Originally published on Counterpunch, here.
Whom the Gods would make mad they first make respond in print to vacuous, inane bullshit -Henry Wadsworth Draitser
Waterboard me! Give me the Ludovico Technique with the Atlas Shrugged Trilogy playing on an endless loop! Anything, anything at all would be better than having to write about Caitlin Johnstone and the ongoing back-and-forth about her so called “journalism.” And yet, here I am, doing precisely that because, quite frankly, some things have to be put in print, no matter how execrable the task.
What follows is not an attempt to perform a close reading of Johnstone’s couple months-old oeuvre because, to be perfectly honest, there’s not much to read other than repetitious anti-Democratic Party talking points which are perfectly fine, if a bit boring and easy. I don’t have any problem at all with endlessly bashing Democrats, I’ve been doing precisely that since before Johnstone was writing books on astrology.
Rather, the central critique, which Johnstone and her defenders studiously avoid engaging openly and honestly, is that this Australian blogger and self-proclaimed leftist openly advocates collaboration with the fascist alt-right.
Calling for the death of John McCain might be clickbait twaddle, but I don’t fundamentally object to anything said about that degenerate miscreant who, orc-like, seemingly emerges from pools of neocon goop. Peddling debunked silliness about Pizzagate isn’t even a cardinal sin for me, though it does call into question exactly who she is writing for and to, and whether she’s just a gullible infowarrior with a BernieBro complex.
But where I draw the line is in calling for the Left to openly embrace the very forces of fascist reaction that the Left fights against. Doing so is not only an extremely dangerous proposition given the political and organizational weakness of the Left such as it is, it would be an act of self-immolation.
“Come my fellow hens, let us not be timid! We must throw open the doors to the foxes who, at times, share a common enemy.”
As idiotic as that sounds, Johnstone and her defenders continue to push this facile pseudo-political line, shrouding it behind the veil of a non-argument, a faded Green mist they’ve appropriated and falsely named Ralph Nader; a golden-green calf for them to worship irrespective of the fact that the great Nader himself would never attend their apostasic celebration.
But be that as it may, let us not pillory Mike Cernovich’s alt-right prom date solely for the sake of takedown, needed though it may be. Let us instead engage directly with the substance of her writing and “strategic pedagogy” in order to discern if her ideas are as hollow as her sophomoric blog posts.
The Johnstone Formula for Revolution?
Part of my hesitation in assuming the worst about Johnstone and her ilk is that I’m not sure if she’s purposely peddling red-brown fascist garbage in service to far right elements, or if she’s just hopelessly naïve about the political realities of such strategies. Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt for now, and assume the latter.
In her doltishly titled article Lefties Need To Stop Being Shy About Working With The Anti-Establishment Right, Johnstone explains that rejecting the normalization of the far right amounts to “vanity politics,” and that leftists who refuse alliance with fascists are not interested in “actually getting anything done.” I found this very interesting because, to my knowledge, Johnstone herself has never actually gotten anything done other than write a blog in which she excoriates others for not getting anything done. From all indications, Johnstone has exactly ZERO experience doing real organizing work on the ground, either in her native Australia or in the US.
I categorically reject late-shaming of activists, something I saw a lot of after Trump was elected and suddenly liberals remembered morality and social justice. I would never deride someone for getting into political work later in life as I wouldn’t judge the unique circumstances of a person’s life. Maybe Johnstone got married and had children and didn’t have time. Or maybe she didn’t have a political epiphany until something personally touched her life. Or maybe she had a serious head injury. I don’t know and don’t care.
However, for someone who has never actually done any of the things she advocates, she sure does have a condescending way of casting her pearls of wisdom before the swine of leftists with years (or decades) of experience whom she describes as “functionally identical to Clintonists” because of their “more-lefty-than-you, reject everything to the right of Marx” ideological posture.
As Jules Winfield (Samuel L. Jackson) poetically said before quoting Ezekiel 25:17, “Are you finished? Well allow me to retort.”
Unlike Johnstone, I have actually attempted to implement elements of the strategy she has, apparently, appropriated as her own original thought. So, let me speak from experience.
In early October of 2011, I found myself in the midst of what seemed the greatest political upsurge in decades: Occupy Wall Street. I sat in Zucotti Park in the General Assemblies and the various working groups around the corner at the public atrium on Wall Street. I watched as anarchists and communists, progressive Greens and disillusioned Democrats, gathered together to show their hatred for finance capital, for the banks and hedge funds parasitically siphoning off our collective wealth with the intent of leaving working people nothing but their eyes to cry with. I felt the energy of those days running up and down my spine, the good kind of shivers you get when something exciting but daunting presents itself before you.
And I thought to myself: “This is the moment that we need to build our alliances deeper with the libertarian, anarcho-capitalist types who attack the Fed and oppose wars!” Sound familiar Caity?
I organized multiple teach-in events nearby on topics such as “The Origins of Wall Street and Modern Finance Capital” and “How Wall Street and Foundations Conspire to Oppress the People” and “The Bipartisan Imperial Consensus for War and Exploitation.”
I engaged with a number of young right wingers who worshiped Ron Paul (at the time a presidential candidate in the Obama-Romney 2012 circus), and whose political analysis came from festering political carbuncles like Alex Jones and David Icke. They were not goose-stepping Nazis longing for a pat on the head from Uncle Adolph, but neither were they serious political activists. They were Youtube kids with a fetish for Rothschilds-run-the-world style fascist propaganda. They had no interest in building resilient communities or exploring new ways of political organizing. They were not at all convinced that capitalism was a problem, much less THE problem. They did not accept the concept of imperialism as interrelated with capitalism, which they saw as the best form of socio-economic organization. There was literally nothing with which to really work except for maybe smoking some pot together.
Remember, this was at the height of the War on Libya, Gaddafi was assassinated a few days after my last teach-in. This was in the midst of a tremendous anti-capitalist political upsurge. And still, the deafening roar of crickets and tumbleweeds. And this has proven to be true time and time and time again in myriad social settings. The far right is not at all interested in the core ideas that make the Left.
You know who is interested in the core ideas that make the Left? At least 100 million apolitical, demoralized working people who don’t have time for politics as they struggle to ensure their families’ survival.
There is your fertile organizing ground! Not the white supremacist purveyors of rape culture such as Mike Cernovich, who Johnstone apparently feels is some sort of right wing John Brown, ready to lay kindling for the white man’s revolution. Apparently, Johnstone has acknowledged that she is a rape survivor – I commend her for stating it openly, without shame – which somehow seems to excuse her promotion of a misogynist, fascist provocateur. You know, like how it’s totally cool and not racist for black men to openly say they don’t like dark-skinned black women.
It seems that Johnstone’s lack of understanding about political realities has led her to become a dupe of the right wing while allegedly steadfastly clinging to her left wing ideals. She seems to believe that appealing to a vocal and visible, but still small, far right is more important and more effective than genuine organizing in oppressed and marginalized communities where the bulk of real activist work is done.
While Johnstone shakes her flashy pom-poms for the likes of the Proud Boys and 4chan circle-jerkers in Pepe the Frog furries, there is real work to be done.
The Ideological Framework of the Johnstonian Tripe
Aside from the absurdity of the red-brown alliance strategy, there is an even larger, and perhaps more troubling, question to ask: Is Johnstone directly promoting a fascist agenda while operating under left cover? Is she a useful idiot of forces she either doesn’t understand or doesn’t know exist?
To answer this question, let us turn to the very nature of historical fascism.
The German Marxist theoretician Karl Korsch famously wrote:
By feeding upon the failures and omissions of the so-called ‘system politicians,’ [fascism] enrolled in the long run the support of the nation and in both the economic and political fields solved a number of concrete problems that had been neglected or frustrated by the unsocialist attitudes of the socialists and undemocratic behavior of the democrats.
Indeed, it is in the very nature of fascism to present itself as a viable option when the “system politicians” have lost credibility and legitimacy. That’s precisely how it went down in Germany, and Italy and Spain, with each having its own unique trajectory due to specific conditions in each country.
Fascists always rush in to occupy the political space vacated by failed liberalism. And, for that reason, fascist antipathy is always most pronounced when it comes to communists, anarchists, and other leftists who seek to do the same.
And, today, it’s self-evident that we have a failed liberalism (neoliberalism) wherein the system politicians have lost legitimacy and are increasingly hated. Even Johnstone, not exactly a political theoretician of tremendous capacity, understands this point. And it is precisely at such a moment, when the liberal and conservative bourgeois order is increasingly unstable and untenable, that fascism becomes a clear and present danger.
And what’s Johnstone’s prescription? COLLABORATE WITH THEM! She even laments that leftists aren’t willing to collaborate enough with the fascists. Oh, yeeeah…sorry about that Caity. I’d be happy to share with you some wonderful materials on the proud history of anti-fascist organizing on the Left. It might be useful for you.
But today, we also have a new variant of fascism that has emerged, one that goes well beyond the typical corporate-imperialist consensus of the Empire.
Aleksandr Dugin, the Russian fascist political operator-cum-philosopher, has emerged as an influential figure for both the alt-right and, embarrassingly, some on the Left, though they’ll never admit it, even to themselves. Dugin is widely regarded as very influential in Russian policy circles – his Foundations of Geopolitics remains a required text for Russian military officers – despite attempts by some in Russian media circles to downplay his influence and present him as a marginal figure.
One of Dugin’s most important works is The Fourth Political Theory (4PT), a pseudo-intellectual manifesto of fascist politics that eschews 20th Century political labels in favor of a “new synthesis” for a new century. Consider it the fascist remix tape where Dugin just recycles the same tropes of every fascist movement while dressing them up in convoluted jargon and esoterica.
The essence of 4PT is just a repackaged variant of third positionism from an openly fascist perspective. It calls for direct alignment and alliance of forces on the far left and far right to attack the center. Even the homepage for the book states “Beyond left and right but against the center.” Sound familiar?
If the third political theory [fascism] criticised capitalism from the Right, and the second [communism] from the Left, then the new stage no longer features this political topography: it is impossible to determine where the Right and the Left are located in relation to postliberalism. There are only two positions: compliance (the centre) and dissent (the periphery). Both positions are global. The Fourth Political Theory is the amalgamation of a common project and arises from a common impulse to everything that was discarded, toppled, and humiliated during the course of constructing ‘the society of the spectacle’ (constructing postmodernity).
It is rather explicit what Dugin is arguing: his 21st Century 4PT politics is rooted in the idea of a necessary collaboration between a bygone left (communists, socialists, etc.) and a bygone right (fascists). Put another way, Dugin here is rebranding fascism as something distinctly new, separated from the tarnished historical legacy of Nazism and Italian fascism, something most necessary in our “post-modern” world. Of course, it should be noted that when Dugin says “post-modern” he means multiculturalism, gender equality, LGBTQ+ rights, environmentalism, anti-colonialism, anti-racism, and generally everything that has become fundamental to the Left over the last 50 years.
Dugin’s brand of fascist politics is peddled globally under the heading of “Eurasianism” and is propagated by a wide array of Russian media outlets and fascist online platforms (i.e. Katehon, Fort Russ, New Resistance, Arktos, etc.). And it’s in the world of social media and the blogosphere where these LittleEichman.coms really make their mark, penetrating left discourse in the cyber realm in the way that fascist entryists penetrated left political organizations.
Indeed, this is precisely the Duginist strategy, to penetrate the left via anti-imperialism and marry it to the far right, with the two united in a common pro-Russian outlook. That’s Dugin’s agenda, and people like Johnstone become very useful to that end. Just looking at the number of alleged progressives who rightly reject US corporate media narratives unless they’re backed by hard evidence, while at the same time believing reports from Russian media and Kremlin press releases as holy writ tells me that that strategy is somewhat effective.
The danger in even bringing up these facts is that one has to be careful not to fall into the trap of buttressing or legitimizing the Democratic Party liberal talking points about Russia and Putin. How does one remain honest about the impact of these far right trends while also remaining entirely opposed to the fomenting of conflict with Russia? Not so easy.
[cue the “Russophobia” accusations from said nitwits]
But of course, for Johnstone no Democratic Party conspiracy theory is beneath her (Pizzagate, Seth Rich, etc.) while any anti-Russia conspiracy theories are to be dismissed out of hand. It’s almost as if she a priori chooses which conspiracies to peddle and which to dismiss. It’s almost as if she clings to conspiracies that have zero evidence like Pizzagate while ignoring the Russia-Trump story which, despite attempts by Democratic Party noodleheads to paint it as the greatest controversy since Caligula fellated his horse, is still worthy of examination as damaging facts have emerged about those ties.
One could be forgiven for thinking that Johnstone was just parroting talking points from others in a bid to build her popularity by sticking closely to one side’s talking points. Jesus Christ, I hope that’s all it is.
Johnstone: A Sign of Things to Come?
As the political and socio-economic situation in the US continues to deteriorate under Lord Trumpelstiltskin, expect to see a lot more of this Johnstone-style swill.
There will be others who espouse the same dumpster-fire politics with little to no understanding of the strategic or ideological context. They will demand that the Left work with the right. They will demand that everyone fall in line or else they’ll be tarred and feathered as obstructionists who just cling to “vanity politics”. They will do everything humanly possible to whitewash fascism, just as we’ve seen the attempted whitewashing of Marine Le Pen and a host of other far right movements.
In short, they’ll do everything they can to pollute and distort what the Left is. We cannot let them.
Johnstone has been exposed, that much is clear. Her little BernieBro friend Patrick Walker can continue to write screeds that read like 4 Ambiens and a shot of kerosene if he so chooses. But it’s not really effective if the intent is to do something other than spend page after page venting about how other people are meanies. Mike Cernovich, like Richard Spencer and every other alt-right, alt-lite degenerate, is out in the open. The only issue that matters at this point is that those real activists, organizers, and pundits are able to identify the fascist infiltrators before they metastasize the way Johnstone has.
And hey, hopefully future infiltrators will have a thicker skin. Because, how are you going to take on the “Deep State” if you can’t even take a couple of counterpunches?