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Ron Paul: next president or protofascist?

There’s a joke on the new tumblr, Shit Liberals Say To Radicals, that goes, ‘Sure, Obama’s not perfect, but consider the alternative.’ Followed by the fine print, ‘I did, it’s called socialism.’

It’s amusing, especially so given the debate that has occurred on Twitter and around the blogosphere this past fortnight. Discussion in Australia was spurred by the post ‘Progressives and the Ron Paul fallacies’, by left-leaning libertarian Glenn Greenwald, a blogger frequently read by the Australian left because of his obsession with America’s declining empire.

When I first read it I thought, ‘Wow, America’s a terrifying nation.’ The post spells out developments in US foreign and domestic policies since Obama took office, many to do with the War on Terror and the surveillance state. It’s a truly frightening list.

Greenwald’s article also emphasised the importance of Ron Paul’s presence in the 2012 election race, because, Greenwald alleged, his very presence was a ‘mirror held up in front of the face of America’s Democratic Party and its progressive wing, and the image that is reflected is an ugly one; more to the point, it’s one they do not want to see because it so violently conflicts with their desired self-perception’.

I took Greenwald at his word and the argument made sense to me: nowadays, the Democrats are a party of pro-war, pro-corporate imperialists, and pretty much indistinguishable from the Bush administration of six years ago. As such, Paul was raising an important inclusion in the electoral debate – the wars – an issue everyone else was ignoring. I thought Greenwald was saying that Paul had stolen ground from a party that claims antiwar credentials, and was pushing for a split in the Democratic Party between actual progressives and the Obama-apologist camp. (I am now unsure about Greenwald’s position and intent, but that changes little in this post.)

But here’s the thing: Ron Paul is a dangerous, despicable man. In the 80s and 90s, Paul’s office published a series of racist newsletters that included such assessments as:

A mob of black demonstrators, led by the ‘Rev.’ Al Sharpton, occupied and closed the Statue of Liberty recently, demanding that New York be renamed Martin Luther King City ‘to reclaim it for our people.’ Hmmm. I hate to agree with the Rev. Al, but maybe a name change is in order. Welfaria? Zooville? Rapetown? Dirtburg? Lazyopolis? But Al, the Statue of Liberty? Next time, hold that demonstration at a food stamp bureau or a crack house.

He’s promoted as ‘antiwar’, yet longs to get troops on the US–Mexico border:

[W]e do have a national responsibility for our borders. What I’m, sort of, tired of is all the money spent and lives lost worrying about the borders between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and forgetting about our borders between the U.S. and Mexico. We should think more about, you know, what we do at home.

And has a whole raft of anti-people objectives, such as abolishing Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. Plus he hates people of colour (see above), gay people, women, unions, employees and anyone opposed to business, and, like all Republicans, has signed the Personhood Pledge, which begins:

I __________________ proclaim that every human being is created in the image and likeness of God, and is endowed by our Creator with the unalienable right to life.

I stand with President Ronald Reagan in supporting “the unalienable personhood of every American, from the moment of conception until natural death,” and with the Republican Party platform in affirming that I “support a human life amendment to the Constitution, and endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th Amendment protections apply to unborn children.”

With the promised legislation stating that ‘life begins at conception’, the law won’t only affect abortion and reproductive rights, it also means no euthanasia, no stem cell research, and another President who checks in with God, the religious right and corporate America before passing legislation.

Paul may be anti-empire, but, as the above policies declare (in neon!), he doesn’t sit anywhere on the Left. In fact, he’s so far right he has ties to white supremacists, militias and neo-Nazis. (Then again, you’d be hard-pressed to find a Republican who didn’t.) The theory behind Paul’s antiwar positions come from isolationist and libertarian politics so, basically, the opposite of leftwing. His platform is also opportunistic: there was an antiwar silence, so he filled it.

Via Mother Jones, Paul’s politics in a Venn-shell:

Mother Jones also examined what makes the 9% of Americans who identify as libertarians tick:

85% are white.
67% are men.
53% are under 50.
59% say they are satisfied financially.
82% say government is almost always inefficient and wasteful.
67% say they’re politically independent, yet
70% say they’ll vote for a Republican in 2012.
27% say Mitt Romney is their top pick;
13% say Ron Paul.
36% say they don’t know where Obama was born.
38% regularly watch Fox News.
60% say we shouldn’t give up privacy to be safer from terrorism.
54% support legalizing pot.
71% say homosexuality should be accepted,
yet only 43% support gay marriage.
63% say there’s no solid evidence of global warming.

Modern day Republicanism, on the other hand, could be crudely reduced to assorted arrangements of neoliberalism mixed with social conservatism. Paul’s arrangement is a confusing order, one that makes his policies seem progressive. Clearly they’re not, and if any Democrats or independents were running on an antiwar or anti-Empire platform, Paul would be exposed as the sham he is.

Presently, Paul is winning 20% of the Republican vote. However, libertarians aren’t voting for him (he’s only polling 13% there) and neither are the Tea Party (where Santorum’s doubling Paul’s vote). So who is voting for Paul within the Republican Party (remember, you have to be a member of the party to vote in the primaries)? Where is his base? Presumably, it’s the moderate pro-market, pro-family conservatives.

When there is no Left, it leaves space for somebody else to dress up as Left. Shouldn’t we be asking, where is the real Left? Obama has adopted and legislated policies Bush would never have got through, which shows the ground the Left has relinquished over the last decade. In what ways is the Obama camp now progressive?

This is not an issue of an antiwar right (which would most definitely be a bad development as it would mobilise people to the Right). Look around: there is no US antiwar right; in fact, polling suggests Paul’s inconsistent platform is generally unpopular with Republicans, with Democrats, with libertarians, even with the Tea Party. What’s more, why would voters put their trust in Paul to end the wars? I suspect they learned that lesson – the one where deadlines pass, and things turn out to be more ‘complicated’ than previously thought – with Obama.

Rather, Paul’s presence in the race reveals that nothing about foreign policy is being debated in the US. Indeed, it challenges Obama supporters, who’ve been completely dishonest (or delusional) about their relationship to really vicious, pro-market foreign policy to say something.

I don’t deny that a debate is occurring among the liberals in the States regarding Ron Paul, on Greenwald’s blog, on Firedoglake, on Z blogs, on Corey Robin and in the writings of young activists. And it is disquieting when Dr Cornel West comes out and says:

Many young people like Ron Paul because he speaks from his soul! He has very deep convictions, and we know he might have the chance of a snowball in hell of winning, but at least people want give him credit for being real/authentic. And I resonate with that as well. When he talks about the American Empire, I say YES we need to talk about the American Empire. But when he goes off into his Libertarian projections, then I know he’s living in a different world.

Disquieting because it’s almost as though West sees that his anti-Empire stance comes from the same position as Paul’s – and what does he mean, ‘libertarian projects’? That’s not very specific. Who can say what information will sway young or swinging voters?

And yet, this assumes that young progressives aren’t able to reason through the issues themselves. Yes, there is a debate happening across the liberal blogosphere, but other liberals are citing serious concerns about the Obama administration, as well as political opposition to the Grand Old Party and Paul. (See, for instance, the Twitter feed of actor John Cusack, a well-known progressive liberal.) And those grassroots activists, traditionally part of the Democratic base, would they really identify with Paul, given his racism, homophobia, opposition to welfare, civil rights legislation and abortion?

In my opinion, this Paul frenzy is an army of straw men. Paul isn’t a genuine candidate, as he’s not pulling enough votes to take the Republican ticket. He is in no way a viable candidate. This kind of attention and concentration, however, does have the potential to make him seem like a legitimate alternative to progressive politicians.

Meanwhile, the rest of the GOP nominees are equally as creepy, particularly Rick Santorum, who claims ‘there are no Palestinians’, and that contraception is dangerous because ‘it’s a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be’. He’s a member of K Street, has ties to militias, the far right and is currently the preferred candidate of the Tea Party.

The debate around Ron Paul and his platform should be a gigantic red flag to the Democrats about their backing of Obama and his pro-war, pro-market administration, which is about to be elected for another term. But Ron Paul? Neither the next President, nor a fascist leader in the making.

Jacinda Woodhead is Overland’s deputy editor. She is in the midst of a PhD project about abortion in Australia and nonfiction as political intervention.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for that Jacinda.

    This is a difficult issue not just because Glenn Greenwald has raised it but because there is on the ground evidence that young Occupy activists in the US have been attracted to campaigning for Paul, or at least cheering him on, in significant numbers. In that sense his social base has shifted, whether or not that was Paul’s conscious intention.

    Mark Naison, a long-time left-wing activist, Professor of African American Studies and History at Fordham University in NYC and very active in Occupy Wall Street, has said the groundswell of support for Paul among activists, black and white, has been quite remarkable — that Paul has attracted people despite his awful positions.

    Naison argues that the Left needs to take the phenomenon on with care, to look at the shifting sociology of the movement at least as much as Paul’s politics (past and present) or else risk simply writing off or denouncing objectively left-wing activists attracted to Paul. There has been much denouncing of Greenwald (who I think gives Paul too much credit) by liberals and leftists on a very bad basis — talking about the need to get behind Obama and the Democrats. And there has been little discussion even in the rare better analyses as to how to construct not just a movement alternative to the major parties, but a political pole (the lack of such a Left political pole being a key reason that Paul has become popular).

    I think this quote from Gramsci is particularly apt today:

    At a certain point in their historical lives, social classes become detached from their traditional parties. In other words, the traditional parties in that particular organisational form, with the particular men who constitute, represent, and lead them, are no longer recognised by their class (or fraction of a class) as its expression. When such crises occur, the immediate situation becomes delicate and dangerous, because the field is open for violent solutions, for the activities of unknown forces, represented by charismatic “men of destiny”. [Selections from the Prison Notebooks, p. 210]

    This seems to me to indicate how a Ron Paul can (I suspect only transitorily) appear as a beacon to a section of Left activists. The question of how to relate to those drawn to him is a trickier one than just reading off his formal politics.

    • Thanks for that Tad, and I think that’s all very interesting.

      But I also think we should be careful of overstating how many people from the genuine left have been drawn over to Paul’s politics. He definitely has a base within the libertarians who back OWS and emphasise the importance of the individual – see also the WikiLeaks rallies, SOPA and civil liberties/freedom of information issues. (There was a libertarian current even at Occupy Melb and Occupy Sydney.)

      That said, some of the posts I linked to above where from young activists thoroughly disenchanted with Obama and ‘racist wars, who are finding it difficult to distinguish which politics they identify with.

      • I think this notion of the “genuine left” is potentially self-limiting.

        OWS has brought together people from established ideological Left positions with people taking action but their ideas a mix of all kinds of things. The ideological Left people are almost uniformly very wary of Paul, but the danger is that the newer activists who may be as radical as anyone on a whole host of issues could be pulled by him, simply because the old ideological verities are not where they come from.

        As Hossam el-Hamalawy says of confusions in the Egyptian Left (where of course political development is much more advanced) over how people identify their politics — as “Left” or something else:

        But there’s a problem with the terminology because many of those liberals, people who describe themselves as liberals, are actually radical Leftists, but they don’t know it – in the same way many ‘Leftists’ I consider liberals who have nothing to do with the Left.

        The reason I paraphrased Naison is that he is observing radical new activists supporting Paul and he is concerned that the established “ideological” Left doesn’t now see this as the sharp dividing line. Things are fluid, and Naison encourages a “sociological” look at the phenomenon rather than the politics of its figurehead. I think that’s sound advice.

        Your article, BTW, is one of the best summaries of the controversy I have read.

  2. Throughout the modern era, the Left has responded to US elections first and foremost by asserting that Republicans and Democrats represent the two wings of the elite. American politics are not akin to Australian or British politics, since there’s no social democratic party. That means the argument begins not by weighing up whatever promises made by the various hopefuls in the two parties but by trying to convince ordinary people to have no trust in either of them. That’s not the only thing that Leftists say about presidential election – but it’s the starting point, without which you run completely off the rails.
    If there’s not a viable working class alternative available (which there isn’t), the task is to orient to whatever social struggles are taking place.
    This is never a popular position, since liberals and other progressives will always – always! – assert that one candidate or another is the ‘lesser evil’ and that therefore the Left should work for their re-election. Nonetheless, it is the only principled stand.
    Greenwald’s argument – like that of most of the liberal blogosphere – proceeds from a different basis. Rather than insisting that the two parties are the same, it’s explicitly electoralist. It doesn’t orient to struggles but seeks to identify which candidate is ‘best’. That’s been the basis for all the debates that have followed, with various liberal bloggers weighing up who will be this year’s lesser evil.
    Approaching the argument on that basis necessarily leads to a muddle.
    An illustration: Jacinda says ‘nowadays, the Democrats are a party of pro-war, pro-corporate Imperialists’.
    But that’s not right. The Democrats – like the Republicans – have always been a party of pro-war, pro-corporate imperialists. That’s fundamental to the Left’s analysis. But accepting the argument in the terms Greenwald puts it leads you into this kind of electoralist framework.
    Hence she writes: ‘The debate around Ron Paul and his platform should be a gigantic red flag to the Democrats about their backing of Obama and his pro-war, pro-market administration, which is about to be elected for another term.’
    Again, though, this buys into the liberal fantasy about the possibility of ‘real Democrats’, candidates who aren’t pro-war or pro-market.
    Jacinda writes: ‘Shouldn’t we be asking, where is the real Left?’
    Again, the issue is phrased in the wrong way. We never thought that the ‘real Left’ would emerge in either party, which is why we begin the discussion, not with Greenwald’s comparison of candidates, but by frankly saying that the Left should put its trust in neither wing of capitalism.
    If you frame it like that, you can see why the argument about ‘Paul … raising an important inclusion in the electoral debate’ is so wrong. Insofar as ordinary people see Paul as raising anti-war arguments within the Republican Party, it makes it harder, not easier to break with the two party system. No, he’s not going to be nominated. When Paul doesn’t get the nod, will all those who looked to him suddenly realise that the two party system is not the way forward and then throw themselves into grass roots organising?
    Of course they won’t, since the way the debate has been pitched has made no mention of extra parliamentary politics. What’s more, insofar as they’ve come to identify with Paul, they’re less likely to join an anti-war mass movement, since Paul’s whole philosophy is antithetical to the collectivism upon which a real struggle against the war depends. It’s more likely that the disappointed Paul supporters will instead decide that, well, their chance hasn’t come this cycle and they must continue to build a current within the Republican Party – an absolutely grotesque conclusion.
    The liberal blogosphere’s flirtation with Paul represents, IMO, a widespread despair on the liberal left and a complete lack of political clarity. Rather than trying to build a left engaged in social struggle, we’re now seeing a further decomposition of clarity.
    This is not something to be encouraged.
    There’s a further argument I want to make about Tad’s argument about how to reach Paul’s supporters (short version: tactics should be subordinate to principles) but I’ve got to go now. Will try to come back to this later.

    • That seems a different argument to the one you’ve been making this past fortnight. I’ll have to respond later, too.

      • Previously we were arguing about the possibility in terms of a Paul current outside the Republican party. You seemed to downplay that in your piece, which was why I framed the response as above.
        For the sake of argument, though, if you thought Paul might engineer a break with the Republicans and the two party system, well, the flirtation with Paulism that Greenwald and others are engaged in would be even more dangerous.
        The Left argument for a third party has always taken for granted that such an organisation would be some kind of workers movement (though what exactly that means has bee controversial).
        It would be entirely unprincipled to provide any support for a petit-bourgeois party led by a far right ideologue like Paul.
        Again — and more importantly — attempts to paint such a party (or current) as somehow progressive would be a massive contribution to further demoralising and deorienting the American Left.
        That’s why it’s so important to come back to first principles. For the Left, the stated policies of political parties are only ever part of the equation — the analysis of the Republicans and Democrats rests on their class base.
        Paul’s positions on some questions (war, civil liberties) might be similar to those of the Left (though never the same). But he represents a tendency that is antithetical to the achievement of those ends. Most fundamentally, he is opposed to unionism and other forms of collectivism, and without union struggles, US militarism can never be adequately checked.
        To put it bluntly, insofar as anti-war activists sow illusions in Paulism, they are undermining the struggle against war. That’s why I think this confusionism is so serious.

        • It was never a question of a split toward Paul. In fact, Paul has run as a third candidate on several occasions – as a libertarian. That’s why he’s moved to the GOP, for legitimacy.

          One of the things that was so noticeable about Obama’s campaign was fundraising that drew a lot of small donations (suggesting working-class individuals ponied up), and the mobilisation of unions and community activists to enrol people to vote for Obama, on the basis of things like ending the war in Iraq, closing Gitmo, health care, welfare and so on. Your argument completely ignores those unionists and grassroots activists, who would never vote for Paul (because of his anti-union, anti-welfare platform), but are being demoralised because of the actions of the Democratic Party.

          In the vacuum that is the Left, silencing debate on Obama’s horrific record is just going to lead to demobilisation of any leftwing resistance.

          • I don’t understand what you are arguing.
            Obviously, the Democrats are demoralising those people who supported them. That’s why the Left needs to make a consistent argument that the Democrats, like the Republicans, are simply a wing of the ruling elite, and that the anti-war movement cannot rely on any of the candidates on offer.
            How is that ‘silencing debate on Obama’s horrific record’?
            Moreoever, exposing the failings of the Democrats is the easy part. Many of the people who voted for Obama now sense that they were sold a pup — that’s why they’re demoralised, it’s why there’s no Obamamania any more.
            The hard task is to put forward a credible alternative, to present, in a way that’s accessible to ordinary people, a Left wing movement that seems capable of delivering something.
            I cannot see how highlighting the supposedly progressive rhetoric of a right-wing demagogue like Paul contributes to that in the slightest.

          • Wait, it’s like you’re addressing a completely different post and argument.

            Wasn’t the original point of contention: in the current media cycle, is it worth having a debate about the wars, WikiLeaks, Gitmo and civil liberties in the lead-up to the US election? Do you think that it would be better to have no debate at all, rather than these topics be raised by Ron Paul?

            And is the reason you think that because the only outcome is going to be a loss in Dem support from those who move to Ron Paul, not just electorally, but also on the ground?

            Your suggestion is that there can be no progressive outcome if these issues are raised by Ron Paul.

  3. Ah, but that’s precisely the point that I’m making — you are accepting that the only way the debate can happen is if it’s taken up by bourgeois politicians. I mean, think about the implications of that. It’s implicitly an argument for rejecting radical politics and embracing parliamentarianism.
    Basically, it’s symptomatic of the whole way this argument about Paul has arisen, reflecting the deep despair of the US liberal left: ‘we are fucked; we are entirely incapable of building an anti-war movement; we need to find a saviour somewhere else — oh, look, here’s one!’
    It’s a desperate and unprincipled grabbing at straws. Rather than facing the unpalatable truth about where the movement is at, a section of the liberal blogosphere is flirting with the preposterous notion that a guy who is fundamentally opposed to collectivism will somehow spur a collectivist movement forward.
    Will there be a progressive outcome from progressive issues being raised by, and associated with, a rightwing politician? Of course there won’t! To raise the question is to answer it. The only outcome will be a further muddling of the Left and the Right. How can that possibly be a good thing?
    If you don’t agree, maybe you can explain what this progressive result might be.

  4. Surely the point Jacinda is making is that Paul has taken it up, and that is where we are. The question is how to understand that in order to relate to the sentiment, and for those in the US how to take it in an alternate direction.

    • Yes but that was what I was initially objecting to. This whole debate began when Leftists here circulated Greenwald’s piece, suggesting that it was a fine argument, whereas I thought it was quite dangerous.
      It’s one thing to rhetorically contrast a supposedly progressive politician with a far-right one in order to point out how right-wing they are (‘Julia Gillard is now adopting policies to the right of Pauline Hanson’ or whatever). But you can only do that in a principled fashion if you take it for granted that your readers accept that the far-right politician is completely beyond the pale.
      That isn’t what Greenwald (and the liberal bloggers following him) have been doing. They’re arguing that Paul beyond the pale, that people currently voting for Obama should at least consider supporting Paul. I don’t think there’s any ambiguity about that. Greenwald says he’s not endorsing Paul but he’s clearly suggesting that there are reasons why a vote for Paul might be worth considering — and he himself has been doing a speaking tour for Paul’s youth group.
      For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone on the Left thinks this is a good thing.
      Furthermore, I think Aurelien is exactly right to point out that this is an issue now arising all over the world. No, Paul and Le Pen are not the same. But increasingly we’re seeing the rise of far right politicians who express a populist anti-parliamentarianism that may seem to coincide with traditional Left arguments.
      It will have disastrous consequences if the Left gives ground to this.

  5. The argument around Paul’s anti-war position and the ‘support’ he has received from liberals and part of the Left is very similar to what is happening in Europe with the Extreme Right.

    In France in particular, Marine Le Pen, the president of the Front National, has also received a disguised support from the ‘progressive’ side of politics since she offered to put the workers back on the agenda and defend the French working class. Of course, these progressive people will not back her up directly, but they will say that, even though she provides the wrong answers, she asks the right questions.

    Yet everything in the programme and rhetoric of the Front National that addresses the working class is a veneer (and a poor one for that matter). The FN was and remains an extreme right party and as such it will defend capital: it will try to appeal massively to the lower working class, but will promise not to tax the rich a whole lot more, if at all.

    Those she calls the ‘invisible’ or the ‘silent majority’ are nothing but a convenient populist phrase to gain a semblance of democratic legitimacy and to attempt to hijack those who have felt betrayed by the parliamentary Left in France. So far it has been a massive failure and the working class people who associated themselves with the left at one time or another have never turned to the FN. Instead, they went en masse to abstention.

    However, and here is the catch, this might change as increasingly Le Pen is argued in the media, by academics and many ‘progressives’ to be ‘moderate’ and the defender of the interest of the working class as a whole, to voice the real concerns of an important and romanticised part of the population.

    Sorry about the long digression, but this to me is similar to the debate about Paul and central to the fight the left has to wage. Like the FN’s solutions, Paul’s anti-war position has nothing positive about it. It is not denying that there is a huge issue in US politics regarding war (and a lot of other things) and that the working class has been abandoned in France. It is simply ignoring the rabble from the right and concentrating on a real alternative, which will not come from either Paul or Le Pen.

    • But no-one is saying Paul is moderate. And Le Pen’s Front National is an actual fascist party.

      And, imo, France is a very different situation, one that has a totally different dynamic because it has real social democratic parties, unlike the US.

      • Not so sure in that case that France is that different for the social democrat party hasn’t been left for a while. That the social democratic tradition is central as to the way the left is formed and reacts is clear. However, the mainstreaming of radical right candidates and its impact is rather similar.

        As for the FN, tagging is a ‘fascist’ party is certainly satisfying, but not necessarily helpful. First, it does not fit the most accepted definitions of fascism (which doesn’t make it any better than fascism) and it lessens the novelty of the party and its reliance on populism in particular. Finally, it plays right in the hands of the extreme right itself for they can easily argue that they are not racist (at least biologically racist).

        • I’m curious as to why you think the FN is not racist. Surely its now widely accepted, except in public by the far Right themselves, that racism can apply to broader categories than biology. I think the public discussion to the Utoya massacre is evidence of that and that its widely accepted that Islamophobia is a form of racism.

          I’d be comfortable in labelling the FN a fascist party, after all, the far Right has learn’t something since 1945, as evidenced by the Eurofascist strategy of striving to appear respectable in the media, taking off the bomber jacket and wearing a suit instead.

          • I would argue that the FN is not racist or fascist for the same reason. Calling them either will only benefit them.

            The Front National can claim not to be racist for they no longer officially rely on biological forms of racism. They no longer argue that the French ‘race’ is superior to others, and that immigrants are inferior to whites/Europeans/Celts/Aryans/French… Therefore, calling them racist will only serve to make them martyrs. Stating that the far right hasn’t learnt anything since 1945 is not only completely wrong, it is also extremely dangerous (unless you think that the far right is limited to mimetic neo-Nazi and neo-Fascist groupuscules, which I guess would be far too limiting). With the push of the Nouvelle droite in the 1980s and part of the international New Right, parties like the Front National have evolved dramatically and only a dogmatic reading of history could go against that. If they became so succesful in the 1990s, 2000s it is because ironically they adopted strategies borrowed from the left. They started a vocabulary war based on Gramsciist tenets to make their ideas more mainstream and respectable. It is this evolution that makes me think it is counter productive to call them racist. Instead, using the term neo-racism along with a clear definition is crucial to define these parties in ways that cannot backfire. I think this linguistic discipline is lacking in the left nowadays and too often words like fascist or racist are thrown freely and wrongly. In a way, such a strategy is quite populist really.

            As for fascist, of course, as I said, it makes us all happy to tag the FN that way. However, this is again ignoring the changes the ER has been through in the past 70 years.

  6. I’m really surprised to find the author of this post basically repeating Greenwald’s meme that its a good thing that someone, even the far Right, has raised issues that the main parties have refused to touch.

    As pointed out in the article, there is no high profile Left raising these issues. Which means that the far Right in the guise of Ron Paul can gain the credit for doing so and in the process disorient layers of left liberals and Occupy activists. Given the electoral competition is between various shades of reaction, its hard to think of a more disastrous outcome for the Left which is working to mobilise grassroots campaigns.

    I’m also very doubtful as to whether Ron Paul raising these issues ‘exposes’ Obama. Obama himself has done more than enough to expose the right-wing policies of the Democrats amongst the masses. I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of people with illusions in him are Democrat apparatchiks, union officials, and layers of middle-class community leaders.

    In those circumstances, left-liberals don’t need to be disabused of their faith in Obama, they need to be disabused of their faith in the electoral process in the US as the the terrain best suited to the Left.

    • That wasn’t my argument, but, actually, if you want to be precise, Islamophobia is not racism. It doesn’t make it any better, but it doesn’t make it racist either.

      I think that one of the problem with part of the left is that they do not try to deconstruct properly their enemies’ propaganda and instead throw some catchy insults at them like neo-libs, fascist, racist… To me, this is exactly what the extreme right does in terms of STRATEGY(no need to comment to say that I’m implying that the left and the ER are the same, that’s not my point). This laziness fits well within the ER paradigm which consists of making simple claims about very complicated matters. On the other hand, the same strategy is extremely bad for the left.

      My point is that words matter for the left’s future. Orwell argued that about fascism much better than I would in 1946. Nothing new here really.

  7. Surely racism can adapt and its victims change? Otherwise anti-semitism isn’t racism either. I’d argue that within the context of the War on Terror Islamophobia is the most widespread form of racism in the West, particularly in Europe. Certainly its effect is the same on the victim.

    Here is a description of the French Front Nationale from the Independent from 2004. The heterogeneity of the members’ motivations would seem to match the grab bag of causes that characterise fascist movements.

    ‘the Vichy sentimentalists; the Algérie Française die-hards; the extreme conservative Catholics; the royalists; the anti-EU sovereigntists; the pagan white supremacists; the covert neo-Nazis; the jew-haters; the Arab-haters; the ex-Communist blue-collar workers; and the small shop-keepers.’

    • Of course, racism can adapt and change, hence why I propose to call what’s happening within the FN ‘neo-racism’. I think the neo prefix is crucial to avoid being bogged down in an debate that is not one (ie: ‘we are not racist because we do not believe in the inferiority or superiority of certain people’)

      As for the description of the Independent, it is not only simplistic but also outdated. Many of the most extreme members of the party have left in the past ten years after the Front attempted to mainstream itself. Again, that does not make the party any better (in fact it makes it more dangerous), it only makes it less of a caricature.

  8. Aurelien, the Left in France does face a problem with the FN, and it’s not their (still accurate, IMO) description of the party as racist and fascist.

    Rather, it is that the FN has quite cleverly oriented itself on attacking the Eurozone project on nationalist grounds, thus opening the possibility of rapidly winning support among large sections of the population feeling unrepresented in the current crisis. Yet the mainstream Left and radical Left have, in their different ways, argued against a break from the Euro, instead saying that the task is to build a kinder, gentler Europe (one social democratic, the other radical).

    In particular the NPA’s theoreticians (e.g. Michel Husson) have argued that calling for Eurozone exit would be a capitulation to the nationalism being mobilised by Le Pen and strengthen the Right. Worse, they call for a struggle for a “social Europe” as if this abstraction can mobilise workers facing the concrete political questions created by the crisis.

    In that sense Le Pen has asked the right question, and has given a (reactionary nationalist) version of the right answer. That she can do so reflects the deep crisis of the elite project in Europe and its inflection point around the question of monetary union.

    I don’t think you need discourse analysis to see why the Left is flailing; it is objectively lining up with the French ruling class on the key issue of the day.

    • Of course, if the left in general (the mainstream left?) has failed in France (and in most places), it is because it has aligned itself to the ruling class.

      But it is not this left I was talking about. Rather, what I had in mind was a more radical left (not the NPA either), the left I believe will be able to take on the struggle. It is this left that will have to rethink carefully its use of words in a world where lots can be said but little is heard.

      As for Marine Le Pen asking the right questions, I think it’s a grave misunderstanding of extreme right politics. Le Pen, Hitler and Mussolini never asked the right questions, they played on the fears (real or imaginary) of their constituencies. If the fear is unemployment and poverty, of course they will question the EU nowadays, or the Treaty of Versailles back in the 30s. That does not mean that their input in the debate is worth considering (outside of the fight against the ER of course).

      Not sure if that last bit made sense, but I’m happy to rework it if it doesn’t. I’m in the middle of writing an article, so this response was just a quick and welcomed procrastination!

      • I have no doubt that Le Pen is playing on fears, but so what? There is not just fear of unemployment or poverty — there is real unemployment and poverty, real social suffering. There has to be a rational and material basis for the growth of influence of fascism, even if the “solution” is an irrational, extreme nationalist solution rather than a class solution.

        What is the programme of the French Left (even this radical one you mention) for addressing this crisis? How does that deal with the way that crisis presents itself politically? The crisis is a crisis of the EMU project based in a crisis of capitalism

        I don’t resile from saying that Le Pen asks the correct question and even poses a plausible answer, even if it is framed in such a way as to lead people in exactly the wrong direction. The question is whether the Left is clear enough to pose the right question and provide a plausible answer that heads in the correct direction, towards a class solution to the crisis.

        On the Treaty of Versailles: Well, it was hurting the German working class, and so the Communist Party of 1923 had to try to pose a political solution that opposed French imperial pressure on German workers while not acceding to German nationalism. Not easy, but how else do you deal with the concrete situation? And they did so both by mobilising real workers’ struggles but also posing these in terms of an alternative political programme to that of the mainstream parties.

        I think the far Right’s “input” is worth considering because as politics continues to polarise they will be trying to inhabit and dominate similar political spaces as the Left, if they are even half clever about it.

        • As per my previous comment, I agree with you that the fears are real and that they should be addressed by the Left. There’s no doubt about it. What I disagree with is the statement that the ER is asking the right questions. I do not think the ER is asking questions at all, it is simply adding fuel to the fire for to promote its ethno-exclusivist agenda. Of course, the ER will touch on issues that are relevant to the left, but they will also touch on issues that have nothing to do with the left too for their aim is to appeal to anyone discontented and alienated enough. Don’t get me wrong, as I said, it is still crucial to fight the extreme right on its use of issues that should be part of the left. However, saying the ER asks the right questions is legitimising it. This is partly why the FN is so high in the polls at the moment. Without the right playing on the fears of its candidates and the left using the ER as a scarecrow to rally its electorate against racism, it is unlikely the Front National would have taken off so quickly in the mid-90s.

          Regarding the treaty of Versailles, I agree and that was the point I was trying to make. The ER will always go for the hot topic and sometimes it coincides with the Left’s agenda. But again, it is mere coincidence.

          Their input from my point of view is not worth considering in the debate. Yet it is crucial to debunk and to show it for what it really is: nothing even remotely progressive. This goes for the French ER and for Paul I believe.

  9. In response to Jeff, I think what I said about France has relevance to the argument about Ron Paul.

    The crisis has deeply discredited both wings of the bourgeois political class, and so a radical wildcard like Paul can gain a hearing in unexpected quarters because he relates to correct questions with answers that ring true. We are not dealing with politics as usual here. While, again, I don’t agree with Greenwald’s softness on Paul, I think Greenwald’s argument (and Paul’s popularity among sections of the Left) reflect how weak the Democrat option has become for a US ruling class trying to stabilise the situation. We have to recognise that Paul’s insertion into this debate is not primarily the result of Paul himself or misguided liberal bloggers (although let’s keep this in proportion – the vast majority of liberal bloggers have gone nuts trying to shore up Obama) but of the severe crisis of normal bourgeois politics that creates such a space.

    So how does the Left take advantage of this crisis?

    Jeff writes: “If there’s not a viable working class alternative available (which there isn’t), the task is to orient to whatever social struggles are taking place.” Well, this is eternally true, but it doesn’t answer the political question raised by the crisis of the main parties, which is itself a product of the crisis of the system. “Build Occupy” becomes as much of an abstraction as “fight for a social Europe”, because it doesn’t provide a concrete programme around which it can build a political alternative.

    The reason we have some Occupy activists drawn to Paul is not a failure of building social struggles but their political weakness, and the timidity and confusion of a radical Left that correctly shouts “a plague on both their houses” but abstains from thinking about what sort of programme it must try to help the movement develop. Part of articulating that inevitably means having something positive to insert into the world of bourgeois politics, even while arguing that in the end the point is to defeat that world.

    • ‘Part of articulating that inevitably means having something positive to insert into the world of bourgeois politics, even while arguing that in the end the point is to defeat that world.’
      Well, that’s equally abstractly true.
      But there’s clearly a tendency emerging now of self-identified progressives praising Ron Paul. How, concretely, do you respond to that?
      My argument is that it’s manifestly a problem, symptomatic of a deep demoralisation and confusion of the Left. Arguing that bourgeois parties, in particular bourgeois parties of the extreme right, should not be supported by the Left is not the end of the argument but it’s an absolutely crucial beginning. To be honest, that seems to me a really, really basic question of principle.
      Yet every time I make it, I get these responses that suggest that, actually, the problem is those who say ‘a plague on both their houses’, an argument which implicitly (indeed, almost explicitly) renders tactical questions about how you present an argument greater importance than clarifying a basic principle about the attitudes of the Left to bourgeois parties.

  10. What a load of party politics!
    When is the factional in-fighting and left-right political diversion going to end. Simply put, nobody cares how you would like to disseminate political policy and campaign issues into some predetermined factional pidgeon hole.
    The simple issue is do you stand for reform and a return to a grass roots policy on liberty, justice, economic stability, sensible foreign policy and abide by the US constitution…or you stand with the establishment and the status quo!
    Time to wake up..you can debate all you like on how electable Ron Paul may or may not be, but that is simply symantics..the truth is Ron Paul and his libratarian-republican consertative policys have motivated a tidal wave of support across a nation and even gained widspread global support. An emerging generation has seized on the message of liberty, truth and justice, and these are the future leaders, and flag bearers of the nation.
    Like it or not, despite all the establishment rumblings, and party politics, despite how the 2012 election pans out, this movement is not going away, and will sweep the nation.
    Ron Paul doesen’t bring an agenda..he brings a message.

  11. Jacinda Woodhead:
    I would strongly suggest you take down your offensive banner, at the top of your article, and your defamatory statement.
    “would they really identify with Paul, given his racism”

  12. “Ron Paul doesn’t bring an agenda… he brings a message”?

    In these somewhat post-ideological days it seems to me, James, that the message being disseminated by Ron Paul is essentially a religious message, whereby the entranced party faithful are being moved to accept another serving of white bread corporatist party politics under the guise of a guiding spirit offering undeliverable social change.

    Good luck if the future works out as you see it: I can’t see it happening that way.

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