This Week with David Rovics
This Week with David Rovics
The Progressive Embrace of the McCarthyite Left

The Progressive Embrace of the McCarthyite Left

Since when did we all become Nazis?

My upcoming album, I Heard A Rumor, has a theme running through many of the songs.  All the songs were written in the past couple years, mostly in the past few weeks.  "Cancel Culture Commander" was written a couple years ago.  I never put it on an album at that time because I'm just too nice, or I hoped this ongoing bizarre episode would somehow blow over, but that was wishful thinking.  And certainly the overall theme of the album demands the inclusion of this song anyway.

Between the title track and songs like "Cancel Culture Commander" and "My Techno-Fascist God," the theme is the deadly toxic rumor mill and what makes it function.  The false rumors that become the whispered allegations and the shouted accusations -- who makes them and why?  To what end?

Whatever gets the mill moving, social media algorithms, in the modern era, will make sure it spins like a perpetual motion machine.

There are two main categories of people who engage in this kind of practice, of vilifying and sowing seeds of doubt about people that might otherwise be assumed to be part of your end of the political spectrum.  There might be quite a bit of cross-over between the two groups, but we could generally say we're either dealing with nefarious actors of one kind or another, or earnest sectarians.

Why players like undercover police agents of the sort that commonly used to be called the Red Squad would want to sow division on the left or among those involved with a social movement is obvious.  That's what they do, it's their reason for existing, all this time, like since the FBI was formed over a century ago.

But for the sake of argument, let's assume some of those who habitually go around making false accusations and otherwise gratuitously attacking fellow leftists in an apparent effort to divide and deflate resistance groups are not agents of the state, but are doing what they believe to be right.  How did they develop this toxic, destructive, self-destructive orientation?  Why are some of them given credibility by progressive publications?  And why are some of them habitually adopted and promoted by mainstream media outlets?

"Cancel Culture Commander" focuses on my chief nemesis, that is, the man who chose to make me his chief nemesis, for whatever reason, author, journalist, and cult guru of Rose City Antifa, Shane Burley.  Why has Shane Burley dedicated so much of his time to writing blog posts and participating in social media campaigns to paint me as an antisemite?  What motivates him and his followers?

Along with his regular, badly-written and somewhat incoherent rants about yours truly, Shane has apparently got a new book out, on his very favorite subject, antisemitism.  Shane has made a career out of positioning himself as a self-appointed expert on antisemitism -- especially the "creeping" variety, that involves people of Jewish extraction like me and Norman Finkelstein and others, who have a very different outlook on geopolitics and history than Shane does, and are therefore antisemites.

In my lifetime I have witnessed the ongoing occupation and slaughter of the Palestinian people, I have seen widespread poverty and famine continue to characterize life in so many countries on planet Earth, I have seen climate chaos, I've seen a massive housing crisis sweep the USA, I've seen widespread police brutality targeted against certain groups in this country that generally do not include Jews, but I haven't seen any big rise in antisemitism.  Yes, there was a massacre at a synagogue, but there have been a whole bunch of massacres at churches, schools, country music festivals, and shopping malls across the USA as well, there's literally a massacre every day in recent years.  I'm seeing a society that's falling apart in all kinds of ways, but not a particular pattern of antisemitism with regards to the gun violence either.

In fact, very different from a rise in antisemitism, what I have witnessed and experienced in my 57 years growing up as the very direct descendant of lots of European Jews, such as my Yiddish-speaking grandmother, is that we have long now had an educational system and a media ecosystem in the US and in many other countries that works hard, year in and year out, to teach everyone about the horrors of fascism and the Nazi genocide of European Jewry in particular.  This theme has been so widely and deeply emphasized for so many people, in fact, that at this point, in countries like the US, the UK, and Germany, Jews who commit atrocities are much more likely to get a free pass rather than to be condemned for them -- as evidenced by the lack of much opposition to the constant atrocities committed by the self-proclaimed Jewish state for the past 76 years or so, in those key countries that make Israel as we know it today, and its atrocities, possible.

There is, of course, the rise of the far right in lots of countries, and with it all kinds of antisemitic notions along with racism, xenophobia, and nationalism.  But the central focus of this phenomenon is not the existence of Jews or the idea that Jews run the world.  There are lots of other clear reasons for the rise of the far right, and they're mostly material in nature, just like they were a century ago.

So then how would it be that someone with an ostensibly left orientation in life can turn into a person who, if genuine, believes I'm some kind of Jewish antisemite who should be regularly mocked and misrepresented in various forums?  How would someone coming out of the left come to think that one of the biggest problems we face today is this supposed rise in antisemitism, and that in order to combat it we should dedicate our time to making sure anyone who is fascist or fascist-adjacent (like me) is deplatformed, including through the use of violence to shut down events involving people you don't like?

When it comes to what is widely known as "antifascism," or "antifa," it's very important to note that there are many different kinds of people in many different countries doing all kinds of organizing under the banner of antifascism, and there are very big differences between them.  In Germany there are different camps, though sometimes not very clearly-defined, that are often identified as "anti-imperialist" vs. "anti-German."  To oversimplify the differences, some groups specifically oppose actual fascists by various means including physical confrontation.  Other groups oppose anyone who doesn't agree with them on certain subjects, and targets them as they would target a fascist.

Going back to the origins of the movement, wherever there were communists in the 1930's, but as I understand it, especially in Germany, there were those practicing what was for a time the Moscow-approved tactic of punching Nazis -- physically assaulting Nazis in the streets wherever you saw them manifesting in some form.

There are very different interpretations of the consequences of this widespread practice in Germany -- of the social and political impact of the chaos on the streets involving something like gang warfare between communists and fascists.  But one interpretation, which is the one that makes the most sense to me, is that this atmosphere on the streets contributed to the popularity of fascism, and also directly led to Hitler being invited to join the government.

Some people -- including me when I was younger, and a lot of my friends and comrades then and now -- have a different take on that history, or for whatever other set of reasons they believe the tactic of deplatforming fascists wherever they're trying to hold an event, including by physically attacking them, is the way we're going to keep the rise of fascism at bay.  I would say now that they hold this belief despite all the evidence to the contrary.  They would say we're just not trying hard enough.

One of the problems with the "attack the fascists whenever you see one" tactic, aside from it tending to backfire and cause the opposite of the results intended, is that it's also perfectly designed for manipulation by ill-intentioned forces, such as Cointelpro operatives on a mission to misdirect and debilitate networks and organizations they're assigned to disrupt.

The tendency to denounce everyone you don't like as being some kind of Nazi is not new.  Pretty much as soon as there was an organized antifascist movement, there were those within it pushing for wider definitions of what constitutes fascism.  

With the rise of the Anti-German tendency on the German left, as has been widely documented as well as experienced by me very directly, anyone who opposes Israeli policies is an antisemite, regardless of whether they're Jewish, survivors of the Nazi holocaust, or whatever else, it's totally irrelevant, when you apply the completely black-and-white analysis of this wildly sectarian and confused political tendency.

With the rise of the tendency represented by Shane Burley and his little following of true believers, anyone who disagrees with his particular antifascist doctrine is a heretic.  In my case, the "black line" I crossed was to believe that having public conversations with rightwingers is potentially a useful thing, for finding common ground, and understanding each other, and the ways we're being used by the powers-that-be in their efforts to divide and rule the population.

Seeking dialogue and believing in communication is the direct reason for my vilification by Mr. Burley, for this notion is heretical.

If Shane is an honest actor and genuinely believes that communication between the left and the right will somehow inevitably result in fascism -- rather than, as I believe, work towards preventing it -- then it follows that I'm a fascist, or as good as one.  

If I'm a fascist, according to Shane's analysis, I should be held accountable -- that is, vilified at every opportunity, prevented from playing gigs or appearing at events, lied about, and perhaps worse.  That he believes this in principle is abundantly in evidence from his antifascist writings.  That he believes it in reference to me specifically is abundantly in evidence from his record of essays and social media posts dedicated to yours truly.

In these times, the liberal media and the Democratic Party has use for people like Shane, and others who are, or who are at least pretending to be, researchers on the far right, and on the history of fascism.  Presumably, the far right researchers are not all intentionally trying to aid the electoral strategies of the Democratic Party -- though most of them probably believe that if they are inadvertently helping Democrats get elected, that's better than the alternative, which they, along with many Democrats, believe will likely be the end of democracy as we know it.

With self-proclaimed antifascists doing antifascist research and supposedly educating us all about the dangers of fascism getting prominent play within the liberal media ecosystem, the consequences of these self-appointed gatekeepers of antifascist thought deciding someone is actually a fascist or an antisemite -- "they're just pretending not to be, trust me, I'm an expert" -- can be devastating.

With the widespread embrace of what is inherently a sectarian approach that is fundamentally opposed to principles of freedom of expression and open discourse, society goes down a dangerous road.  What were fringe tactics embraced by antifascist militants are now being actively promoted by major liberal media networks and book publishers, because they hope the fear will get their candidates elected.

When these pundits, authors, professors, podcasters, etc. from the more paranoid, Anti-German/Rose City Antifa end of the antifascist camp decide to vastly expand their definitions of who is a fascist and what constitutes antisemitism, they'll get their message broadcast on NPR and I Heart Radio, literally.  And of course their message will be amplified by the conflict algorithms on major social media platforms -- which in some cases they will systematically seek to manipulate through that particular form of collective online action known as a troll farm.

Whose interests Shane and his political tendency are serving with their divisive accusations, calling everyone and their grandmother an antisemite, is a matter of open question.  But whether they believe in what they're doing or not, the most important thing is understanding how the sectarian, puritanical mindset they represent is so destructive and counter-productive, and completely McCarthyite in nature.

This Week with David Rovics
This Week with David Rovics
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