3 Things leftists can learn from the far right

This is part one in a series on Learning From Our Enemies, in which we will examine three lessons we can learn from modern reactionaries.

The Party pointed out to the army that it had to look for its equipment on the front line, to capture enemy weapons to arm itself and shoot at the enemy with his guns.
-Vo Nguyen Giap, People’s War, People’s Army

There can be no question that the far-right has made significant gains in the past couple of years. From Russia to the Philippines to Europe to the USA, reactionary elements of the right wing have seized tremendous power and developed popular movements that have managed to recruit young people in droves.

Protestor holds a sign reading: "Deplorables and Alt-Right Unite"

Reactionary forces have been growing in recent years

As an American, and as a former right-wing libertarian myself, I am intimately familiar with the strategies, tactics, and cultural hallmarks of the so-called “alt right,” white nationalists, and similar movements of the American far right. These groups have managed to seize the White House and the media spotlight as they brazenly march through streets across the country carrying torches and weapons and chanting racist slogans. They even wage war on the internet, with legions of trolls plotting daily campaigns of online terror, harassment, and propaganda campaigns.

Meanwhile, it is fair to say that the left is more or less anemic in the Western world. Most Americans don’t even know the difference between centrists and liberals LINK, and there is functionally no leftist party in existence in the USA. Even the liberal parties have drifted steadily towards the right over the last several decades. Generations of exposure to reactionary propaganda have resulted in the vast majority of Americans oblivious to the true nature of leftism. It’s taken for granted that capitalism is necessary, even vital, for the function of a free society and nobody questions the free market.

In my view, it’s a stark truth that fascism is winning. The silver lining is that these remarkably stark and startling times have lead to the development of a burgeoning little community of American leftists. Even as reactionaries have gripped mainstream attention and the apparatus of the state, our little underground movement of grassroots leftism has put us into a position where, for the first time in many decades, the left could stand a chance of building real world power and momentum.

Somewhere in America: a Nazi rally

The far right continues to grow emboldened in Western society

The first step to strength, in my experience, is always humility. If we hope to confront the growing threat of the far-right in our society, we have to be willing to take a sober and honest look at these movements and understand how they have grown and what they are doing that is putting them on this trajectory of growth in strength and numbers.

This is not to say that we should copy what our enemies are doing directly. Any strategies or tactics or philosophies that we consider adopting must align with leftist values. Where reactionary actions and ideologies tend along the lines of deception, virulence, and individualistic self-service, our doctrines must be rooted in honesty, compassionate, and community-minded.

With these principles in mind, let’s take a look at three things the left can learn from modern far-right movements:

1. Mainstreaming

Donald Trump Tweet on CNN

Donald Trump has been able to dominate the media landscape with his vitriolic rhetoric and inflammatory Tweets

The far right has made remarkable inroads into mainstream politics. White nationalists and the alt right have aggressively taken command of direction of the Republican party in America. The Overton Window of the mainstream media has been pushed far to the right. Alt right activists and leaders have managed to dominate and warp the popular discourse to great extent.

Here’s what they’re doing:

The alt right understands the modern news cycle and the way mainstream media outlets tend to chase and legitimize sensational and outlandish political positions for the sake of clicks and views. Nobody has proven to be a more masterful manipulator of the media than Donald Trump, who launched himself to victory in 2016 by hijacking the media and to this day wields the power to derail and dominate American public discourse by rattling off a single Tweet.

Rightwing extremists have also had tremendous success fielding candidates who espouse highly reactionary views on a more local level. One famous example is holocaust denier and active white supremacist Arthur Jones, who recently won a nomination from the Republican Party in the Illinois state congressional primaries.

Nazis can absolutely “win” even when they lose by dominating the conversation and normalizing fascism.

The Republican party has officially denounced Jones and his candidacy and are seeking to run an opposing candidate against him, but the fact of the matter is, from a communications standpoint, his candidacy is already a victory for far-right reactionaries. Countless newspaper articles have covered his candidacy and elevated his views — far-right, fascist, reactionary rhetoric — to the mainstream spotlight. Whether he wins or loses, he has already pushed the Overton window substantially to the right just by running and taking the nomination.

This is key to understand! Nazis can absolutely “win” even when they lose by dominating the conversation and normalizing fascism. The more we talk about them, the less shocking they are to the public at large, and the easier it is for Nazis to recruit normal folks over to their cause.

Here’s what we can do:

Bernie Sanders on CNN

Bernie Sanders made it safe to say the word “socialism” in public in the USA for the first time in decades

The real left is in desperate need of more mainstream visibility and exposure. We need to be shoving our views into the spotlight as much as possible, owning our positions, and fielding and pressing candidates to acknowledge our point of view.

We must demand that candidates address our key causes, such as denouncing capitalism, acknowledging that racism and patriarchal oppression is endemic in our society, and demanding relief for the most vulnerable sectors of society in the form of healthcare, homes, food, and better education for those in need.

Neither is perfect, but which would *you* prefer?We should also identify and select candidates who support key leftist issues, even if they are otherwise more liberal and not as radical as we’d, perhaps, prefer. There’s a lot of conflict in leftist circles over whether or not Bernie Sanders is a friend to leftism, but there is one victory I must absolutely give him credit for: he single-handedly got America talking about “socialism” for the first time in many decades with his campaign.

Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren

Neither is perfect, but which would *you* prefer?

If you really stop and think about what American politics were like before Bernie’s candidacy, this is actually quite phenomenal. Throughout my life, the word “socialism” was a dirty word — it was more or less anathema for any national candidate to claim to be a socialist and the word was carefully avoided by most Democrats. Now socialism is very much on the table of discussion and I believe this had lead to many Democrats discovering the real left and becoming radicalized as anarchists and communists —– myself, included.

There’s a major tendency for leftists to dismiss mainstream candidates outright because they don’t pass the “leftist test” and hold too many views that are liberal or centrist. The far right does NOT have this problem and will push forward any candidate who is even remotely willing to give any of their core issues attention. This has lead to a major shift in the Republican party as candidates have started to realize that they must be mindful of the watchful eye of white nationalist and fascist interests, which has lead to many victories for the far right.

We should be fielding candidates for city, state, and regional offices.

Candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and Jill Stein, and parties like the Democratic Socialists and the Green Party, may not be “true leftists” by any stretch of the imagination, but in many cases they’re the best we have and we could stand to learn from our opposition in the far right and support candidates who are considered radically to the left in the mainstream even if they don’t meet our own standards.

Of course, we should also be pushing forward candidates who ARE true leftists. The easiest way to arena to do this is on the local level. We should be fielding candidates for city, state, and regional offices. If you have ever in your life considered running for public office, now is the time for you to step up and throw your hat into the ring! It really doesn’t even matter if you win or lose as long as you work your way into the conversation and make leftist positions known.

Me running for mayor of Columbia, SC in 2010

For some reason, the media didn’t take my candidacy seriously

Eight years ago I ran for mayor of Columbia, South Carolina. I was only 27 years old and my candidacy was NOT taken seriously by the mainstream media, but I showed up for nearly every public debate that was held and forced key issues into the spotlight that were otherwise being largely ignored.

Through our campaign we were able to get people talking about public transportation and the removal of the Confederate flag and I was able to influence the discussion of homelessness in the mayoral race. Even though I overwhelmingly lost, netting less than 2% of votes, I still feel like I “won” by forcing the other candidates to address these issues head-on. You (yes, you!) can have the same or more impact by running or supporting leftist candidates. If this sounds like something you might be interested in then I encourage you to contact me, I’d be glad to give you some advice about putting together a campaign.

2. Propaganda

Here’s what they’re doing:

Alex Jones

Alex Jones, host of InfoWars, a wildly successful alt right content producer.

It’s a harsh fact: YouTube, Reddit, and the blogosphere are jam-packed with reactionary content creators. Many of the famous memes you like and share every day on Facebook were conceived in their original forms in alt-right underground meme workshops.

There’s no doubt about it — the far right is dominating the online propaganda battlefield.

Alt right trolls learned the power of “meme magic” early on even celebrate it with cults that are so drenched with irony that it’s hard to tell where the joke ends and the ugly truth beginsFascist right-wing propaganda is so powerful that it’s widely considered to be somewhat responsible for the election of Donald Trump.

Social media is so simply saturated with alt right rhetoric. Alt-right YouTubers and bloggers have achieved fame and fortunes and public spotlights which make them the rivals of any network TV news personality. Trevor Noah’s daily show pulls in about 820,000 viewers per night, which comes out to something like 16,000,000 views per month. Meanwhile, notorious alt-right online personality Alex Jones pulls in 26,000,000 global views per month. Granted, TV ratings and online views don’t exactly line up, but Alex Jones is just one online personality among hundreds, perhaps thousands of fascist content creators.

Mainstream media vs. InfoWars graph

InfoWars is has won more subscribers than any mainstream media outlet on YouTube

The alt right is also an online powerhouse when it comes to generating “agitating propaganda,” or AgitpropThe basic goal of this kind of propaganda is to engage and stir up the public with works of art and media. In our contemporary context, alt-right Agitprop usually takes the form of inflammatory, prurient, shocking, or otherwise click-baity memes that provoke online flame wars and give alt-right agitators a platform and opportunity to espouse reactionary viewpoints in social media spaces.

The alt right has also been tremendously successful at inserting buzzwords and slogans into mainstream parlance. “Fake news,” “snowflakes,” “triggered,” “cuck,” the list of slang that right-wingers have managed to insert into our everyday discourse is overwhelming. Every leftist should know the power of language, and it’s startling how much power right-wing fanatics have over contemporary conversations.

Here’s what we can do:

We need to ramp up our output tremendously and build a more cohesive community of leftist content creators.

While the far right fields a virtual army of YouTubers, bloggers, and meme farms, the list of truy leftist online personalities is atrociously short, while communist and anarchist mainstream presenters and pundits are so few and far between as to be virtually non-existent. There are a few of us out here writing blogs and making YouTube channels, but we’re few and far between. Membership levels of leftist groups on Reddit and Facebook are puny compared to the overstuffed enrollment of alt right web communities.

We need to ramp up our output tremendously and build a more cohesive community of leftist content creators. In the days and weeks to come I will begin compiling a list of leftist blogs, YouTube channels, and other content outlets. If you know of any good ones, send them my way.

If you’re a leftist, I encourage you to start up a blog or a YouTube channel. What I’ve learned form starting this blog is that you don’t have to be an expert or a genius to make contributions. I have huge gaps in my knowledge and I’m still very much at the beginning of my leftist journey, but that doesn’t mean I can’t do my part to try to radicalize liberals and teach newbies the ropes of leftism.


Contrapoints is one of a scant few leftist YouTubers (and I encourage you to subscribe to her channel)

Indeed, in my view we need basic and beginner-friendly content more than anything. The internet has plenty of advanced political tracts and aging texts that explain the deep theory of leftist ideology, but there’s very little in the way of content that breaks things down into bite-sized pieces that are fun, accessible, and easy to share.

We could also stand to take a page from the far right when it comes to Agitprop. Leftists invented the form and it’s time for us to seize it back. We need more memes that stir the pot, make people uncomfortable, and point out the stark conditions of society that make leftist necessary, and we need to share these pieces far and wide.

Something I have heard from a few of my readers and viewers is that they don’t feel comfortable with sharing my content with their friends and family. Some folks are afraid their reactionary families or bosses will see them posting leftist content, or that they may become targeted by Nazi trolls. These are valid concerns, and as someone who has “gone public” with my leftism I understand why you might be hesitant about sharing your leftist views with the world.

…the more we hide in the shadows and conceal our true politics from our friends and families, the more power we give the right.

All I can say is that you must balance your needs with the needs of society at large. Becoming a vocal leftist is, undeniably, a risk, and will cause discomfort and friction in your life. There are ways to mitigate this kind of friction — I encourage every leftist to have access to aliases and burner accounts online to protect identities and shield our ranks from employer retribution and troll activity as much as possible. The enemy does not fight fair and there are lots of dirty tricks that they can and will pull on known leftists. But on the other hand, the more we hide in the shadows and conceal our true politics from our friends and families, the more power we give the right. I encourage you to think carefully about this and consider raising your profile as a leftist. As scary as it can be, you really aren’t alone, and you will find a community of strong, smart, and courageous comrades to support you if you ever do land in hot water.

Even if you decide to stay “under cover,” there are things you can do. You can create a burner Reddit or Facebook or Twitter account and invest 15 or 20 minutes a week into online meme generators and crank out some spicy leftist memes or, at the very least, supporting leftist bloggers and YouTubers and sharing leftist content in liberal spaces.

3. Future Prepping

What they they’re doing:

Doomsday Preppers

They’re creepy and they’re kooky and they’re way more prepared for the devastating effects of global climate change than we are

This one is a bit of a wild card, but it’s something that’s been on my mind a lot, recently. Right-wingers have a fairly long tradition of “prepping” that includes everything from stocking up on food and learning survival skills to forming full-on militias and going through paramilitary training to prepare for unforeseen disasters.

Liberals like to poke fun at right-wingers for these “kooky” activities, but we, as leftists, have to admit that they are more prepared than we are for the various forces of chaos that are mounting in our world.

As leftists, we should be acutely aware of how unstable our society is becoming. We know that the ecology is sustaining incredible, perhaps irreversible, damage. We know that capitalism is an inherently unstable system, rife with conflict and chaos. We know that fascists typically come into power with startling rapidity.

Should we, as leftists, really be ridiculing right-wingers from learning how to survive in extreme conditions and training to fight for when push comes to shove? Or should we, instead, be incredibly nervous that they’ve got a huge head start on us when it comes to preparing for the worst and expecting the unexpected?

Here’s what we can do:

Redneck Revolt

We need more leftist organization, preparation, and agitation

Leftists need to begin familiarizing ourselves with the fields of survival, disaster prepping, self-defense, and general preparedness. We should analyze the strategies and materials of right-wing preppers and develop strategies and materials of our own.

While reactionary survival strategies tend to be hyper-focused on individualism, we should develop strategies and tactics for more community-oriented survival and defense. In particular, I would like to applaud groups like Redneck Revolt and the John Brown Gun Club for their efforts to organize and defend communities. While many leftists may disagree with their stance on guns, LINK I think we can all learn from their example of community organizing and education.

We need more groups like these and we need to generate content of our own that deals with issues of future prepping and organized community survival and defense.

We have nothing to lose but our chains!

"We have nothing to lose but our chains -- we have a world to win!"The far right may, indeed, have the upper hand over leftism at the moment, but they stand on the unstable ground of privilege. They are the few who vye for power over the many.

As leftists, we are the many. We can unite and overtake these reactionary forces — but first, we must dispel the propagandistic lies of capitalism, racism, sexism, and all the other reactionary forces that keep us divided, and we must be willing to learn from our opposition to develop new and better strategies that will engage and win over new members to our cause in modern society.

As I often do, I’ll close with some words of inspiration from the late, great Pyotr Kropotkin:

“Be strong. Overflow with emotional and intellectual energy, and you will spread your intelligence, your love, your energy of action broadcast among others! This is what all moral teaching comes to.”

2 Responses to “3 Things leftists can learn from the far right

  • For Mainstreaming section: you talk about running candidates to push the issues that matter like talking about poor wages. It reminds me of Murray Bookchin strategy of Municipalism. Do you know much about him? You should listen to his interviews on YouTube, they are quite interesting. Also by the way I forget to tell you that I am same person as mattjmjmjm on reddit and Matthew Inard on Youtube.

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  • An Anarchist Defense of the Sickle and Hammer – Non-Compete :

    […] language and symbols is a basic Overton Window strategy, and one which the far right has been using to net real results in politics. We should not shy away from our own authentic political identities and having pride in our […]

    5 years ago

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