Discover more from This Week with David Rovics
Embracing Reality and Finding Solutions vs. Sowing Division and Spreading Disinformation
A response to Shane Burley's latest piece of disinformation in Truthout, along with related thoughts on Al-Jazeera's Labour Files exposé, Scandinavian economics, and the future of civilization.
Note: the podcast version of this missive will be delayed by a few days. I’ll record it when I get home from Australia…
Whether the US left is dead or in a pit or at a crossroads or whatever other image we want to invoke, it's not in a good way, overall, and regardless, it's always a good time to reassess our outlook, tactics, and vision for the future. I think about this sort of thing often, but in the past few weeks these sorts of thoughts have been happening in a certain, current, context. In the big picture, climate chaos and a general global failure of the dominant capitalist system to meet the challenge, a bloodbath in Ukraine that threatens to become a global nuclear war between Russia and NATO, and an ever-worsening crisis for those in the US attempting to keep themselves housed or avoid being gunned down in the next massacre. In the small picture, as I've been doing concerts around Australia for the past two weeks, I've been thinking a lot about George Lakey's book, Viking Economics, which I listened to in February in audiobook form, and about Al-Jazeera's four-part documentary, the Labour Files, as well as about Shane Burley's latest effort at division and disinformation posing as journalism, which was published in Truthout a couple days before I left for this current tour, and which I happen to have read only because Google alerted me that my name had appeared online somewhere on a platform that it considers to be "news."
On the afternoon of March 20th I left for Australia, but that morning I had a nice walk with fellow Portlander, Shamus Cooke. Like me, Shamus has been involved with various forms of left politics and organizing in Portland for a long time, up to and including the present. What happened to the latest social movement to sweep the streets of the US in 2020, we agreed, had all the hallmarks of a counter-revolution.
This Week with David Rovics is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Listening to the Labour Files documentary about the successful campaign of the UK's Labour Party establishment to overthrow their party's own popularly-elected leader, smear him with false allegations, and kick him out of the Labour Party -- and also being familiar with the ways the Democratic National Committee conspired to sabotage Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign in 2016 -- some of the most interesting bits are when we hear about the particular techniques that were employed by the rightwing of the party to create false myths and smears, and to cleanse the party of most of its best organizers in the process of taking it back from Jeremy Corbyn. Anyone who has been involved with the left in the US over the past few years has seen exactly the same sorts of efforts successfully made to sow division and spread disinformation within the movement that took the streets across the country for most of 2020. As to who is behind these efforts, in some cases it's obvious, but in other cases, perhaps we'll have to wait for the next exposé.
Reading Viking Economics, a book which Lakey wrote several years ago, was just a process of having all of my understanding about how things work confirmed by an author who has come to the same conclusions. George knows a lot more about Scandinavian history and economics than I do, but like George, I spent a lot of time in Scandinavian countries early on in my adult life, and still do. Experiencing life in Scandinavia and becoming good friends with many Scandinavians over many years, I drew all of the same conclusions that George drew, without knowing as much of the history as he does. The particular conclusion George and I drew that I would highlight at the moment is this one: when the left is fundamentally a proactive force, forming cooperatives and unions and building a more equal and more prosperous society that way, the countervailing political forces from the right that can be so very popular and destabilizing in countries around the world, from Germany in the 1930's to the US, India, or Brazil today, never really get much of a foothold on political power.
When there is a rightwing movement of any size that is engaging in activities like attacking places where refugees are living, as happened in parts of Germany in the wake of the economic devastation that hit the east after German reunification -- to take one of many similar examples from around the world, from throughout human history -- then I applaud those brave, mostly black-clad youth who went to places like Rostock and stood in between the refugees and the xenophobic mob of disenfranchised Ossies. Insert anecdote here -- Cable Street, Charlottesville, and so on. In fact, it is this very element of society that perpetually makes up a large minority of my audience globally -- people who might use a variety of descriptors for their worldviews, orientations towards political strategies, aspirations, etc., but who will often be identified by outsiders as Antifa.
So it is sometimes with a little hesitation that I make the point that the way forward always needs to be about building a better society, because I say this not to disparage those who spend a lot of their time and energy opposing the right in one form or another, but just to emphasize that there is no amount of opposition to the right that can ever build the left. Building is a different set of activities. Furthermore, when opposition to the right becomes a constant, never-ending dance for the left, this only tends to feed the growth of the right and justify the narratives of those trying to build the right -- that is to say, the tactic actually backfires and becomes counter-productive, a little like cops trying to defeat crime by fighting criminals.
If we follow the political activist model that has been established since 2020 in many circles, we make a priority of having a general consensus about all kinds of things within our organizations, getting lost in endless debates about whether we can have members of our group who diverge from the left consensus around one issue or another, lest we impose an unsafe space on everyone. The focus becomes one of moral purity rather than accomplishing anything. If we follow a simplified version of the Scandinavian model, we don't focus so much on opposing the problematic elements of society, but on building institutions that support those elements, and watch the bullies stop acting like that in the process, as they get all of their needs met, and stop having any reason to blame immigrants or trans school teachers or whoever else for their problems.
The labor movement in Northern Ireland is made up of roughly half people who, if given the opportunity, would vote for the north to leave the United Kingdom and join the Irish Republic, and half people who would be likely to vote against this. It is made up of many people who consider violent resistance to a violent British occupation a just and necessary cause, and many people who think any such resistance is nothing more than mindless criminality. I could go on with describing the differences between your average Irish Republican and your average British Loyalist in the north of Ireland. But they're in the same labor movement. This didn't happen from people shouting at each other and calling each other terrorists, but from the capacity of the Irish people -- or British people, depending on how they might call themselves on that island -- to overlook their many differences and find common ground, such as a desire for everyone from both sides of the sectarian divide to have good-paying jobs and not to be exploited by wealthy capitalists due to their historic inability to organize together.
It seems obvious to me and a lot of other people that it is this kind of spirit we need today, in a big way, rather than more expressions of moral outrage, grandstanding, or finding ways in which we can attack each other for our transgressions. What we especially don't need are efforts to make a divide look more significant than it actually is, by spreading disinformation, which brings me to Shane Burley's latest piece of fake news in Truthout, not just because he mentions my name again, but because it, and Shane, are emblematic of the challenge the left in the US faces today.
I'm no expert on Shane Burley, nor shall I become one -- I have many other more useful ways to spend my time. But given that I have transgressed in Shane's eyes and crossed over onto the Dark Side years ago, and given that he felt the need to publish more commentary linking me to fascism on a popular left platform, he's a particularly useful example of how not to be an organizer, and how not to do journalism, along with some of his colleagues engaged with identical activities.
For a very brief introduction to those who have avoided the subject to date, Shane is a legitimate social critic in the eyes of many on the more anarchist-oriented end of the left because he publishes collections of essays on AK Press about antifascism, which generally include some excellent contributions from some dedicated thinkers and organizers, such as Anti-Racist Action founder and Portland-based hiphop artist, Mic Crenshaw (with whom I recently recorded a great album). Aside from putting out these collections of essays now and then, Shane's own journalistic endeavors seem to involve a lot of blogging and YouTube discussions, and a few articles each year published on a platform that Google and Wikipedia agree qualifies as "news," such as Truthout, NBC, and Ha'aretz. The content with his blogging, videos, and journalism tends to revolve around talking about why various elements of the left are actually closet fascists and antisemites, and why the wisdom of experts on fascism such as Shane is necessary in order for society to hopefully avoid becoming fascist -- the message is that we need to identify and isolate the people on the left like me, who are supposedly platforming fascists and supposedly making space on the left for antisemitic and racist ideas.
Shane's latest piece in Truthout features a picture of Tulsi Gabbard speaking at February's Rage Against the War Machine rally in Washington, DC, and is titled "Fascists Are Attempting to Win Followers by Rebranding as Antiwar."
That Shane would write something about this particular rally comes as no surprise. The rally was pretty much designed to attract the ire of people like Shane. The notion that antiwar people from the left should even consider protesting together or forming any other kind of alliance with antiwar libertarians or members of the US Republican right that are questioning Biden's headlong plunge towards Armageddon is anathema to Shane, it is evidence of our country's journey towards becoming a full-fledged fascist state, evidence that fascists are opportunistically trying to join a nonexistent antiwar movement in order to impress us all with their apparently brilliant perspective. In Shane's world, these voices must only be silenced, they're too powerful, no discussion allowed, that's just allowing for "entryism" to work its nefarious ways with our innocent leftwing minds. We can't read the wrong books or hear the wrong speeches, so the narrative goes, you might brainwash yourself, or expose yourself to traumatic thoughts.
Shane, of course, is far from the only leftwing pundit to criticize this rally. Some of the people who were scheduled to speak at it had to pull out, due to opposition from members of their own groups to participating in a rally that involved certain elements of political society. The possibility that one of those antiwar Republicans might also say something disagreeable about immigration or abortion was too much to countenance. Being correct and being in a safe space is more important than society uniting to prevent World War 3, it seems.
Shane's article begins as a straightforward, if critical, description of the rally in February.
The idea of a political coalition that mixes self-identified communists with neo-Nazis may seem implausible at first. However, a February 19 rally in Washington, D.C., branded as an effort to “Rage Against the War Machine,” brought together dissident parts of the left and the right into common opposition to the U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) role in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
The next several paragraphs continue to describe the rally and comment on the preposterousness of it. He then seamlessly continues with discussion of Matthew Heimbach for most of the rest of this lengthy article with lots of historical background about how fascism works, and which attempts to interpret Heimbach's political orientation, beginning with a quote from Heimbach.
“This is a religious war, it is a cultural war, and it is a political war against the people of East Ukraine who only ever wanted to go home,” said Matthew Heimbach, who was there to promote the Patriotic Socialist Front.
Matthew Heimbach was one of the organizers of the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2017 and has been involved with all kinds of other rightwing, racist, and disgusting political initiatives. As Burley notes, he has since become a Marxist-Leninist with an Orthodox religious bent, and has also thus become, as Shane puts it, "marginal." What Shane doesn't note is the reason Heimbach was ever a well-known figure is because of the rightwing media covering his every move for years, and the reason why he is now so marginal is because they no longer have any interest in him, because he's inconveniently now against most of the things he used to support, and no longer makes for good soundbites if he's quoting Fred Hampton rather than Adolf Hitler.
Regardless of Heimbach's past, present, or politics, however, the very notable thing that Shane does not make at all clear in his article is that Matthew Heimbach was not a speaker at the event. Shane quotes him just after quoting people who were speaking from the stage. He doesn't say anywhere that Heimbach was saying all of these things from the stage, or was somehow affiliated with the organizers of this rally, because he wasn't -- but this is very clearly implied by omission.
Plausible deniability, I suppose, but it's very clear what Shane is doing here. He is trying to associate the Rage Against the War Machine rally with Matthew Heimbach, because Heimbach showed up to the rally with a couple of friends, and stood in the grass far from the stage, talking to people who were largely hostile to him, recalling his active record of white supremacist organizing in the fairly recent past. And he then also feels the need to associate me with Heimbach, because I had the gall to interview him once on my YouTube channel during the Capitol siege. Shane writes:
Heimbach eventually rebranded as a “former white nationalist” and attempted inroads with the left. He appeared on the podcast of popular protest musician David Rovics, whom Heimbach said was a favorite of his both before and during his time in white nationalism. After backlash, Rovics temporarily took down the interview with Heimbach, though indicated he had kept up correspondence with him, and that he didn’t believe Heimbach was a fascist, and has published multiple articles singling out anti-fascists as the real threat.
Shane thinks talking to fascists, or former fascists, is a terrible thing to do, as is corresponding with them. I am guilty of accepting the possibility that Heimbach's politics have evolved (from reprehensible to bizarre). I'm definitely guilty of seeking to understand fascists by talking to some of them, current or former, including Heimbach. I think a lot more people on the left should do that, and we should also consume rightwing media, so we have a clue about how these people think! But Shane's orientation is against communication, against dialogue, against understanding, and certainly against different political factions unifying around any common goals, like preventing a nuclear holocaust.
Though Shane would like to believe that he and his friends represent the pinnacle of antifascist thought today, they don't. They're a marginal sect of cancellation campaigners, calling out nonexistent left antisemitism everywhere they think they've found it, attacking people for engaging in any public communication with the wrong people, and doing serious damage to activist networks around the internet-speaking world.
When he says I "published multiple articles singling out anti-fascists as the real threat," what he means is I published many articles talking about how he and his discredited antifascist researcher friend Alexander Reid Ross (quoted in his latest Truthout missive) and his cancellation-campaigning colleague Spencer "David Rovics is a fascist collaborator" Sunshine are threats to me and to the notion of understanding the actual fascist threat. I've written about how they use their troll farm to attack people like me, and how they spread misinformation to try to invent new realities because they are convenient for their "entryist" narrative.
For more information on Shane Burley, his "antifascist" gatekeeping and thought crime activities, his "antifascist" cancellation campaigning, and some background on the German origins of his whole worldview (it's all translated directly from the annals of a group called the Anti-Deutsche, as far as I can tell), go to davidrovics.com/trolls.
The new album will be up on Spotify and whichever music streaming platform you may use any day now. Here’s a YouTube playlist consisting of 5 songs from the new album with video from our recording sessions in January, followed by a remixed version of the video of our January concert at Earth Matters Farm on the Big Island of Hawai’i.
Note about this Substack newsletter: I only put out free, open-to-the-public content on Substack, so those notifications giving you the option to support my work by being a paid subscriber to my newsletter represent just another way for supporters to become patrons of the arts, just like with members of my Community-Supported Art program who signed up via my website, on Patreon, or on Bandcamp. If you already support me on another platform, thank you, there’s no need for you to also do it on Substack. But if you’re not a paid subscriber on another platform already, feel free to become one! Crowdsourced patronage is mainly how I survive these days, in this post-CD era.
This Week with David Rovics is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.