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Issue #1907      March 16, 2020

ASIO clueless over right-wing extremism

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) recently reported that it has seen a significant increase in right-wing extremism in our country.

At ASIO’s inaugural Annual Threat Assessment speech in late February, director-general Mike Burgess indicated that the intelligence organisation was aware that “in suburbs around Australia, small cells regularly meet to salute Nazi flags, inspect weapons, train in combat and share their hateful ideology.”

Despite being aware of the clear increase in right-wing extremist activity, however, Burgess told Senate estimates last week that his organisation “[does] not fully understand why this is occurring.”

It is troubling – but not surprising – that the director-general of Australia’s key intelligence agency has publicly admitted that his organisation does not have even a basic understanding of the most dangerous reactionary ideology in modern history. One also wonders how Burgess can make good on his promise to combat far right extremism while simultaneously admitting that his organisation does not fully comprehend the threat.

If Burgess and his fellow spooks are truly looking for answers to this mystery, they need look no further than the work of history’s most effective and dedicated combatants of fascist ideology: communists. By applying the science of Marxism-Leninism, communists have carefully analysed the anatomy of fascism over the last century, clearly identifying its causes, forms and tactics.

Perhaps the most significant early contributor to the study of right-wing extremism was Italian communist Antonio Gramsci. Gramsci, who was imprisoned by the Italian fascists because of his status within the Communist Party, spent his years in prison dissecting far right-wing ideology before his untimely death due to deliberate mistreatment by his captors.

Through his historical analysis of the rise of the Italian far right, Gramsci was able to demonstrate that fascism “reinforces the hegemonic system and the forces of military and civil coercion at the disposal of the traditional ruling classes.” In other words, fascism is a weapon used by the ruling class to recapture control when their power is threatened by shifting circumstances.

Along these lines we may also point to Karl Radek’s analogy: “Fascism is the iron hoop that holds together the collapsing barrel of capitalism.” This sentiment was brilliantly captured in an illustration that appeared in Eric Hass’ 1963 pamphlet The reactionary right: incipient fascism. The image depicts a typical fascist übermensch placing the iron hoop of fascism over a battered barrel labelled “capitalism.”

There is no doubt that capitalism is currently under threat. Neoliberalism has eroded basic rights and services, which has led to growing discontent among the working class. More people are beginning to accept the reality that capitalism cannot fight climate change. And the sickening opulence of the world’s richest people is losing its mainstream appeal when experienced alongside the widespread suffering caused by global inequality.

But how does this threat to capitalism translate into a rise in grassroots far right extremism? The answer lies in how mainstream media – which is owned and controlled by the global capitalist elite – reshapes the narrative of capitalism in crisis to place blame on immigrants, minority groups and the poor.

Instead of inequality being a natural outcome of capitalism, corporate-owned media push the story that immigrants are “stealing” a disproportionate amount of resources. Instead of workers’ rights being taken away to increase profits, the capitalist class uses its vast propaganda resources to insist that the poor are a “drain” on society and that there is simply no money left for rights and services.

The result is that any discontent that ought to be directed towards capitalism is re-routed towards society’s most vulnerable people. White supremacy creeps in and the coordinates of the crisis are shifted to an “us versus them” scenario.

The next question we might ask is: how do these grassroots fascist groups organise and gain traction? To answer this question, one need only follow the money.

There is growing evidence of global far right financial networks that consist of a mixture of peer-to-peer crowdfunding as well as corporate sponsorship, both explicit and covert.

In May 2019, UK news outlet The Independent reported that far right extremist groups in the UK, the US and Europe were being bolstered by international financial cooperation. The report indicated that white nationalist group Generation Identity and the neo-Nazi terrorist organisation National Action were among the European examples profiting from “international connectivity.”

These groups use online crowdfunding platforms to raise funds for meetings, propaganda resources and general organisation. For example, the Australian white supremacist accused of carrying out the Christchurch massacre in 2019 was inspired by the Generation Identity group and reportedly donated money to the group’s Austrian branch. These groups also make use of online message boards to spread their hateful propaganda and to recruit disillusioned youths.

UK-based neo-Nazi group Blood & Honour holds several concerts every year to raise funds for grassroots fascist organisations. Blood & Honour has even purchased land in Lincolnshire so that these fascist events can be held without interference by the police, which speaks volumes about the codependent relationship between fascism, private property, and the state.

High profile fascist individuals like Britain’s white supremacist thug Tommy Robinson are benefiting from blatant corporate sponsorship. In 2019, Philadelphia-based right-wing think tank The Middle East Forum (MEF) spent roughly US$60,000 on “Free Tommy” demonstrations in London following Robinson’s imprisonment for drug-related offences. According to its website, the MEF “promotes American interests in the Middle East and protects Western values from Middle Eastern threats.”

Also in 2019, Robinson was invited to the United States for public speaking engagements by several Republican congressmen. Donald Trump Jr. has used Twitter to publicly show his support for Robinson and Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson gave ample airtime to Robinson’s legal woes for the benefit of his conservative US audience.

The complicity of high-profile capitalists, politicians and mainstream media outlets in giving fascists a platform is plain for everyone to see. Yet ASIO claims that it has been utterly blindsided by the rise in far-right extremist groups in Australia.

Given that intelligence organisations across the world are reporting an increase in far right-wing extremism and that a great deal of work is being done to uncover the financial links connecting these groups, ASIO’s ham-fisted response to the Australian situation is utterly ridiculous.

The theory behind how fascism develops is well known. Right-wing terrorist acts are becoming more common. White supremacists and fascists all over the world are using crowdfunding and online message forums to organise and recruit new members. Yet in spite of the mounting evidence, the spooks at ASIO throw up their hands and claim to have no idea what is going on.

The upsetting truth of the situation is that ASIO’s ignorance regarding right-wing extremism boils down to the fact that the intelligence agency has no real interest in combatting this kind of extremism. Their dedication to fighting Islamist extremism makes sense, since they consider this ideology to be a threat to our “way of life” (i.e. capitalism). Likewise, their growing interest in left-wing “extremism” makes perfect sense given ASIO’s responsibility to shield the bourgeois state from anti-capitalist sentiment.

When it comes to far right-wing extremism, however, ASIO is in an awkward position. Fascism, as Gramsci revealed, is a tool for reinforcing the hegemony of the capitalist class. Meanwhile, ASIO’s prime directive is to safeguard the status quo of capitalist “democracy.” In this sense, ASIO’s mission is precisely the same as Generation Identity, National Action or the Proud Boys. The only difference is how these groups present themselves and how they go about fulfilling their shared mission.

What the ASIO announcement reveals is that we cannot rely on the intelligence agencies of the bourgeois state to mount any kind of meaningful resistance to the rising tide of far-right extremism. Anti-fascist action has always been and will always be the burden of ordinary working people who believe in the common rights of all human beings.

Next article – Closing AAP newswire is irresponsible

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