August 18, 2017 (San Diego) Terms matter, and language does matter. So we shall explore these two as well. Where did Alt. Left come from? Well, if you have been online for a while, you might have noticed that the term started to circulate when Bernie Sanders started to make noise about running for the presidency. It came honestly from the fringes. In fact, the far right fringes. It started with Sean Hannity and Breitbart News, and in online publications.
I am not the only one to remember this. Ryan Cooper, writing for The Week remembers this as well. Oh and this started to circulate in full force at the latest in early 2015. In reality, this smear started earlier than this.
Here is where the smear becomes interesting. After all, if you are going to call yourself “Alt. Right,” and you need a false equivalency, of course calling your perceived enemies “Alt. Left” made sense.
Now you would think that a term originating in the fringes of the far right would stay there. Nope, As soon as Bernie Sanders started to make any noise about running for the presidency, and challenging Hillary Clinton, center right Democrats adopted it. I saw it when I was still a member of Democratic Underground. where members of the center right coalition started to call any progressive members of the left, “alt.left.” They were hoping none of us would take notes. Some of us did take notes, sorry guys, and we noticed the pattern. Any criticism of neoliberal ideology or centrist policies was welcomed with screams of you must be a leftist. or “alt left.” The attempt was to compare the people on the progressive left to the fringe. In essence, it was red baiting.
This was not just done on a website, Joan Walsh, Markos Moulitsas, Josh Marshall, and others used it on the Twitter. They even made it a hashtag. It was far from accidental, and it did quite a bit of damage. Here is the centrist Liberal usage:
Some centrist liberals have taken to using this term.
“It did not arise organically, and it refers to no actual group or movement or network,” Mr. Pitcavage said in an email. “It’s just a made-up epithet, similar to certain people calling any news they don’t like ‘fake news.’”
So if you insist on using this term, you are enabling not just the right, but the worst instincts of the United States.
Let’s be clear. The United States really does not have an organized left. We have people who hold some progressive views, meaning protection of the social safety net, maybe free college, and Medicare for all. That is not an organized left. That is not an organized ideology. We used to have a left, but it died decades ago.
However, that could be the seed for an actually organized left. This is why centrist Democrats and the far right need to go to these extremes. For the nationalist right, this is a natural enemy, with echoes of Germany. For Democrats, they do not want to lose control of the party to people they hate, with as much passion as the right. Yes, I went there. I experienced their hate.
The term stands for Anti Fascist, and the modern version actually started in Germany in the 1980s. The movement itself goes back to the pre Nazi Germany days when they took to the streets and fought Brown Shirts and other groups in the streets.
They are seen as a threat by people the same way the non existing left is perceived. Nor are they part of that mythical left. In many ways they see themselves as outside the system. So some things need to be said about this.
Antifa is not very large. The movement has clusters where they have a larger precense. One of these clusters is in the Bay area, chiefly Oakland. But if you are brutally honest, they are a tiny group of the American political system. And when I write tiny. even smaller than the supremacist right.
Who they are is also interesting. In many cases ANTIFA are young, and mostly they are people of color, and LGBTQ, and they are embracing a series of philosophies, when they even know of them, that are proto-anarchist in nature. Some, and yes I have talked to a few, are fully aware of anarchism and have embraced it fully. But most have not. This matters.
The tactics they use are called Black Block. The masks and the black uniform are a way to keep individuals hidden, not for the white supremacists they might be fighting, but the state. They have been under some pressure from the police, depending where, and they know that their participation could put their futures at risk.
What they believe in, chiefly, is in a full implementation of local democracy. They also believe in horizontal leadership systems, where all are equal. They do not believe in social stratification, or in people being “in charge.” This can and has been a problem tactically in the streets.
They do not believe, in many cases, in private property. Attacking property is not seen in the same way as attacking people. And many of their members leave the movement, either becuase there is a limit to how much punishment your body can take, or their jobs prevent them from continuing. They also take care of each other, and will protect each other, from both the state, and outsiders.
They are in many ways anti globalists, and anti government. They want to get rid of all large forms of government and want to devolve all to very local control. If some of this sounds like Occupy, some of the structure of Occupy was anarchist in nature. Black Block was part of it. They just did not call themselves Antifa back then. At least not locally.
Like many progressives, however, the ideology is not quite fully formed. That is the feeling I have gotten when talking with my local members. Yes, San Diego does have young people who attend rallies, with bandannas on, and who are there to fight the fascist, if they show up. Most of the time, they keep to themselves, and are all but violent. In fact, I have yet to see an act of violence, or vandalism on the part of the local groups, and yes, it is groups.
Which brings me to the final point. Some of these young people are homeless, and that is one reason they have created a sub culture of their own. Others are more or less middle class, and white or POC. That is another subculture. Others come from less privileged backgrounds. While they have some things in common, there are differences from one group to the next. They will work together, but they do not necessarily believe in the same exact things.
However, they do consider extreme white supremacy and fascism the enemy to them.