First released 26 September, 2020. Available here.
Ani White: For our Furious Political Thought segment this month, we’re interviewing Alexander Reid-Ross, a Doctoral fellow at the Centre for the Analysis of the Radical Right, and an adjunct professor at Portland State University. His work Against the Fascist Creep was listed as one of the Best Books of 2017 by the Portland Mercury, and his work has appeared in such international sites as The Independent, Zeit, and Haaretz. You can find him on Twitter at @areidross. Welcome to the show!
Alexander Reid-Ross: Thank you.
Derek Johnson: And by the way, congratulations on completing your PhD.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah, very privileged to have been able to accomplish that.
Derek Johnson: Alright let’s jump right in. Given that so many people equivocate, and argue over terms, what is fascism and how did it originate?
Alexander Reid-Ross: I generally stick with the let’s call it the new consensus, looking for a generic definition of fascism as palingenetic ultra-nationalism, basically a kind of belief in the mythical rebirth of an ancient and storied nation, as people who are sort of linked by spirit, as well as a common heritage and destiny, and basically claim the right to a given territory based on the resurgence, or rather rebirth of that ancient patriarchy. So that’s sort of like what fascism means, it started out, if you want to be really specific, it started around the time of WWI, there’s kind of some bookends there, 1914 the term starts being deployed, and it really became a more considered political phenomenon after WWI, so around 1918-1919 really.
But it came out of the historical synthesis of far right and far left, so you had syndicalists joining together with ultra-nationalists, and fusing this weird syncretic cult of political violence, wherein they basically wanted to get involved in WWI when the liberal government was reticent, and they wanted to destroy the left, which many of them felt they had effectively overcome by adopting the spirit of order and hierarchy and violence that you get with ultra-nationalism. And so with those two enemies, the left and the liberals, they were able to play one off the other, by co-opting left-wing points, and by appealing to liberals to violently purge the left from the streets. As well as conservatives, really conservatives and the middle-class if you read Paxton closely.
And so yeah, they were basically able to take power by playing on people’s fears, while also creating a lot of violent situations and instability, and finally pushing people towards a state of order that would brutally put down dissent, as a way of returning to some form of normalcy which for them was really rooted in that ultra-nationalist mythos, this historical narrative of the Roman Republic, but the Roman Empire in particular, so like Scipio Africanus and Julius Caesar, and so on.
Derek Johnson: Okay, your book [Against] The Fascist Creep, what lessons did you draw for the contemporary anti-fascist movement?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Really just fascist tactics and strategies to look out for, the common practice of infiltration which they call entryism, the usage of co-optation of different talking points, turning them toward nationalist conclusions, serves as a really excellent way of entering and derailing, or taking over political groups. I think that looking out for that in particular, looking out for where left-wing talking points tend to veer off into different directions, you often get it with anti-Semitism in particular, is really crucial to prevent fascists from effectively gaining the upper hand against the left.
Ani White: And how do you characterise Trump politically?
Alexander Reid-Ross: That’s a good question, I mean, he has a lot of fascist tendencies for sure, but those are all also identifiable as authoritarianism, I think he’s a kind of a strongman leader, he’s certainly not an open fascist, he seeks to militate against the Democratic Party, but he hasn’t really put into place anything that would criminalise them or actually create a single-party ultra-nationalist state. So he’s hovering between ultra-nationalism and what we call civic nationalism, although in regards to immigration policy, it’s pretty much as white nationalist as he could possibly bring it.
So I think he’s an illiberal authoritarian ruler, who’s held back currently by the democratic institutions in the United States. But if he’s elected for a second term he could be able to whittle that down to make himself essentially a dictator.
Ani White: Do you have any thoughts about the relationship between Trump and the far right street movement?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah I think Trump in many respects is sort of doing something that authoritarian leaders frequently do, which is step outside the institutions of the government in order to rule more directly over militant groups who don’t exist within the state infrastructure, and are a sort of extra-legal means for Trump to establish his political position against his rivals through political violence.
You saw this especially with his calls on twitter to his followers to liberate Wisconsin and so forth. The idea being there being he was really giving them calls to arms, and telling them it’s time to get out there. Many of them took this as we’re gonna muster our troops, and come out fully armed, and protest at the state house, some even occupied the state house. And this was a really clear example of Trump basically relying on vigilantes to assert his political will against the lockdown, really against public health and safety measures.
I think that you see him in other incidents promoting this kind of vigilante movement, he’s retweeting Qanon followers, not even Qanon followers but Qanon organisers just today. And he’s calling extremely violent political extremists ‘real patriots.’ So I think that he has a pretty direct connection with the rise of vigilante violence in the United States today. I think that’s absolutely something that he needs to be held accountable for, hopefully after he’s removed from power somehow.
Ani White: What do you make of the denialist reactions to Trumpism?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah, I think you have a lot of people who are very secure in their own place, and at the same time are bored laughs So I think that you have these people who are engaged with the kind of devil-may-care attitude of Occupy Wall St, we’re putting everything at risk, we’re putting our bodies on the line…
And Trump’s movement has that to an extent. And he plays on the populism side. This is thing, he’s a nationalist, and he also has some protectionist policies, that are attractive to sections of the left who are very seduced by the idea of developmentalist economics and so forth. So he stands as this figure who can create quasi-populist movement, cause I think he himself is actually quite an elitist, and through this unity of left and right push through these policies that, they’re not good policies and they won’t really help a lot, because they completely ignore complexity involving the environment in particular, but they’re not neoliberal policies. And so you get a lot of left-wingers who really feel that they have fought on the front lines, or at least just opposed strongly neoliberal policies, the Washington Consensus and otherwise, and Trump is not a neoliberal, so that’s something that I think has really seduced a lot of people… it’s made a lot of people sit and say, well the enemy of my enemy is my friend, and that sort of thing.
But I think the other side of it, is that there’s just a lot of cynicism, there’s a lot of cynicism about immigration, there’s a lot of conspiracy theorising about Soros being responsible for mass immigration to the United States in order to depress the wages of the common worker, the white working-class etc. So there’s a lot of conspiracy theories about neoliberalism, and about economic policy, that I think has wound its way into the left. And so people on the left have been really challenged to oppose something like maintains a lot of their own illiberal positions, so they hate liberalism so much in a way that becomes conspiratorial, because of course they will ignore Trump’s escalation of conflicts abroad, and they will also claim that Bush is a big liberal, who started the second Iraq War. So they cluster together all the liberals with all the neocons, forgetting the massive amounts of repudiation that Bush Jr received from the Democrats, not with regards to the invasion of Afghanistan of course, but the record continues, you cannot take one or two things, significant things, and use that to formulate a support claim for someone whose immigration policies are effectively white nationalist. But they do, or rather than support, they’ll just sort of whittle away at his opponents.
So I think that there’s two things going on. There’s a lot of cynicism with regards to a kind of illiberal coalition. And there’s a just a sense that we’re still locked into the struggle against neoliberalism when conditions have changed significantly.
Derek Johnson: Yeah I notice a lot of the people who attack neoliberalism don’t seem to understand what that term ultimately means, why don’t you just attack capitalism.
We’re seeing suspect calls for the left to work with fascists, whether from grifters like Jimmy Dore, or Krystal Ball, and his fascist co-host on youtube On The Hill, and in a debate between Glenn Greenwald and Nathan J Robinson. How has far right rhetoric managed to disorient so many leftists and liberals, as you’re describing here, and how do we counter that?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Well I think it’s important to be descriptive in our use of the term fascism, and I haven’t really researched Jimmy Dore, Krystal Ball or those types of people, enough to actually draw conclusions about them, I don’t know who Krystall Ball’s co-host is-
Derek Johnson: Her co-host is this Indian-American guy who is a protege of Tucker Carlson, who’s pretty far-fascist, he uses a lot of populist rhetoric and tries to act like right and left-populism to work together, and he’s very fascist, he’s basically dolled up and dressed up The Jewish Question, a lot of populist language and very frightening.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Well, I think one thing you said there which is an adjective which is worth drilling into, is that you said this person, who I don’t know who he is, is very fascist. For some there’s this idea that you’re either fascist or you’re not, whereas for others there’s a spectrum, for example you could take a quiz and be like How Liberal Are You, and then you tick all the boxes and be like You Are 100% Liberal. And I think this produces a real difficulty for typological analyses, because not everyone is going to be a 10/10 fascist, and if somebody’s a 3/10 fascist laughs how do you really describe them?
And this is a subject of a lot of controversy on fascist image-boards, because they’re always calling each other leftists, or you’re not a real nationalist, or nationalism is not useful because we need Empires and stuff like that. So, we have to think about this in a multifaceted, or multiscalar context.
I think looking at Adorno is really interesting, with regards to his Authoritarian Personality. It’s actually a lot of other authors including Else Frenkel-Brunswik and others, but they create an Authoritarian Personality Test, so they have an F Scale. I don’t know, maybe everybody already knows about this, and it’s a weird tangent to go on, but I think it’s helpful to think about people like how far gone are they? What is their mentality?
But anyway, going back to the original point that you’re making, what do I think about these people, who are sort of often maybe a little lower on the F Scale, again I’m not going to get into specifics-
Derek Johnson: Yeah the guy I was mentioning, I couldn’t remember his name, his name is Saagar Enjeti, and he’s trying to vie his way to being the debate guy between Biden and Trump.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Good lord! Well yeah, so I mean, this is the problem with political pluralisation in our society, everyone is vying for mainstream credibility, everybody is vying for consensus, they want the most amount of reasonable people to think that they themselves are reasonable, such that they can be pundits, they can be commentators who the world looks to, or at least the American world looks to, to make sense out of the universe.
And the disintegration of the Washington Consensus, but really you can say it’s the postwar consensus, that liberal democracy and capitalism could provide a progressive force that would lift the human race out of poverty around the world, and elevate our hopes – so the disintegration of that narrative has created a degree of chaos, but really it’s complexity. So we have to think about these different ideologies, how they’re operating, where they agree, why they agree, how much do they agree, and how many resources do they have?
And in that sense it calls for a lot of complex coalition-making. So I don’t think you can say, per se, that anything that combines left or right is going to end up fascism. I think you’ve got moderates from the left and right consensus on different issues, you have some kind of fusions that don’t end up towards ultra-nationalism, so I don’t think that syncretism by itself tends towards fascism. I think that there are critical struggles to excise fascism from whatever the growing consensuses are, that will shape the political horizon of the future.
And unfortunately I think that there are a lot of opportunists who see this disintegration, this chaotic and complex political field, as a prime ecosystem to generate their own cults. To generate their own cult of personality. So they’ve got their TV shows, they’ve got their podcasts, they’ve got their patreons, they’ve got their followers on twitter, and so they’re really generating and cultivating their brand, and while they’re doing that they’re trying to grasp at all the different straws, and all of the different trends that are happening in that time and place, based on their own political commitments. And because so many people are politically committed to illiberalism, especially following the 2008 economic crash, you have people drawing toward fascism, trying to broker deals with conspiracy theorists, and trying to develop the next trend, or to be the next trend.
So I think that that’s really the thing with the grifter phenomenon. Looking at the sharp rise of the left during Occupy, again I think it started around 2008 and then 2011-2012, so many people were becoming socialists, and I had in the back of my head a nagging feeling that this could go a lot of different ways, this might not be so great. But I think myself and so many people at the time were so motivated to push the revolutionary moment further and further, that a lot of lost sight of our commonsense, and abandoned a lot of our principles. Nowhere was it clearer than the war in Syria.
Derek Johnson: I noticed, and several other people I know that worked in media stuff, that during Occupy Wall St, especially towards the end there, that quite a few people were getting offers to do a lot of media and stuff, either connected to RT, or to the Iranian Press TV, and we saw a lot of people get a lot of media jobs, and it kinda seemed like the genesis of this whole grifter thing.
You’ve been legally attacked by Max Blumenthal and Ben Norton, and Max labelled you a CIA agent anarchist, can you talk about all that?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah, Max labels everybody he doesn’t like a CIA agent. I mean he literally created a term for it, we call he calls people anarcho-snitchicalists or something?
Alexander Reid-Ross: He’s like the chief snitch-jacketer, with Ben Norton, if they don’t like somebody, they’re the first to call them a Fed. It’s so hostile, just wrong and false. They don’t care, they don’t care because they can give whatever allegations and continue doing what they do, which is basically spinning a bunch of lies about people, and about events around the world. They’ve been caught out, and had to make corrections, had to retract a little bit, but they won’t admit that much. Wikipedia thinks they’re so bad that nobody can use their site as a viable source on Wikipedia, they’re deprecated just like the Daily Caller. Because that’s what they are, they’re a propaganda outlet that spins tremendous amounts of bunkum for regimes that are absolutely brutalising people in the streets.
It just happened today that somebody who I’m presuming is one of their fans said that ‘now that I think about it, Occupy Wall St was kind of a colour revolution.’ And it’s like laugh It’s like a perfect logical outcome of this tendency.
They have a lot in common with the Workers’ World Party, who are known as tankies, because they never met an authoritarian dictator who they didn’t support.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, they attacked the Hong Kong protestors.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Oh they mercilessly attacked the Hong [Kong protestors], they’re as bad as the cops. And that’s it, that’s the real point, when they’re going after first responders in Syria, and saying that they’re just a front for al Qaeda, they’re not just saying something that’s provably false-
Derek Johnson: They’re putting people in danger.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah, they’re aiding despots in their atrocious war to butcher civilians, and first responders. So that’s what they do, they’re authoritarians who are helping authoritarian regimes tamp down protests, using extremely brutal means, like extrajudicial murder in the case of Venezuela, and torture in the case of Nicaragua, and so forth. You know, mass detention in the case of China.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, they totally deny that the Uyghurs are being held in concentration camps.
Alexander Reid-Ross: …And they even have the Belarus regime now as their pet campaign.
Derek Johnson: Yeah, I’ve seen tankies say it’s a colour revolution too.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Absolutely, yes. This is very predictable, and you can see some of its roots in the Larouche cult, you’ve got like Global Research and stuff, where you see Max Blumenthal reposting F. William Engdahl, who was a big member of the Larouche cult, as far as I know up until the creation of Global Research, and probably after that although a little bit more subtly. Cause he was the editor of the Executive Intelligence Review, which was Larouche’s [publication].
Derek Johnson: Yeah, that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while, I was surprised that Larouche died just recently.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah just last year. Larouche is like the craziest dude in 20th century American politics. Like he broke Engdahl’s mind. There’s a story, I think from the 1970s, where Engdahl was at this conference, it was like a Larouche-ite conference, and he had been so kind of inundated, and just fraught, addled, that he just had a mental breakdown, and started screaming “I’m not cancelled! I’m not cancelled!” in the middle of this conference.
Derek Johnson: Oh wow.
Alexander Reid-Ross: But he’s not dumb, he’s just like, off. He’s just kind of a wingnut. So he’s fashioned as a sort of geopolitician of oil. So he’s tracking oil. And he becomes so obsessed that he thinks that oil is the reason WWI started. And he gets really focused attacking the British government of course.
Derek Johnson: Yeah. Do you think that’s the roots of cancel culture laughs arguments? Just a permutation of political correctness and the PC Police, because that seems to be the only debate the far left in this country is happening, as everything devolves around us, is they’re debating cancel culture.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah, and when you look at far right commentators like Mike Glover, he’s even equating ‘cancel culture’ with ‘Cultural Marxism.” So I think that this is a real tendency to go overboard laughs to get a little crazy there. Where people who are using ‘cancel culture’ are drifting towards this conspiracy landscape where they gonna end up in some kind of ‘Cultural Marxism’ terrain, where it’s the same people doing the same thing, and all that kind of stuff.
But Larouche is the origin of a lot of stuff, and managed to somewhat successfully infiltrate the Democratic Party, you see him and his followers a lot try to get into left wing spaces. But interestingly enough, Russian media really loves those guys. And Press TV and all that stuff. And Larouche really loved him some infrastructure. He really loved grand infrastructure projects, and the idea of a sort of, maybe enlightened dictator who forwarded developmentalist policies.
And this is all in the context of Larouche’s horrible racism and anti-Semitism. So I think you could call him a fascist, or a kind of technocrat.
Derek Johnson: Wasn’t Larouche a believer in the Mexican right-wing philosophy of synarchism?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Sort of, I mean he was such like a, I guess you would say he was sort of an autodidact in a way. He’s just grasping at so many things and throwing them together. I don’t know if you’ve ever read the book about the, don’t read any of his books.
Derek Johnson: No laughs I spared my mind.
Alexander Reid-Ross: If you ever have the unfortunate experience of perusing some of his Larouche’s books, and going to the figures, it’s a wild ride, it’s like sacred geometry and stuff, it’s all this stuff about the Fibonacci Sequence and all this-
Derek Johnson: Oh my God.
Alexander Reid-Ross: And then he’s gonna like, throw in population, and talk about spirals, he’s always doing the 4D chess.
But the thing about Larouche that I think is interesting in this context is that he kind of segues, and his followers have segued, with the tankies, with the authoritarian leftists.
Derek Johnson: So that kind of becomes a pipeline to the far right for left ideas and stuff?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Well, sort of. I think in a way maybe a little bit more of a pipeline towards fascism. It is like a really crazy trip, because the Larouche-ites are a little bit more influential than you might think, but it’s just this kind of merging, and as a result of their love of infrastructure, people like Engdahl, they’ve actually endeared themselves to authoritarian regimes, particularly circles close to the Kremlin and the Chinese government, and it’s very much the same kind of circles as the tankies tend to revolve around, talking about a kind of neo-Eurasianism, an axis of resistance of Iran, and Syria, and like Hamas, and Hezbollah, against Israel. So the axis of the anti-Zionist authoritarians, who they totally caved for. So you this idea emerging of a neo-Eurasianist great space, where China and Russia become united in their collaboration on great infrastructure projects, to draw that great space together, and create this kind of spiritual empire, through the axis of resistance against Israel.
And for the fascists who follow this belief that Iran is the ancient origin of the Aryan, and the sacred bridge to Russia is through to Caucuses, and Moscow is the Third Rome.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Well, yeah. I think that you find that a lot of people who study from this bizarre syncretic position, what they consider to be geopolitics, really shy away from making the higher spiritual and racial claims, and what you find as a symptom of that is an overcompensation in regards to a kind of ultra-materialism. Where everything is a cui bono, everything is like ‘who benefits’, and trying to identify the secret cabal.
Ani White: The oil pipeline, everywhere.
Derek Johnson: laughs
Alexander Reid-Ross: Yeah exactly, like why was that really happening, so everything is a cult, everything is mysterious, everything is secret, there’s conspiracies behind everybody. If you see the NED give somebody a grand at some point, or god forbid George Soros’ Open Society Foundation.
Derek Johnson: Yeah that was used against the White Helmets and anyone who did humanitarian work in Syria.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Oh, yeah anybody who does humanitarian work, it doesn’t matter because when it’s only on their side, they don’t care. They publish stuff in Open Democracy, which has got an Open Society grant at some point, but you never hear them sneeze about anything like that. It’s a total sham.
And that’s something you find with a lot of rising political movements. There are a lot of opportunists, and a lot of dishonest people, who are just gonna use it as a means to avoid doing work and to shirk responsibilities and to avoid accountability. And I think that’s pretty much the baseline for those kinds of guys.
Ani White: Yeah. You’ve started on this already, but can you describe any other ways that ideas on the left have given a pipeline to the far right or fascism?
Alexander Reid-Ross: Where’s the pipeline, it’s a conspiratorial tendency in mass political thought, it helps bind people together with the populist idea that there’s a cabal who we must oppose. It’s like the anti-Freemason Party of the 1820s, or the Know-Nothings of the 1830s. When you have that enemy, and you can specify the enemy as much as possible, then the world’s your oyster, and everyone can come together and sing Kumbaya once the enemy is exterminated, or expunged from the system, or what have you.
I mean, if you like Blumenthal for example, it’s the neocons, or the Zionists, who are in an alliance with the Wahabi-ists. For Blumenthal, it’s like there really is a cabal. He said I was in a deep-state cabal. He in fact said my work wasn’t written by myself, but a deep-state cabal. I think the exact quote was, “this is not the work of one man, but a cabal of interests.”
Anyway, so this is a really important way that left-wing moves right, just this conspiracy-minded opinion-generating, where the person doesn’t really have any expertise, outside of what they think is geopolitics, but dives right in anyway. And I’ve been guilty of this myself in the past as well, it’s actually why I decided to get my PhD in the first place, I felt like my writing and my thinking was very limited, I was too much of a generalist and not really able to dive in any one specific place with any real capacity. So I think there are people who are really trapped in that tendency, to create easy answers for complex questions.
And, when you start doing that, especially if you can’t look at yourself, and recognise when you’ve been wrong and why, and let yourself change from that, it all becomes a game of escaping accountability, and it’s no longer even about trying to comment on world affairs because you’re interested in them. It’s just a question of spinning your trench, and fighting the hill that you want to die on. So I think that is a conceptual problem where people do move over into this more simplistic mindset, and nations are right there to meet them. Nations are very simplified forms. And it’s easy when you’re simplifying everything to create partners out of other simplified forms.
If you think anti-imperialism can be very complicated, it’s easy to distil to anti-Americanism, where the United States as the worst global hegemon, has to be rooted out and destroyed in itself. And, in doing so, you forget that there are other imperial powers around the world, so we have to support enterprises of human freedom, and not choose to support the enemy of our enemy, that is also oppressing those enterprises at the same time. So I think politics makes strange bedfellows, and when people aren’t really thinking things through, especially when they’re making decisions about other places that they don’t know anything about, they’re losing sight of complexity, they’re ignoring the local people, local activists, and they end up partnering up with people who are already almost all the way, or all the way to fascism, anyway.
They just don’t necessarily acknowledge it, they don’t recognise it, they think that they are the thought leaders, and they think that they’re the vanguard. And so, once you get that kind of bizarre mix of elitism and populism in coalition with some of the worst nationalists in the world, then you have a really clear formula for a fascist movement.
And even if you don’t necessarily admit your role in it, even if you still think of yourself as a leftist who fully believes in equality and so on. If you’re participating in a fascist movement, then you’re participating in a fascist movement. And I think that is a real crisis. And you still have to realise complexity in that, so you can’t going around calling everybody fascist, but you can say that they’re participating in tendencies, in coalitions with fascists, and they’re collaborators.
Derek Johnson: And to a great degree you’ve explained how the Russian state and Alexander Dugin have been really pushing the propaganda of this, and a lot of people just don’t want to admit to the Russian element of this, and say ‘Russiagate, Russiagate, conspiracy’…
Ani White: I agree, and one way to put it in relation to Syria is you don’t have to know anything about Syria to have an opinion on it apparently. And obviously the role of the Russian state has been well-documented, but this section likes to label pointing out as a conspiracy theory, when actually they’re the ones making speculative leaps, like chemical weapons denial and all of that.
But thanks for coming on the show.
Alexander Reid-Ross: Oh no it was a pleasure, I had a great time, and keep fighting the good fight.
Derek Johnson: Thanks Alexander, and keep up the good fight in academia, and in the streets. Alright thanks for tuning in listeners, if you enjoyed this episode please consider donating to our patreon, at patreon.com/jetpack1917. You can also support us by giving the podcast a review on Apple Podcasts, or whatever podcast platform you use, and your support is appreciated.
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