The burgeoning neofascist movement known as the alt-right has its roots in the dankest corners of the internet, and has recently become the subject of grotesque curiosity. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and subsequent victory has undoubtedly emboldened the far right, and outspoken misogynist, racist hate mongers like Breitbart author Milo Yiannopoulos have become darlings of the alt-right scene. On February 2 Yiannopoulos was due to speak at the University of California, Berkeley. Students who consider Yiannopoulos and his hard right fan club a threat organised a protest to shut down the meeting. Clashes took place, and after several hours of fires, fights and frightened fascists, the student left forced the University to cancel the talk.
From these scenes it is evident that the clashes between the left and the threat posed by a hardened right are becoming more physically violent. As the centre ground dissipates and we see the slow erosion of neoliberalism, the chasm gives way to pulling on both sides, a tug of war for power, and history shows us that the streets are one arena in which the struggle for that power is ferociously fought. While the right desperately cling on to ahistorical notions of ‘free speech’ in an attempt to be seen as the defenders of liberty, private property, and the Law, it becomes more evident to an increasingly militant left that such notions of debate and free speech must go out the proverbial window when the struggle for power is at stake.
Out of these protests videos were emerging of one student, eager to see Yiannopoulos speak, being pepper sprayed by an antifascist protester. Later we see her and her alt-right friends being surrounded and violently confronted by a black clad crush of left wing demonstrators. For the longest time, the increasingly radicalised right on university campuses have gotten used to being cushioned by their privilege, but now to see them squirm, eyes bulging with terror at the resistance they’re met with by anticapitalist and antifascist activists made for excellent viewing.
Eager to share this victory on my social media platforms, I caught the attention of a Facebook friend who disapproved of my revelling in the attacks on the woman who was pepper sprayed because they felt that a woman being attacked by a man, regardless of whether or not she was on the opposing side, was just “not okay”.
I’m a feminist and can understand this knee jerk reaction. As a woman who is no stranger to gendered violence I admit there can be a jarring feeling when seeing another woman being assaulted. As an antifascist committed to combatting the far-right on the street, the question of violence against fascist women has been something I’ve had to work through. In order to see women as fully participating political agents I have had to also accept that women have the capacity to be ‘evil’, or ideologically opposed to my principles. A woman who is a fascist is making a commitment to an ideology that is inherently anti-feminist and seeks to violently destroy its political opposition. It is a regressive ideology that isn’t interested in free debate and dialogue, but one which endeavours to attain power through force and repression.
The feminism of fools.
Therefore, any defence of a Milo supporter based on her womanhood needs to be challenged, or we risk falling into a liberal feminist discourse. Liberal feminism, and by extension liberal interpretations of other marginalised peoples, sees oppression through the narrow lens of identity, devoid of meaningful analysis of power. ‘Woman’ becomes a rigid monolith, a universal and all encompassing category unto itself.
By definition, liberal feminism sees the rights of women as the rights of individuals whose oppression exists in a vacuum, and whose emancipation can be gained through legal reform. Champions of this brand of feminism exhibit essentialist and often cis-sexist notions of womanhood that we recently saw manifest as a rallying cry that urged women to ‘vote with their vaginas’ in the battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for President.
As revolutionaries we must reject liberalism; our understandings of gender and race as axes of oppression must be rooted in materialism, and our class struggle in theory and in practice must see the liberation of women and other oppressed peoples as integral to our fight against the bourgeoisie. Capitalism relies heavily on cheap and unwaged labour of oppressed genders and minorities who socially reproduce an ongoing pool of wage labourers; we therefore have a collective interest in fighting sexism, racism, and all other forms of oppression.
Identity. Politics. Power.
If we begin to see women who commit to organised fascism as women before we see them as fascists, and if this takes precedence when negotiating the terms of confrontation, then not only do we deny women political agency, but we perpetuate the idea that power expresses itself through identity, rather than political actions.
When such a theoretical trajectory is followed, we risk defending the following from leftist political violence: a black cop who participates in the state repression of other people of colour; a female immigration officer who sends undocumented migrant women to detention centres; a ‘lesser of two evils’ woman presidential candidate instrumental in the mass incarceration of working class ethnic minorities in America; and even Milo Yiannopoulos – a self defined ‘gay Jew’ – who reportedly was going to use his platform at Berkeley to release the identities of undocumented migrant students during his talk, thus posing a real threat of violence to any named student.
In all of these examples, as revolutionaries and dissenters of the state, our motivation when attacking these oppressive institutions and those who uphold it is one of self defence: we recognise the necessity of opposing institutions which maintain positions of power that pose a threat to us in our struggle for class emancipation.
All’s fair when nothing is.
The condemnation of attacks against women members of the hard right acts as a way of tacitly disarming physical resistance against the state and our political opponents. If we pander to it then we legitimise a moralist position that hides behind a veneer of women’s liberation. This brand of moralism demands a ‘fair fight’ in order to legitimise any subsequent violence: there needs to be equal numbers on both sides; we need to ensure only women are fighting other women; and, the men should pick on people their own size and fighting ability!
But, by virtue of the way power operates in real life through unequal, unfair, dynamics (the state vs the proletariat, the boss vs the worker, the gun waving white supremacist vs the black teenager) these fights rarely if ever happen on equal terrain and can therefore never be legitimised in the eyes of the ever moralising liberal. If you want to see a fair fight go to a boxing match.
When revolutionaries combat the threat of fascism and the far right our confrontational politics are not a sport: they’re a necessary tactic in the fight for power and self defence. When physically opposing a political threat on the street, on our campuses, or on the picket lines, it gets messy. If we consider the anatomy of a fight, the enemy – be them cops, bailiffs, fascists – don’t take into account our gender, sexuality, or disability, but rather are concerned with inflicting the most damage through physical intimidation, or violent legislation, on us in order to win.
It is therefore imperative we move beyond liberal interpretations of gender, violence and power, which privilege identity politics over an anti-oppression politics rooted in material reality. As feminists we need to get our shit together, otherwise as my dear friend and comrade recently said, “Hillary Clinton’s boot will stamp on women’s faces forever and we won’t have any accepted ways of fighting back.”
If you’re still unsure as to whether or not it was ‘okay’ for an antifascist to spray that Milo supporting right wing woman student, try picturing Milo Yiannopoulos getting punched repeatedly in the face by antifascists to the tune of Blue Monday, or another one of your favourite pop songs. If you can do that without concluding that it’s gay bashing, then I think it’s not just ‘okay’, but necessary.