September 12, 2014
Kajieme Powell and why police are the wrong people to deal with the man with a knife

[Note: a piece I wrote the week Kajieme Powell was killed by St. Louis police. Nearly but didn’t get picked up by a few publications, so here it is.]

A man stands glaring at you with a knife in his hand. What do you do?

It sounds like a children’s choose-your-own-adventure book, but unfortunately, it is an all too real experience that many people are faced with. It’s hard to know what to do, and the survival instinct is supposed to be first and foremost in our minds. However, we have people in our society who volunteer and are trained to protect us from men with knives and to reduce their harm to others. We’re told that we can go to those people for protection.

When the police left their patrol car in north St. Louis to engage Kajieme Powell, a man people are saying was acting erratically, they made a choice to put themselves in harm’s way, the same as every police officer does when they go to the academy or put on their badge at the top of the shift.  When they left their car with guns out, they made a choice, and they had fourteen seconds to decide on a course of action that might not have killed another young Black man, so soon after the death of Michael Brown just ten miles away in Ferguson.

Police are equipped with a series of incapacitating and “Less Lethal” weaponry, and especially in a Duty-to-Retreat state like Missouri (as opposed to Stand-Your-Ground states like Ohio), the law suggests they retreat if they if they could safely avoid risks that way. The police claim “he had a knife” is a typical attempt to dehumanize the victim of police violence, which avoids the officers’ responsibility to explain why pepperspray, tasers, batons, targeting legs, or dialogue was not an option. Typical police cowardice.

Police cowardice revealed itself again when dozens of police advanced for blocks on Darrius Kennedy, who was armed with a large knife, in midtown Manhattan in 2012, and finally gunned him down rather than using any of the array of “Less Lethal” weapons they have been equipped with. And again, they revealed it when  officers stood back on a subway car as a man with a knife attacked Joe Lozito who suffered a series of injuries before fighting the man off and ending his stabbing spree. Police were able to hide behind the Supreme Court’s Castle Rock v. Gonzales decision, where the public again learned police do not have a duty to protect people.

This is not to say that no officer has done something reasonable when they saw someone with a knife threatening someone else. But the hundreds of killings by police every year that have been counted by watchdog groups, since no federal government agency files comprehensive numbers on killings or use of force by municipal and state police, prove to the public time and again that we cannot trust the official story in a system swollen with impunity. When we know the stories of John Crawford, Aaron Harrison, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Oscar Grant, and hundreds of others, and then listen to an official story that lays the groundwork for impunity, our skepticism becomes a reasonable first impulse.

I posited this opinion, that along with the unarmed casualties of countless police attacks, these wild gunmen shouldn’t be shooting down people who wield knives, and the immediate response by a typical police apologist was- who the hell am I to talk about what’s it like to face a man with a knife since I’ve never done it.

The thing is, I have. In my capacity as a Copwatch organizer who has been trying to empower communities to collectively resist police racism and violence, I have learned a hard lesson that was carried with me from the neighborhoods I grew up in. Along with police violence, our communities are plagued by anti-social violence from within. And just as I have learned to work up the courage to confront violent police, I have also stood in front of men and women wielding knives at least a dozen times. And in not a single one of those instances, I am proud to say, was anyone ever cut, stabbed, shot, or killed.

Sometimes partnering with groups doing street intervention and mediation work like Cure Violence (formerly CeaseFire), our work in Copwatch and simply as community members has placed us directly in front of people with knives, sometimes between them and the people they wanted to harm. Not all my methods were nonviolent- while I once struggled with a knife-wielding neo-nazi, my friend punched him in the head, where he dropped the knife. In another instance, I was able to get a drunk couple to walk down a few blocks from the people they wanted to stab, watch a Queen Latifah movie, and reflect on better ways to resolve the issue. It usually took simple dialogue, a little craziness on my part, and a bit of luck, to calm people down and pull them out of the conflict.

Groups like the Peace Institute, Anti-Violence Project, Sista II Sista, and  others give trainings in deescalation and mediation work. People who do it, most of us on an unpaid basis, know that we’re entering into violent scenarios that often pose severe risks. But these types of interveners are not upheld as the heroes of society that primetime TV, parades, and disproportionate sentencing for assault on officers insist we believe police are. In fact, these programs get marginalized and defunded. Chicago’s level of street violence did not deter former Governor Rod Blagojevich from cutting Cure Violence’s state funding in 2007, or Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel from closing the last of the trauma centers on the city’s South Side, which sees much of the worst violence. They played directly into a neoliberal agenda that said that government should cut social services while militarizing police forces- and indeed State Troopers have been sent to Chicago to augment the police force. And they played into a racial agenda that says that brown lives don’t matter, brown trauma isn’t real, brown pain isn’t felt.

For those of us who have felt the pain of our communities for too long, we know that the police are not a solution to our societally-created problems. We know that self-determination in our neighborhoods can spring forth popular creativity, so that we can protect our communities from the man with the knife. And maybe, just maybe, recognize his humanity as well.

August 28, 2014

"In 1939, General Marshall and the US military authorities, aided by the government, organized fourteen million men and women. They washed them and dressed them and cleaned up their teeth and taught them to read, those who could not read. And then in two or three years they had them ready- for what? To go abroad, all over the world, fighting against people who had done the same thing on the opposite side. What is the purpose of these suicidal, these tremendous efforts on the part of human beings only to destroy one another?

"I believe it is possible to mobilize even more tens of millions of people for the work and the arts of peace. Properly encouraged and given a sense of history and a sense of destiny, they will do all they now do for war, for the sake of improving the normal life and relations of human beings. (applause) But this will come only when people are their own masters.

"That for me is what Marxism is, and we must not be afraid, we must not think because we are small and insignificant that we are not able to take part in all that is taking place. The first thing is to know. Anyone who tries to prevent you from knowing, from learning anything, is an enemy, an enemy of freedom, of equality, of democracy. Those ideas, and the desire to make them real, have inspired people for countless centuries. Marxism is the doctrine which believes that freedom, equality, democracy are today possible for all humankind."


— C.L.R. James, 1960 lectures in Trinidad.

April 18, 2014
A short goodbye I wrote yesterday to Gabriel García Márquez

If Gabriel García Márquez is not to blame for an important part of the wonder with which I look at the world, he at the least shares in the guilt of enabling that part of my relationship to the world to maintain for so long. He is an accessory in the murder of the cynicisms at their every approach to claim the property and the deed of my heart. He aids and abets my little whimsy, who authorities denounce a feisty little thug they simply cannot detain. Thank you, Gabriel García Márquez, for your crimes of heart and of hope.

Si Gabriel García Márquez no tiene la culpa de una parte importante de la maravilla con la que miro el mundo, por lo menos los acciones de la culpa de permitir que esa parte de mi relación con el mundo de mantener durante tanto tiempo. Él es un accesorio en el asesinato de los cinismos al acercarse cada reclamar la propiedad y la escritura de mi corazón. Él sea cómplice de mi poco banal, a quien las autoridades denuncian malhechor luchadora que simplemente no pueden detener. Gracias, Gabriel García Márquez, por sus crímenes del corazón y de la esperanza.

March 18, 2014
Reminder that Real Slavery is the only New Slavery

[This is an as yet unfinished little essay that I am writing for you to forward to people who want to claim this or that thing which is definitely not slavery is slavery.]

In a world burdened by a total lack of analysis and a total glut of messaging, people are drawn to engage in the the sensationalism of claiming humankind’s worst forms are now manifested in the injustices that have given us cause. We do not benefit from this. Let us talk about slavery.

Slavery predates American slavery, which is to say, it was always so wrong but seldom so cruel. It has existed in thousands of cultures for thousands of years. It is the conception of ownership of a human being by another human being for the inducement of forced labor, and it is followed by the material enforcement of that proclaimed relationship. A person claims they own a fellow person to exploit their labor, and will back that claim up with violence. Someone held in ownership but not made to labor is a captive; someone made to labor but not owned is a serf, a wage labor, an indentured servant. Slavery didn’t metamorphose in all of its manifestations during the Atlantic Slave Trade, because concurrently with newer forms of slavery, older slaveries of tribal and patriarchal sorts persisted. However, the world looks as it does today because of the racialized chattel slavery that benefited Europe and those descended from Europeans as a white elite were the predominant owners of enslaved indigenous people and Africans. This succeeded indentured servitude and other forms of forced labor as the preeminent form of wealth production and colonization for much of the Americas for most of the centuries since that fateful year of 1492.

Now let us look at things that are not slavery, a compendium which we can add to as more analogies are popularized.

Taxes are not slavery. The government does not claim to own its subjects. A state does not generally coerce its citizens into forced labor in order to pay taxes. It is part of the social contract that the state serves its citizens and the citizens have an obligation to the state. As a Marxist who consorts with anarcho-communists, I and Marx and many would agree that humankind should work towards an existence without a state, and that the promises of the state are disingenuous. But taxation is, if anything, a limiting of the servitude caused by capitalism, and at best a means of providing citizens with the basic needs so that they can take ownership over their own lives. A state, not owning its citizens, can be left for another state. A person has the free will, though they may not have the access, to lawfully leave their duties behind. Don’t like it? Then you had better not like the system of capitalism that it protects. However, taxes are not slavery.

Debt is not slavery. Many class relations exist inside of and out of slavery where the use of debt coerces people into labor. That is not debt, however. Debt peonage, or forced labor to pay off debts, is not in-and-of itself slavery unless there is a direct or state-sanctioned understanding that the debtor is owned by the creditor in lieu of payment. But debt does not place ownership of a person into the hands of the creditor otherwise, and the person is not induced to perform forced labor whose character is under the control of the creditor.

Regulation is not slavery. Coercive authority (or, in the case of US government regulation of businesses, flaccid authority) to not engage in activities that are against the public trust is not the ownership of a human being by another human being. A recognition that the general interests of the civil society or citizens will be irrevocably harmed by a corporate or institutional act is not an inducement to forced labor. And corporations are not people. That is, though rights are a bourgeois concept, corporations are not of flesh and blood.

Sex work is not slavery. Sex work is an area of labor for pay in the sex industry. The sex industry is capitalist, but that is not the same thing as saying it is slavery. There are tens of thousands of sex slaves around the world in the trafficking underworld, but that there is real slavery in an industry does not mean that that labor causes slavery. Capitalism causes slavery. There are also real slaves working in construction in Qatar, laboring for contractors at US military bases, in Congolese mines, and in sweatshops, but those who decry sex work when done as free labor do not demand people stop constructing buildings, serving war machines, mining for gems, or sewing shirts. Sex work can include crass exploitation and can allow considerable self-management and ownership by workers themselves. It is not the existence of sex work, but the existence of classes of exploiters and exploited that will keep slavery around for a long time to come.

Wage labor is not slavery. One of the cardinal concepts of political economy is that capitalism exploits free labor which it maintains is progress over the slaveowner’s exploitation of the slave. Marx knew very well that crass exploitation of wage labor in one place was often used by advocates of free trade to defend slavery elsewhere (for example, British press that condemned London sweatshops as a means to condone chattel slavery in the antebellum south). When Marx was writing about the Dickensian experience of wage laborers in Britain and Northern Europe in the 19th Century, he was writing about workers of all ages (as young as 6 as far as I can remember) working up to over 24-hour workdays, often forced to sleep in their workshops. The level of wage labor exploitation did rise to wage slavery at the time because there was indeed forced labor in the form of overtime (sometimes a multiple of the paid working day) and sometimes even temporary ownership of children for their labor. This wage slavery still exists, but not amongst Portland baristas, Brooklyn freelancers, or Teamsters. It can still be found in sweatshops, from Los Angeles to Honduras to Bangladesh. Conflating all wage labor as wage slavery does not help us understand the exploitation of wage labor just as it makes invisible the much more crass forms of forced labor existant under the wage system.

Kanye West is not the new slave. This one should be apparent.

What is slavery today? There is very real human trafficking that is slavery, and there is much of it that simply borders on slavery but would literally be some other form of forced labor. The labor done in the Gulag was slavery, and the 13th Amendment has permitted the United States to constitutionally enslave people incarcerated in its prisons. The indentured servants from countries like Nepal and the Philippines that work across Arab countries are sometimes slaves. The workers locked in sweatshops in parts of Bangladesh and Cambodia are slaves. Those domestic workers who are locked in homes in Western Europe, Canada and the United States are slaves. We do nothing but marginalize them out of the public eye, the public mind, and the public heart, if we trivialize slavery.

February 5, 2014
The Parable of Don Quixote and the Wage-Theft of Andres

One of the great literary parables that should be known to all unionists, non-profit staffers, NGO staffers, organizers. The lesson of follow-through and being honest with the communities you are organizing should be clear.

Day was dawning when Don Quixote quitted the inn, so happy, so gay, so exhilarated at finding himself now dubbed a knight, that his joy was like to burst his horse-girths. However, recalling the advice of his host as to the requisites he ought to carry with him, especially that referring to money and shirts, he determined to go home and provide himself with all, and also with a squire, for he reckoned upon securing a farm-labourer, a neighbour of his, a poor man with a family, but very well qualified for the office of squire to a knight. With this object he turned his horse’s head towards his village, and Rocinante, thus reminded of his old quarters, stepped out so briskly that he hardly seemed to tread the earth.

He had not gone far, when out of a thicket on his right there seemed to come feeble cries as of some one in distress, and the instant he heard them he exclaimed, “Thanks be to heaven for the favour it accords me, that it so soon offers me an opportunity of fulfilling the obligation I have undertaken, and gathering the fruit of my ambition. These cries, no doubt, come from some man or woman in want of help, and needing my aid and protection;” and wheeling, he turned Rocinante in the direction whence the cries seemed to proceed. He had gone but a few paces into the wood, when he saw a mare tied to an oak, and tied to another, and stripped from the waist upwards, a youth of about fifteen years of age, from whom the cries came. Nor were they without cause, for a lusty farmer was flogging him with a belt and following up every blow with scoldings and commands, repeating, “Your mouth shut and your eyes open!” while the youth made answer, “I won’t do it again, master mine; by God’s passion I won’t do it again, and I’ll take more care of the flock another time.”

Seeing what was going on, Don Quixote said in an angry voice, “Discourteous knight, it ill becomes you to assail one who cannot defend himself; mount your steed and take your lance” (for there was a lance leaning against the oak to which the mare was tied), “and I will make you know that you are behaving as a coward.” The farmer, seeing before him this figure in full armour brandishing a lance over his head, gave himself up for dead, and made answer meekly, “Sir Knight, this youth that I am chastising is my servant, employed by me to watch a flock of sheep that I have hard by, and he is so careless that I lose one every day, and when I punish him for his carelessness and knavery he says I do it out of niggardliness, to escape paying him the wages I owe him, and before God, and on my soul, he lies.”

"Lies before me, base clown!" said Don Quixote. "By the sun that shines on us I have a mind to run you through with this lance. Pay him at once without another word; if not, by the God that rules us I will make an end of you, and annihilate you on the spot; release him instantly."

The farmer hung his head, and without a word untied his servant, of whom Don Quixote asked how much his master owed him.

He replied, nine months at seven reals a month. Don Quixote added it up, found that it came to sixty-three reals, and told the farmer to pay it down immediately, if he did not want to die for it.

The trembling clown replied that as he lived and by the oath he had sworn (though he had not sworn any) it was not so much; for there were to be taken into account and deducted three pairs of shoes he had given him, and a real for two blood-lettings when he was sick.

"All that is very well," said Don Quixote; "but let the shoes and the blood-lettings stand as a setoff against the blows you have given him without any cause; for if he spoiled the leather of the shoes you paid for, you have damaged that of his body, and if the barber took blood from him when he was sick, you have drawn it when he was sound; so on that score he owes you nothing."

"The difficulty is, Sir Knight, that I have no money here; let Andres come home with me, and I will pay him all, real by real."

"I go with him!" said the youth. "Nay, God forbid! No, senor, not for the world; for once alone with me, he would ray me like a Saint Bartholomew."

"He will do nothing of the kind," said Don Quixote; "I have only to command, and he will obey me; and as he has sworn to me by the order of knighthood which he has received, I leave him free, and I guarantee the payment."

"Consider what you are saying, senor," said the youth; "this master of mine is not a knight, nor has he received any order of knighthood; for he is Juan Haldudo the Rich, of Quintanar."

"That matters little," replied Don Quixote; "there may be Haldudos knights; moreover, everyone is the son of his works."

"That is true," said Andres; "but this master of mine- of what works is he the son, when he refuses me the wages of my sweat and labour?"

"I do not refuse, brother Andres," said the farmer, "be good enough to come along with me, and I swear by all the orders of knighthood there are in the world to pay you as I have agreed, real by real, and perfumed."

"For the perfumery I excuse you," said Don Quixote; "give it to him in reals, and I shall be satisfied; and see that you do as you have sworn; if not, by the same oath I swear to come back and hunt you out and punish you; and I shall find you though you should lie closer than a lizard. And if you desire to know who it is lays this command upon you, that you be more firmly bound to obey it, know that I am the valorous Don Quixote of La Mancha, the undoer of wrongs and injustices; and so, God be with you, and keep in mind what you have promised and sworn under those penalties that have been already declared to you."

So saying, he gave Rocinante the spur and was soon out of reach. The farmer followed him with his eyes, and when he saw that he had cleared the wood and was no longer in sight, he turned to his boy Andres, and said, “Come here, my son, I want to pay you what I owe you, as that undoer of wrongs has commanded me.”

"My oath on it," said Andres, "your worship will be well advised to obey the command of that good knight- may he live a thousand years- for, as he is a valiant and just judge, by Roque, if you do not pay me, he will come back and do as he said."

"My oath on it, too," said the farmer; "but as I have a strong affection for you, I want to add to the debt in order to add to the payment;" and seizing him by the arm, he tied him up again, and gave him such a flogging that he left him for dead.

"Now, Master Andres," said the farmer, "call on the undoer of wrongs; you will find he won’t undo that, though I am not sure that I have quite done with you, for I have a good mind to flay you alive." But at last he untied him, and gave him leave to go look for his judge in order to put the sentence pronounced into execution.

Andres went off rather down in the mouth, swearing he would go to look for the valiant Don Quixote of La Mancha and tell him exactly what had happened, and that all would have to be repaid him sevenfold; but for all that, he went off weeping, while his master stood laughing.

Thus did the valiant Don Quixote right that wrong, and, thoroughly satisfied with what had taken place, as he considered he had made a very happy and noble beginning with his knighthood, he took the road towards his village in perfect self-content, saying in a low voice, “Well mayest thou this day call thyself fortunate above all on earth, O Dulcinea del Toboso, fairest of the fair! since it has fallen to thy lot to hold subject and submissive to thy full will and pleasure a knight so renowned as is and will be Don Quixote of La Mancha, who, as all the world knows, yesterday received the order of knighthood, and hath to-day righted the greatest wrong and grievance that ever injustice conceived and cruelty perpetrated: who hath to-day plucked the rod from the hand of yonder ruthless oppressor so wantonly lashing that tender child.”

There is a part II to this incident, but it only drives the point home further.

January 26, 2014
On cynicism, calling out, and creating movements that don’t leave our people behind

One of several excellent pieces from late 2013 that I think helped break with the critical theory cottage industry, an increasing insularity within the confines of which a poor use of identity politics is rewarded and revolutionary identity politics decreasingly have a space to develop.

January 26, 2014
Movies without White Saviors

I was on the internet a few months ago, and I had my usual we-should-promote-as-often-as-we-deride. To my surprise, I was unable to find a single list of films that did not have white saviors. So now I ask you to help me with these lists. They are presented with the grand caveat- being on either list does not mean that I think they’re good or not, nor does it mean I think an analysis of the movie can be bottled down to the existence of a white savior trope. I’m simply noting what is. At some point, when the lists are longer, I will revisit this and perhaps link each movie to my favorite comprehensive analysis of its use of the trope within the context of its other merits or fuck-ups.

Movies Without White Saviors

  • Legend of Bhagat Singh
  • Machete
  • Great Debaters
  • Che
  • Milagro Bean Field Wars
  • Wind that Shakes the Barley

Movies With White Saviors

  • Elysium
  • Avatar
  • Dances With Wolves
  • Pathfinder
  • Amistad
  • Timestoppers
  • Machine Gun Preacher
  • Cool Runnings
  • A Time To Kill
  • Blood Diamond
  • Glory
  • District 9
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Mississippi Burning
  • The New World
  • Schindler’s List
  • Power of One
  • Cry Freedom
  • Burn!
  • Prison Break
  • Mangal Panday: The Rising

As you can see, this isn’t binary. I include the Wind that Shakes the Barley, for example, because all of the heroes are colonized Irish, and none are English. There are other movies in the list where the racial, ethnic, national, or species context also make them complicated picks. Schindler’s List isn’t included, for example, because even though all of the characters would be white in the US context, they were not under the Third Reich.

November 25, 2013
Pop-Culture Criticism/Reactive Anti-Racism


by Mauro Sifuentes

I’ve noticed a giant uptick in pop-culture criticism, especially within progressive, queer, and people of color communities. This criticism is usually aimed at news articles, current events, judicial maneuvers, police cruelty, movies, music videos, celebrities, etc. that…

July 23, 2013
The United States is not Fascist

It happens a lot. You look at some news headline about surveillance or policing and think to yourself “Here comes the lurch of fascism!” Or someone posts online to alarm us to the fact that we are the citizens of the Weimar Republic, and now is not a good time to be a Good German. Or you meet someone who lived under a dictatorship and you think you hear them say “this is how it starts,” and would like to use this insider tip to alert the world…

Stop right there. These are the tell tale signs of confused alarmism. Because guess what? Your parents, and maybe their parents, were thinking the same thing in the 1950s or the 1960s or the 1970s. It’s important for us to catch ourselves when we dull the twin blades of analysis and language. That racist columnist in that conservative webzine was not specifically being fascist. That conservative movement is not immediately this era’s Brown Shirts. This politician and his law controlling our bodies or our telecommunications is not the bell toll for an incremental government takeover.


First, let us begin with subject position. I am a fierce opponent of this thing we call the United States of America, on both gut and intellectual levels. If we understand the United States as the state that compromises the that territory and its institutions, along with the capital that dominates its civil society, and the adjoining mythos, national traditions, and ethos of the country, than I oppose the United States of America entirely.

I also consider myself antifa, a term connoting an international movement of active anti-fascists, something that would be irrelevant if someone who was antifa didn’t think fascism poses a real threat in parts of our world today.

From there, I firmly believe that to oppose a nation-state in particular, or nation-states in general, as well as fascism, it is important to have a theory of each. Without having at least some sense of theory that frames what we oppose, we cannot well know what we are fighting, nor how to fight it. Now, theory is a good turn-off for a lot of people because they misunderstand it. More important than a boast of how many books you’ve read, we should have a good command of critical thinking, though a few books here and there do help us with our method and our framing of a subject.

Now, I would point to my earlier short essay differentiating between government and the state as my attempt to help us frame our understanding of the state. In short, every modern state where there is a class system and private domination of wealth has a modern police force and is, in effect, a police state on some level of the spectrum from, say, Norway to North Korea. The genesis of the modern police force is ably explained by Kristian Williams in his book as well as in a selection of others, and the rise of incarceration is explained by theorists that include Michel Foucault, Christian Parenti, and Michelle Alexander. Policing and incarceration comprise a system of law, order and repression that meets many of the needs of the modern capitalist nation-state, and they have been augmented in many countries by what have been called the national security doctrine and the surveillance society, which in some of those countries then overlaps with both private security firms and a sprawling military industrial complex.

Rather than compartmentalize these violent organs of the social order as the National Security State, Carceral State, or Surveillance State, I humbly suggest they all fit as organs of an overall police state which is by and large a model for nearly every state that exists in the world, or their alleged aspiration as in the case of so-called ‘failed states.’ This police state was propagated directly by imperialism and neo-colonial projects that trained and sponsored the creation of essentially modern police forces, or by the creation of an international juridical order that offers standards through institutions like the United Nations. In many cases, they are underdeveloped and deformed, as in countries where borders are entirely porous, militaries serve the principal domestic function of preserving internal order, or where there isn’t even a facade that violence is monopolized by the state.

This is not a linear view of national development, but a stark reality that both the imperialist stages of the past 500 years and the Empire that Hardt and Negri see as globalizing the world have sought to build for the interests of capital.

This analysis must be taken further, though, to incorporate a view of the police state as, in Wendy Brown’s words, a masculinist state run by patriarchalist institutions, and the shell of a racist society- whose details may vary from state to state, but on a global level exists as broadly white supremacist.

We could continue, but my point is simple. Every state or country is authoritarian by its very nature, but the degree and the intent have varied in history and in our world. Modernity, however, is a racist, patriarchal system of capitalist exploitation, and it has developed a police state to help preserve its domination, not to mention the array of semi-autonomous institutions that reproduce its ideology and preserve its hegemony (consent of the governed). It takes a particular kind of anti-liberal, nationalist movement to move a society or regime into the violent waters of fascism.

Fascism as Movement and State

Into this development stepped fascism in the period directly following the first World War. The development of the nation-state is uneven and particular in different places at different times, but even if we understood it to have had a progression from the 1648 Westphalia treaty along through French, American and later revolutions through, to and passed imperialist expansion, the countries of Europe were in many different stages at the end of World War I. Italy and Germany were each in very particular places regarding their degree of national unification, experience with liberal parliamentary government, and industrial development. Within each country there were uneven developments and modernity clashed with feudal or old-style authoritarianism.

Fascism, it has often been pointed out, was born out of these contradictions and advanced using contradictions to its advantage. It contradicted itself consciously. Fascism wielded internal contradictions, which united a lot of disparate forces to its rallying cry- including small landowners, businessmen, urban petit bourgeois, returning soldiers- and whenever some of these parts became superfluous, they were sacrificed to save the sum. It initially claimed to be both revolutionary and conservative, (sometimes) socialist and anti-socialist, unifying and divisive, depending on which sector it was trying to impress. For this reason in particular, it is easy for tiny fascist sects and powerful fascist regimes to make very different claims on fascism long after the demise of the Italian and German regimes.

But those contradictions were overwhelmingly surface-level tactics used in the consolidation of a nationalist movement, and peeling back the layers, there have always been unifying features. One of fascism’s central elements that distinguishes it as a right-wing ideology against left-wing socialisms is that it “stressed the organic nation over class as the highest expression of human solidarity,” according to Alexander De Grand. Where left-wing socialism instigates progress through class struggle, fascism imposes class collaboration in order to worship the centrality of the nation.

A fascist regime has never been perfectly crafted, though the stereotypical German efficiency might suggest they came the closest. And it has adapted to different realities at different times, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t surmise a general criteria for determining what makes fascism particular. This is, I hope, the simplest way to be able to parse through the world’s police states and authoritarian currents to see where we truly find fascism, and where we are simply seeing some other form of fascism.

  1. Anti-communist/anti-left Counterrevolution- Facism enters the stage when it is cued by periods of social unrest that inspire the growth of left wing socialist, communist and/or anarchist movements. In Germany and Italy, the early fascist squads and their immediate predecessors took the lead in killing and assaulting peasant, working class and leftist struggles, as can be seen in the Biennio Rosso period and the Freikorps movement. This is then followed when fascism becomes a regime with an imposed class collaboration, which inevitably ends in the favor of the capitalist class.
  2. A populist rhetoric- Both bourgeois societies and totalitarian ones use mass culture, but not always with a bend toward populism. Here, the populist rhetoric claims that the rulers are simply the leaders of a citizenry, although who is allowed membership in that citizenry is carefully delineated, as we shall see below.
  3. Anti-liberalism- Liberalism, the most wholly capitalistic political ideology, suggests that the political form of society be liberal, bourgeois and representative democracy, and fascism comes in when that electoral strategy is failing capitalism. It dispenses with the pleasantries of a liberal civil society, from ideas of free expression, privacy and political or cultural pluralism, because fascism knows that it is needed to save the nation.
  4. A heightened police state- Whereas in most police states there is ostensibly some measure of checks and balances, fascism wrestles down even the appearance of checks and balances.
  5. A middle class base- Non-state sectors of the population are allowed to take a paramilitary role in safeguarding their state, national identity, and mythos, and often this is the small landholders, military veterans, managers, owners, and nationalist workers being used against the oppressed and the exploited.
  6. Voluntaryism- Known also as the triumph of the will, the idea that a perfect nation and race can use its will to perfect itself and seize everything it desires. In this, the will must be universalized, and any dissent must be eliminated. The greatest citizens will reveal themselves during the nation’s wars.
  7. Racial nationalism- A sense that the nation is linked to racial supremacy, and that in some way, through cultural genocide or brutal genocide or simple subjugation, inferior nationalities and races (race as genetics or ethnicity plus structural power) must be dominated or destroyed.
  8. Ultra-masculinity- The State is rhetorically conceptualized as the protector of the civilian population. This and other traits of an idealized masculinity are conferred upon the state.
  9. Totalitarianism- Because of all of these unifying features, fascism seeks to destroy each person’s private life and force them as much as is possible into a public life that proves their allegiance to the new central tenets of the God, family and country.

One of the common threads in the traits I have described is a total subservience of nearly everything to violence. From the nationalism to  racial nationality to masculinity, dominance is proven by the centrality of violence. The violence comes through the usual state organs like police, political/secret police, and the military, but it is also exhibited in the populist rhetoric, the voluntaryist sense of will, and the use of civilian fighting squads to quash dissent. Without the centrality of violence, and an at-minimum rhetorical allowance of unbridled violence to prove supremacy, I do not believe we can call something fascism.

Fascism as Political Epithet

Godwin’s Law is a theory on the internet about the devolution of online threads that will eventually lead to someone killing any useful conversation by analogizing one of the objects being discussed to Hitler, the Nazis or fascism. While fascism has its defenders in the mainstream right of many countries, Nazis and Hitler are considered the absolute example of evil, both in their intent and execution. To liken something to Naziism is to shut down conversation in the way someone centuries ago in Salem might shut things down by just surmising their opponent was a witch.

Since fascism is real, and actually exists today- more often than not in the form of movements rather than regimes- we are rendered incapable of fighting it if we have dulled the blade of the term by using it at every authoritarian impulse. Likewise, we don’t know how to fight the angry dog of our current police state because we have cried wolf so many times, and you don’t necessarily deal with an angry dog or even a coyote as you might a wolf. It is easy for the right to call the center-left fascists, and the left to call the right fascists, and conspiracy claimants to call perceived threats as fascist, but it all allows any real fascist threat to move about unopposed.

It is easier to cast a movement as fascist than it is a regime, and indeed movements with varying degrees of fascism exist the world over. They range from the explicit, including the KKK and neo-nazi groups, to much more contemporary, home-grown varieties, like some elements of the American Legion in its day, or some elements of the Tea Party or the Minuteman Project very recently, composed as they are of violent, anti-regulation, middle class, nationalist civilians.

Now, one last note.

I said before that fascism has never been perfected, and that is important for understanding how we define fascist and fascistic regimes. In large swathes of Mussolini’s Italy, corruption and semi-feudal patronage systems ruled the land. In Franco’s Spain, the ruler himself was more a conservative and the forces that swept him to power ranged from outright fascists to nationalistic conservatives. In Pinochet’s Chile or Suharto’s Indonesia, a military regime used a coup d’etat to take power, though a widescale use of death squads and gangsterism were central to the regime’s survival.

The United States and the United Kingdom are not fascist states, and not all of their authoritarian proclivities foretell of fascistic overtones. Nevertheless, the US has a history of fascistic movements that wave its flag, often call for the elimination of unions and regulations of businesses, and/or focuses on the racial purity of the nation. Taken together with organs of the state and big business, these have often placed fascist-like domination upon Black, Latina, and indigenous people. Fascism, despite claims to a totalitarian society, is always uneven.

The key takeaway, though, is that racist police states and authoritarianism, and the social order they protect, are structures that are always worth combating, and we are more capable of doing so if we have a sober analysis of them. In particular, when some part of those trends actually are fascist, we are tasked with a particular responsibility to nip them in the bud or push them back lest they take hold.


Neither taxes nor debt nor being a highly criticized rap star is the new slavery. For that, take a peak into the prisons.

July 16, 2013
Assistance in Understanding the Rage over Trayvon’s Killing for the Clueless

On September 11th, 2001, most of the country watched a second plane hit the twin towers on television- live or later. It was a mass experience that people internalized from the mass culture in a different sort of way than we internalize all of the other messages we are inundated by the mass media and culture. It traumatized us. It caused a collective trauma, one that was reinforced for days by re-watching the horrific scene. Most of us, whether we had endured serious trauma in the past or not, were hit hard by the initial images that we saw.

Over 4,800 Black or white people are said to have been lynched between 1884 and 1968 (in addition to Chinese, Mexicans, indigenous people and others), according to the Tuskegee Institute. The violence was advertised in newspapers, attended by large crowds that spanned the ages, and held against individuals or sometimes even entire communities. Like 9/11, the lynching was a method of violence in the form of terror, so even when an individual was killed, an entire people was threatened. When Emmett Till was lynched, it shook a people who had lived through that collective trauma for generations.

As is far too often, we are speaking different languages, and what is meant by that is that we are speaking from different experiences. So, when the five white jurors and one Latina juror, or many people around us, watched the story of the Trayvon Martin case unfold, they saw an individual incident. They didn’t see any patterns. Many people still don’t understand why the death of one young man caused such a storm of feelings in the hearts of so many people.

In the past thirty to forty years, about as many people have been killed by police as were lynched during the 84 years of that study I mentioned above. There are almost as many people in United States prisons and jails at any given moment as during the entire 30 years of the existence of the Gulag during Stalin’s reign, a number which is eight times the number of people incarcerated in 1970. Shootings by police are not lynchings, but they are very frequently racially inspired, very frequently of unarmed civilians, and very frequently the actual events are covered up by a deceptive official story. And they are national- everywhere, especially where predominantly Black and Latino neighborhoods are.

Add to that violence within Black and Latino/a communities is met by what many people see is institutional negligence by big businesses and government at every level. Governments close schools, health clinics and trauma centers, and cut funding to anti-violence program, while businesses cut jobs or promote terribly unhealthy media images. (If you think consumers create what is in the media, you need to go back and read Edward Bernays, the father of Public Relations.)

So, when a young Black man in a hoodie was followed and gunned down because he appeared as though he didn’t belong in a predominantly lighter-skinned and petit bourgeois gated community, generations of collective trauma are conjured up. When a courtroom restricted discussion of race during the trial of his murderer, and the late Trayvon Martin was put on trial rather than the defendant of the actual trial, people felt a lot of trauma. Sometimes trauma is digested through silence, sometimes by the creative impulse (think of the Blues or most other genres of music), sometimes by the need to have an outburst, sometimes by long-term, strategic work. But people have trauma, and if the causes of trauma are not dealt with, it compounds.

Mass violence spreads terror throughout any community that has a sense of collective identity. Keep it from the public eye, and it can become a form of constant and unspoken domination; put it in plain view, and there’s a more public sense of terror that offers people a space to respond with rage. That mass violence is felt in a different way when it targets those identities, be they nationalities, races, genders, religions, gender identities. Not all identities are the same, however, and there will always be a deep sense of anxiety for those whose visible identities are already marginalized by institutional factors, be they mass incarceration or Jim Crow policies. The trauma isn’t something people sorta kinda feel, it is something they feel in their bones, as people just like them, and sometimes people they know, and sometimes people they care deeply about, become the prey of this mass violence.

I hope maybe someone might read this who didn’t understand, and if you still don’t understand, please let me know and I will try to help you better. In those moments where my trauma isn’t taking over my ability to act.

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