To discuss Anti-Fascism as well as the Cerberus of Capitalism, The Far Right & The State, I was able to touch base with writers Matthew Lyons & ‘Xtn’ from the Three-Way Fight Collective. What follows is an engaging conversation covering Fascism, Trump, Biden, Patriarchy & Police Violence.
Asia Art Tours: First could you explain the origins of Three-Way Fight? And has the mission or focus of your analysis changed as we’ve seen Right-Wing Media ( Rush Limbaugh beget Alex Jones beget Gavin McInnes) and Right Wing Politics (From Newt to Ted Cruz to Donald Trump) evolve?
Matthew: Three Way Fight, as a blog and an overall project, was started in 2004 as a follow-up to the 2002 book Confronting Fascism: Discussion Documents for a Militant Movement, which included essays by Don Hamerquist, J. Sakai, and others. Both the book and the blog were aimed at challenging standard leftist assumptions about fascism, and particularly the assumption that fascism is basically on the side of the ruling class. We think that’s a misreading of history, and in a current-day context it obscures the reality that there are significant right-wing forces at odds with both the left and global capitalism. Many leftists and liberals lump any kind of right-wing authoritarianism under the name “fascist,” but we think it’s important to distinguish between right-wing forces that serve capital and those that play an autonomous and even revolutionary role. Not revolutionary in any kind of liberatory sense, but rather in the sense of aiming to seize power by force and dramatically remaking the state and society based on an ideological agenda that capitalists don’t control. Confronting Fascism includes a debate about whether the fascist program of mass enslavement and genocide tends to fundamentally replace capitalism with a different system, or if it’s “only” a much more brutal and horrific version of capitalism. We consider that question still open for debate.
Seventeen years is a long time for a blog, and Three Way Fight has definitely changed over its lifetime. In the early years we posted a lot of brief notes and links to articles on other sites – stuff that nowadays gets handled on places like Facebook and Twitter. And the people involved in the blog have also changed. Three Way Fight was conceived as a collective project, and for the first six years or so there were several people actively contributing to the blog and involved in discussions. Xtn was one of the founders; I joined the project about a year in. Then from around 2010, as the focus of people’s political work shifted in various ways, there was a long stretch where it was mostly just me keeping it going, in what I considered a caretaker role. But during that time some of the basic ideas behind Three Way Fight were being carried forward in other ways and in other contexts. And in the past few years the project has broadened out to include a number of people – some of the original folks, and some newer folks – actively writing or thinking about how best to develop our ideas and get them out there, how to engage with broader discussions on the left.
(Conspiracy Theorist and Far-Right Demagogue Alex Jones. Photo Credit – Wikipedia)
Xtn: While some of our specific focuses have changed since we created this project the overall scope of what we are concerned with has remained fairly consistent. When we started Three Way Fight we were a political minority, and while we saw fascism as an essential problem, much of the official left treated fascism and discussions of fascism as a fringe politic. Much has changed since then. Most recently, since Trump’s 2016 electoral campaign and then into his presidential term, fascism has become much more prominent as a broad concept and actual set of politics and movements. The alt-right, white nationalism, nativism, mass shootings by incels and Nazis, Charlottesville – all of this has been a dramatic shift for the U.S. and global public. Even Biden shaped his anti-Trump campaign with an anti-fascist narrative (ruling-class version), and Charlottesville repeatedly was used as a conceptual rallying point against Trump and Trumpism. Three Way Fight remains committed to understanding these new shifts. And we’re encouraged that the perspectives we have are shared, or at the least engaged with, on a broader level than say fifteen years ago.
Matthew: Three Way Fight’s basic approach hasn’t changed, but we keep learning and trying to strengthen our analysis. Challenging the idea that our enemies are all on the same side has led us to explore various kinds of complexity and contradiction within and between different political forces. The idea of three political poles was always a kind of schematic shorthand – of course there are many more political currents we need to understand and contend with. A shift that I started making around 2015 has been to put less emphasis on fascism as a category (partly because I got tired of arguing over definitions) and to emphasize instead the distinction between the system-loyal right and the oppositional right or far right. It’s analogous to the distinction on the left between reformists and revolutionaries. The oppositional right includes those who reject the legitimacy of the existing political system in the U.S. That includes fascists but also rightists who don’t necessarily aim for an overall ideologically driven transformation of society, which I see as one of the key elements of fascism.
Many leftists and liberals lump any kind of right-wing authoritarianism under the name “fascist,” but we think it’s important to distinguish between right-wing forces that serve capital and those that play an autonomous and even revolutionary role. Not revolutionary in any kind of liberatory sense, but rather in the sense of aiming to seize power by force and dramatically remaking the state and society based on an ideological agenda that capitalists don’t control.
(Former President, Fascist and open White Supremacist Donald J. Trump. Photo Credit – Wikipedia)
Asia Art Tours: Writers like Alex Pareene and Matt Taibbi, who I see as critical of the Right but ‘System-Loyal’ to Capitalism & America, have explicitly suggested that Trump is a creation of Right-Wing Media. For those at 3-Way Fight, how much of Trump or ‘Trumpism’ should be credited to figures like a Mercer or Murdoch who sponsor or supervise this media?
Then, beyond media, how much of Trump, and the open white supremacy of the Republican Party is just the natural evolution of a country founded on ethnosupremacy that failed to ‘reconstruct’ (a la Du Bois analysis) when given the chance? To paraphrase Donald Glover “Is this America” ?
Xtn: Trump has always been a showman, and he’s been using racist demagoguery to capture media attention for decades. Before his 2016 presidential campaign he was a leading figure in the birther movement, promoting the racist lie that Barack Obama wasn’t qualified to be president, and before that he played a key role in demonizing and scapegoating the Central Park Five, who spent years in prison for a rape they didn’t commit.
It’s true that right-wing media barons like Rupert Murdoch (much more than Robert Mercer, whose wealth and power isn’t really based on media) saw Trump as someone who could advance their interests. But a mistake they made was thinking they could control Trump. It’s very difficult for anyone to control Trump or to contain the kind of political firestorm he represented once he was unleashed.
Matthew: The kind of politics that Trump represents go way beyond media. Trump and Trumpism are in the broad sense rooted in the United States’ long history of white supremacy and the failure of Reconstruction to actually dismantle racial oppression. But that doesn’t mean they’re the result of a “natural evolution.” Trump reflects a particular historical moment and the particular contradictions that U.S. capitalism is experiencing at this time. Trumpism was partly a reaction against the past and current reality of Black-led struggles for equality and justice, which has been building since the dismantling of Jim Crow segregationism half a century ago but has gotten a new boost with Black Lives Matter and other recent struggles. At the same time, Trumpism was also a contradictory response to the crisis of neoliberalism. On one hand, the Trump administration expressed neoliberalism’s antiregulatory tendencies in crudest form, but on the other, it expressed a right-wing populist reaction against the neoliberal program of moving capital, goods, and labor freely across open borders so as to maximize profits.
(Radical texts from Black Revolutionaries. Will we ever return to their levels of insight & commitment? Photo Credit- Soul Source)
Asia Art Tours: I want to remix the profound scholarship of Dr. Joy James. In her talk The Architects of Abolitionism she says the following when discussing Black revolutionaries and life for the marginalized in America: “The Violence against us is not going to stop . . . the Violence will never stop, unless we have a blueprint and it feels to me that the academy wants to study the phenomenon but will not offer up a blueprint. And will not green-light anybody who takes the risk to try to draw up a blueprint.
On the blueprint itself, Marx’s Das Kapital or Kropotkin’s Mutual Aid have been around for almost 130 years, George Jackson’s Blood in my Eye or Assata Shakur’s Assata or almost fifty. What is your sense on the blueprint we’re waiting for? And can it only be ‘written’ through our actions in struggle or movement?
Xtn: Mutual Aid, Kapital, Blood in my Eye, and Assata, all are important books for understanding history, society, capitalism, subjugation, repression and in turn building resistance movements rooted in solidarity and a liberatory vision. But there is no single or unitary blueprint and all those books and histories show different responses to their times. The quote by Dr. James gives us some real and difficult truths. Mostly that of self-determination and developing independent politics and strategies to meet violence and attack by both the state and its proxies, and — as we would argue — extra-legal, paramilitary and autonomous far-right and fascist movements. The key point is that we need self-organized, self-defined liberatory left movements.
Defense is essential — but not just defense. Through self-determined, independent organizing and action, we develop our understanding and capacities that might help expand political influence, if not actually defining real space in real time. The history of resistance in the U.S., especially the Black freedom struggle as well as anti-fascist organizing, has been informed by militant and at times armed defense against the Klan, nazis, racist gangs, and police and state proxies (whether or not these are sanctioned by some facet of the state). Within these political and social justice movements, Three Way Fight is one of many projects that are attempting to be part of discussions of what is happening, not so much so we can get towards a “blueprint” but to help inform approaches to organizing that do meet the real demands of the movements.
The kind of politics that Trump represents go way beyond media. Trump and Trumpism are in the broad sense rooted in the United States’ long history of white supremacy and the failure of Reconstruction to actually dismantle racial oppression. But that doesn’t mean they’re the result of a “natural evolution.” Trump reflects a particular historical moment and the particular contradictions that U.S. capitalism is experiencing at this time.
(The January 6th storming of the US Capital by Far-Right, White Supremacists, Fascists and the ideologically incoherent supporters of Whiteness & Patriarchy. Photo Credit – Wikipedia)
Asia Art Tours: Though the coup attempt on 1/06 was terrifying, I feel compelled to ask about the original violent defenders of white supremacy and capitalism: the Police. How should our tactics or strategic vision differ when dealing with violent organizations not explicitly sanctioned by the State (such as the Oath Keepers or 3 Percenters) versus dealing with the police and their state- sanctioned violence?
Matthew: The idea that the state and forces not sanctioned by the state are distinct enemies and call for different strategies and tactics is central to what three way fight politics is about. There are a lot of different situations, but in broad terms it’s important to avoid assuming that all of our enemies are pulling in the same direction and instead try to understand each actor’s specific interests, ideology, capabilities, and constraints on its own terms. The police are fundamentally about protecting the social order that exists and about defending the ruling class, although that gets complicated by law enforcement’s own internal culture, tensions between agencies and local versus federal, external political pressures, etc. Violent non-state groups, meanwhile, might see themselves as vigilantes helping to defend the existing order, or they might want to overthrow that order, or something in between. They might have friends within the state, or the business community, or other powerful institutions like the church, or they might not.
So police will sometimes collaborate with violent rightist groups, sometimes ignore them, and sometimes crack down on them. Beyond whatever they are doing in public, they may also be pursing covert operations of various kinds, sometimes to help violent rightist groups or sometimes to manipulate or disrupt them – maybe by getting them to fight among themselves, or maybe by encouraging them to shift more of their anger away from the state and onto oppressed communities.
And we should also be aware that both the police and violent rightist groups will sometimes reach out to people on the left – either overtly or covertly – to make common cause against a shared enemy. It’s important that we reject these kinds of overtures.
The idea that the state and forces not sanctioned by the state are distinct enemies and call for different strategies and tactics is central to what three way fight politics is about. There are a lot of different situations, but in broad terms it’s important to avoid assuming that all of our enemies are pulling in the same direction and instead try to understand each actor’s specific interests, ideology, capabilities, and constraints on its own terms.
(The Proud Boys, a violent Right-Wing group, have moved from being loyal to the state to oppositional as Trump’s defeat has left them without an openly white-supremacist and patriarchal figure head to pledge devotion to. Photo Credit: Wikipedia)
Asia Art Tours: For this blurry line between what is/isn’t state-sanctioned, what do you make of the revelation that Proud Boy leader Enrique Tarrio, was a collaborator with the FBI? Is there any chance that groups like the Proud Boys were directly communicating with the State? And do you expect this sort of collaboration to become more common in the future?
Matthew: Proud Boys have moved into an oppositional stance since Trump’s defeat in November 2020, but they started as system-loyal vigilantes. As “The Grouch” commented on the It’s Going Down site back in 2018, Proud Boys “don’t have revolutionary aspirations – instead, what they want most of all is to be called on by the State in order to attack perceived enemies of the existing social order.” To say in that context that Tarrio collaborated with the FBI (reportedly starting before he even joined Proud Boys) is completely unremarkable. It’s only jarring now because of how his organization has very recently moved away from loyalty to the state.
But beyond that, it’s likely that more people within violent rightist organization – both system-loyal ones and oppositional ones – will serve as government informers, agents provocateurs, and other types of collaborators in the future. Because after the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, we should assume that federal security forces (and some state and local security agencies as well) are going to take violent rightist organizations more seriously than they have at any time since the late 1990s, the years immediately following the Oklahoma City bombing.
A shift that I started making around 2015 has been to put less emphasis on fascism as a category (partly because I got tired of arguing over definitions) and to emphasize instead the distinction between the system-loyal right and the oppositional right or far right. It’s analogous to the distinction on the left between reformists and revolutionaries.
(Brazil Leader and Far – Right Politician Jair Bolsanaro. With his destruction of the Amazon Rainforest and the mass suffering he’s unleashed on Brazil during Covid-19, I believe he may go down as one of the most destructive men of our century. Photo Credit – Palaciodo Planalto.)
Asia Art Tours: This quote comes from Dr. Rodrigo Nunes on support for the Far-Right in the face of stunning incompetence and cruelty: One of the reasons why Bolsonaro’s overall ratings have gone up 10 percent during the pandemic . . . is that, for the poor voters who have come to approve of his government, framing the issue as a choice between life and the economy is objectively true. Since inequality makes quarantining an unattainable luxury for them, posing the situation as a choice between potentially dying from COVID and potentially starving to death showed that Bolsonaro understood their reality more profoundly than did the hypocrites telling them to stay at home when they had no option but to go to work.
This reminded me of Rick Santelli (whose rant on CNBC galvanized the Tea Party Movement) and Trump who constantly calls those suffering : ‘ losers’. For those who’ve sneered at Trump or the Far-Right’s seeming incoherence, are they (and the capitalists funding them) actually composing a very direct and ‘sincere’ political vision: That under this capitalism and this America we live in a world of life and death? Of ‘winners and losers’? Then very briefly could you explain why messaging of a Joe Biden will not be able to counter this narrative? And into this nihilism what message can leftists offer as a meaningful alternative to a Biden or Trump (and by proxy, the capitalists backing them)?
Xtn: The idea that people who are the most under attack or marginalized will automatically turn towards a left alternative is a mistake. All factions of the ruling classes look to win sections of the working classes and poor to their agendas, either through concessions or cultural, religious, and political affinities. Far right and fascist movements have historically attracted significant support from groups that leftists often see as their natural constituency. This is no different here in the United States.
It isn’t just a question of the left or the radical left. The Democratic Party faces a revolt of sections of the U.S. populace against its politics and programs. The history of Biden and the neo-liberal wing of the Democratic Party is intimately tied to the expansion of capitalism as a global system. This has benefitted certain strata of the populations and certain geographical regions within the capitalist core, but has also greatly increased disparities in wealth, access, influence, and hope in any “good” future. On the capitalist peripheries, masses of people live in very tenuous conditions and severe poverty. Even inside the core capitalist countries, a certain hollowing out of resources, power, and wealth has created zones of protracted crisis.
For once-stable middle American strata, which are largely but not exclusively white, the degrading of privileges and economic stability, and notions of American exceptionalism and greatness provide ins for far-right populisms and fascisms. Restoring “greatness” was after all Trump’s platform. These growing crises create the conditions for increased struggle, multipolar politics, and identification with whoever and whatever may benefit people materially and politically. Authoritarian and reactionary politics is premised on “winners and losers,” philosophies of inequality, and the explicit rejection of universalism.
So beyond radical anti-fascism Three Way Fight is concerned with liberatory visions rooted in material and political struggle and sees these as essential to active and viable movements for justice and social transformation.
The key point is that we need self-organized, self-defined liberatory left movements. Defense is essential — but not just defense. Through self-determined, independent organizing and action, we develop our understanding and capacities that might help expand political influence, if not actually defining real space in real time. The history of resistance in the U.S., especially the Black freedom struggle as well as anti-fascist organizing, has been informed by militant and at times armed defense against the Klan, nazis, racist gangs, and police and state proxies (whether or not these are sanctioned by some facet of the state).
(Minneapolis Protesters marching to demand justice for the Police Murder of Jamar Clark. Photo Credit – Fibonacci Blue)
Asia Art Tours: You have a interesting interview with a long time Antifascist activist, discussing direct action in Minneapolis (2015):
The GDC’s experience in participating in the struggle for Justice for Jamar Clark (a young unarmed African-American worker killed by the Minneapolis Police in 2015) was that many times people from the Northside community where Jamar was from, who were quite militant were also very suspicious of people in their midst with masks on. This was exacerbated by the fact that a group of masked-up white supremacists attacked the protest occupation, shooting and seriously wounding four people. So there were a couple times where people from the community tried to evict masked up activists from street demos–and this wasn’t the “peace police”-types, but neighborhood militants. We spent time arguing with people over evicting them, we defended those wearing masks–but I started thinking “Is this really effective? Is this the best use of our time?”
This brings to mind the Black Panthers and their claim that if police were killing people in their community, they had the right to defend themselves. They built their ideology openly and made no effort to hide their identities, no matter the State’s wrath. I contrast this now with the focus many activists have on hiding their identity from the State. Bluntly put, if we’re always hiding our identity how can we put forward a coherent and strong ideology or movement against Capital or the State? How can we make their evil and violence visible if we are the one’s always hiding and acting like we’re doing something wrong?
Xtn: Struggle is gonna force us to adopt a diverse set of strategic and tactical approaches. The radical anti-fascist movements need campaigns that connect with broad layers of the people. But there is no denying that there are risks of people being doxxed and movements being infiltrated by both the state and fascists. The history of the Panthers, AIM, Palestinian liberation movements, Irish Republican movements, etc., demonstrate these attempts at infiltration and attempts at neutralizing the radical movements can’t be avoided. This awareness and the lessons from previous struggles need to be worked into any radical social movement’s knowledge and practices, including security. There are real dangers that sometimes make open, popular organizing difficult and in some places impossible. The movements have to take that seriously and take stock of what they are up against and what can be done.
But if we avoid any sense of militant anti-fascism as something that is popular and open, then we run real risks of being isolated politically and materially. Hyper-emphasis on security makes it a lot harder to carry out necessary discussion and debate, and tends to shift individuals and groups to a more inward-looking stance. They risk becoming less and less relevant and more and more sectarian and elitist. Jumping back, it’s not always direct infiltration or coopting but sometimes the defensive maneuvers of the movements themselves that limit their potentials.
So beyond radical anti-fascism Three Way Fight is concerned with liberatory visions rooted in material and political struggle and sees these as essential to active and viable movements for justice and social transformation.
(There is an urgent need to build alternatives to the violent forms of manhood offered as templates by Capitalism, Fascism and the State. While there are many scholarly works I could recommend, the film – The Work – is a beautiful vision on how to undo the violence of ‘masculinity’. Photo Credit – The Work)
Asia Art Tours: To conclude with a strange and speculative question. With ‘Men’s Rights’ groups, Incels and a general atmosphere of white male rage making up the atmosphere of the Far Right, what spectrums of masculinity and structures of patriarchy need to go away for a world to exist without fascism?
And for those who oppose the Far Right, Capital and State violence, what do we need to examine about our own masculinity to make sure we can participate in movement, mutual aid, and direct actions without recreating these toxic forms and structures of Masculinity?
Matthew: Male supremacist politics is a core component of fascism, and critiquing it needs to be integral to anti-fascist politics. My first contribution to Three Way Fight back in 2005 was a two-part essay titled “Notes on Women and Right-Wing Movements,’ in which I argued that far right movements encompass a number of different male supremacist ideologies, ranging from hardline patriarchal traditionalism to a kind of quasi-feminism that advocates specific limited rights for women within an anti-egalitarian framework. In later writings I’ve contrasted Jack Donovan’s male tribalism with the Christian right’s family-based model of patriarchal control, and I’ve argued that the alt-right initially encompassed quasi-feminist perspectives but later abandoned them in favor of suppressing any space for women’s political agency. Each of these different versions of male dominance plays out somewhat differently. We need to be mindful of these differences without getting taken in by any of them.
In terms of combating “toxic forms and structures of masculinity” within the left, I recommend that people check out Petronella Lee’s pamphlet, Anti-Fascism Beyond Machismo, which explores some of the specific sexist dynamics that play out within antifascist politics. For example, Lee challenges a male-oriented emphasis on bravado, individual heroics, and fighting, arguing that militancy takes many different forms and needs to be conceived in ways that support and encourage participation by people of all genders, ages, and abilities.