by Eleanor Goldfield
Some of this post (where noted) is taken from the script which I wrote for Act Out! and the episode that aired on Wednesday August 23rd via occupy.com .
So Hedges has joined the “both sides” bastion. Actually – he’s gone even further. He has pushed the sides into one grotesque heap that he lords over with a moral superiority neither new to him nor to the history of social justice.
In an article from August 27th , he compares the violence used by the “alt-right” aka white supremacists to the violence used by the anti-fascists, bringing Charlottesville up as a primary source for his comparison. He notes that both groups are lashing out due to the horrendous shortfalls of a capitalist system built on oppression; that both groups have suffered at the hands of neoliberal policies and escalating income inequality. That’s true – but that is some shaky common ground to be basing this dangerous and illogical equivalency on. After all, one woman fucking died, dozens were wounded and several were beaten by Hedges’ so-called “victims” of capitalism, the Charlottesville fascists.
No matter – Hedges hangs tight to his false equivalency buoy – whether it sinks him or not. (spoiler alert: it does).
The basic gist in his article is that because both sides use violence, they are essentially the same beast – that both sides advocate the silence and ultimate erasure of the other; that they are in fact, ideologically the same. When I read that, my eye twitched for a good half an hour. I could go off (and have before) for a long time on why and how that is both logically and theoretically the stupidest fucking thing I’ve heard but to put it simply:
White Supremacists in America (U.S. Fascists) : wide-eyed, jacked-up jingoists calling for ethnic cleansing and demanding the right to kill, injure, exile and oppress all those who don’t look like them, think like them or fall in line behind them. They then wrap this in an American flag (typically emblazoned with a Swastika) and claim a vehement and violent pride in all things U.S. empire – from slavery to indigenous genocide.
AntiFa : against all of the above – as suggested by the rather clean and simple name.
I’m assuming the reason that the above is so hard to comprehend is because the well-meaning liberal mind is easily clouded by the v-word: violence. There is some sort of mandatory moral demand to see all violence the same, not to mention categorizing property destruction and self-defense as violence too. Hedges echoes many a “leftist” with his line, “street clashes do not distress the ruling elites.”
This sort of arrogant musing on what bothers the ruling elites is a common theme in leftist in-fighting. It’s the cornerstone of any argument: “they don’t care about your petitions, they don’t care about your phone calls, they don’t care that you blocked the pipeline, they don’t….” you get the point. No tactic is good enough, no tactic is pure enough, strong enough, etc.
As some of you reading this may know, I was in Charlottesville – I saw what happened. And when you’re getting rushed by a line of fascists while the cops look on like it’s a cute game of Red Rover, you don’t think to yourself, “well gosh golly, I don’t want to defend myself because that would require violence.” No, the purist perspective is conveniently deployed from a distance.
And to be clear – I think that some tactics generally don’t work. I think that online petitions are about as effective as Hedges’ article in dismantling the capitalist empire. That being said, if people sign a petition to save the rainforest, I don’t say, “wow, you’re just as bad as the people actively trying to destroy the rainforest!” That kind of false equivalency helps neither the person nor the cause. If the goal is to move forward, how about an analysis with legitimate suggestions and constructive criticism like Vincent Emanuele’s article in CounterPunch? Enlist anti-war military veterans for your actions in order to handle security and establish safe perimeters? Fuck yes. Good idea!
But Hedges isn’t interested in helping a cause. He’s interested in his moral superiority – another common theme in the well-meaning liberal and leftist in-fighting handbook.
And I must say, I was rather surprised to read this putrid puss heap of an article by Hedges since so much of his writing focuses on the trajectory of a capitalist empire in decline – not to mention the rise of white vigilante violence. Did he never make the connection that as capitalism falls and racist fascists rise, some of the people literally in the crosshairs of this intersection would want to protect themselves, maybe even fight back??
To be sure, I haven’t always agreed with Hedges on everything – for one, his brazen and arrogant book I Don’t Believe in Atheists is just as absurd as the title suggests – comparing nonbelievers to mass murderers like Pol Pot because clearly, if you don’t have faith driving your moral compass, you will kill thousands of people.
And here again, Hedges draws ironically extremist conclusions from recent events – comparing antifa not only to the white supremacists that they fight but in fact to gangster John Gotti. Yes, he does.
And to be clear, this is not about whether Hedges likes black bloc tactics or not. It’s not even about whether he likes AntiFa. It’s about the fact that he is, for better or worse, a leftist commentator. And this vapid vitriol shouldn’t be spewed on the already stewing mass of leftist in-fighting. If Hedges wants to excuse himself from punching fascists and any kind of property destruction, go right ahead. But to take his moral musings on violence and stretch them to the point where he’s actually comparing anti-fascist protesters to vicious gangsters and to fascists who want all black and brown people to die, well then, for lack of a better way of putting it, he can go fuck himself.
The liberal smack down on fighting back is horrendously dangerous – not only for those most oppressed (i.e. people who don’t look like Chris Hedges) but for all of us trying to fight and build in the face of rising fascism.
It is, however, nothing new – and Hedges joins the ranks of well-meaning liberals throughout the ages that just want to keep the peace – rather than gain any justice.
——— The following taken and edited from Act Out! Episode 125 ———-
“First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” – Martin Luther King Jr. Letter From Birmingham Jail
It is both maddening and instructive that King’s words ring so true today. In the days following the Charlottesville terrorist attack, “well-meaning liberals” were falling over themselves to both condemn the violence of the fascists and wag a patronizing finger at the counter-protesters who fought back. The finger wagging continued when last week, Takiya Thompson tied a rope to a Confederate statue after which a group of people chanting “No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA” tore it down. The internet immediately flooded with messages from those well-meaning liberals once again trying to straddle an impossible chasm of injustice – saying that they totally think these statues should come down but there are quote-un-quote better ways.
And yes, there have been several communities and cities that have voted to remove Confederate statues – indeed, the fascist gathering in Charlottesville used a statue removal as a catalyst for their race riot. But riddle me this, merry liberals: if a city has made no efforts to take down white supremacist statues, why should the people accept that? Why should they be forced to wait on a system steeped in white supremacy. And what is it about seeing a statue of a white man destroyed by a powerful black woman that fills you with fear and disgust?
Be it the statues or the cowered hide behind the first amendment, this is about wanting to wear a mask adorned with Black Lives Matter stickers while clinging to an order that is based on white supremacy. Simple. As. That. As Kelly Hayes wrote in a Truthout article last week, “The Respectable Liberals’ condemnations of counter-protesters in Charlottesville are also rooted in the need to maintain white order. It has long been their policy to acknowledge inequity, but to argue that it must be allowed to continue, for now. To such people, a lynch mob is “speech” until someone is killed. For the sake of order, and everyone’s freedoms, we are supposed to watch as our would-be killers gather, pick up torches and rally for our deaths. Liberals have repeatedly echoed that Nazis and the KKK should be starved of attention, but the truth is, the liberal plan of ignoring fascists until they go away helped deliver us to this moment.”
Ignoring fascists is about as effective as ignoring bed bugs – if bed bugs also had semi-automatic weapons and a sense of entitlement bloated by 500 years of oppressing people that don’t look like them. Which is the problem – it’s easy for a white person to stand there and think, “well, it’s not me they want to kill – let them speak” and then turn away and ignore them. Indeed, I have no idea what it’s like to walk along the street and know that someone thinks I should die simply because of the color of my skin. And this white privilege is so often used as an excuse to perpetuate our access to that privilege as opposed to using it as a tool to combat that privilege, to combat racism and white supremacy. It’s used to tell the oppressed, as MLK wrote, to wait for a more convenient season. To not fight back, to not stand up, to not sit down, to not turn their backs but to wait – wait for those in power to give you your rights. Don’t take – that’s rude.
And I’m not going to rehash the argument on violence because I have done that already – in both the episode on J20 and G20 . The bottom line of that argument is the same one that applies to the finger-wagging liberal “concerned” by the property destruction or infringement upon free speech: real solidarity doesn’t mean that you have to like every tactic or even partake in any one tactic . But it does mean that before you open your mouth or set your fingers on the keyboard, pause.
Consider whether or not your response benefits the goals of those that you outwardly support – or if it benefits a programmed concept of capitalist white supremacy. Ask yourself if your response is based in a privileged paradigm that abstractly hails concepts like free speech without considering the implications of hiding behind those concepts in the face of actual fascism. — As Katherine Cross wrote in The Establishment, “the Klansmen, Nazis, and neo-Confederates were marching en masse in broad daylight without hoods or masks. That boldness has its origins in the permission granted by powerful institutions and prominent commentators who said the “marketplace of ideas” would crush Nazism, in Twitter’s ongoing failure to stamp out the Nazi presence on the platform, in the excuses made by liberal/left commentators eager to score easy points off of student activists rather than do the hard work needed to fight an actual threat to freedom.”
It is WAY easier to post a picture of the first amendment than to look at our current situation and see that free speech isn’t about protecting someone’s right to oppress. Indeed, if we let history be our guide here, we can take a page from Austrian Jewish-British philosopher Karl Popper’s book – on the paradox of tolerance. The paradox ultimately states that:
“ Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them…We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.”
Just like those who preach total freedom miss the point that in fact, complete freedom for some is slavery for the rest – if you argue that we must tolerate everything, even the intolerance of a violent racist mob then we ironically lose not only tolerance but we also stand to lose the kind of society that tolerates ANY dissenting viewpoints.
As Katherine Cross so succinctly put it: “Securing unlimited rights for Nazis does not guarantee my rights; it forfeits them…”
I’m so sorry my fellow whites (looking at you Hedges) that you can’t have it both ways: you can’t be a champion for equality while also championing the right of fascists to dismantle what little equality has been gained. The well-meaning liberal argument about property destruction, free speech and whether or not it’s ok to punch someone who actively supports exterminating millions of people is not only counterproductive to the very idea of progress, it is vehemently damaging to those who are most oppressed – i.e. people of color, blacks, indigenous, immigrants, etc.
As a white leftist, I want your help, I need your help – I want us to have real conversations about tactics, analyzing strategy and specific goals. I want to see us work together and acknowledge a difference in perspective that can be constructive rather than destructive. But before we get to that table, we need to make sure we remove ourselves and our ideas from a white supremacist pedestal. In solidarity.