively. Or we should read Fanon. When there isn't a real insurgent struggle against the authoritarian regime, the hypervigilance it injects into people comes out in everyday violence and these kinds of random killings (which Fanon noted, occurred in both directions in Algeria, native versus settler and settler versus native). The success of COIN in preventing organised insurgency has as a side-effect the proliferation of these kinds of attacks.
This kind of thing nearly always backfires. While it might ideally be possible to censor fascists and protect anarchists, communists, and idpols, in practice the people with the power to censor (corporations, police) have no interest in doing so. For instance, Twitter tightened its “abuse” rules late last year in response to a hysterical campaign by idpols. This has led to some of the most prominent far-right accounts being banned (but little if any reduction in twitterstorms and racist and misogynist bullying on the platform). But within this month, we've seen a wave of Anonymous-linked accounts banned, including most prominently Lauri Love. Love's alleged offence is saying that Russian hackers should “shove a keyboard up their ass”, although the far right tried to frame him making threats against Trump. Several of the other accounts appear to have been banned for supporting #opdomesticterrorism which is an Anonymous campaign to hack and DDoS Nazi sites. And the mechanism is, the Nazis file often spurious abuse complaints which Twitter under its new rules now enforce apparently without reviewing them. A big defeat for dissent, even though it looked like a “victory”.
There's also dangers that these campaigns actually promote fascists' views and increase their profile by trying to silence them, and that they allow fascists to pose as martyrs which in turn further "radicalises" their supporters. We're seeing this at the moment in the UK with the Britain First leaders, who have been jailed for verbally abusing a Muslim on trial for pedophilia. In the British context they're convicted fair and square, and it's not their first case of harassing Muslims, but the Nazis are putting it down as a thought-crime and it's really raising their popularity among people who feel silenced. Same with another case awhile back where someone died in jail. It gives fuel to their narrative that anyone who criticises Islam will be silenced and that fascists are martyrs for free speech, which is an absurd argument but every time a fascist is jailed then it's strengthened. There can also be "Streisand effect". Someone's speech is shut down and everyone wants to know what they said, what the context was. This can turn a powerless but mouthy marginal figure into a notorious celebrity overnight. I have always had suspicions that al-Muhajiroun (the most radical of the above-ground Islamist groups in the UK) and the EDL (for a long time the most active Nazi group) were working together to raise both their profiles and notoriety.