Fascism

Old SDS, New DSA, and Trump vs Biden

From the Editor:  In this guest post by Participatory Economics innovator and longtime organizer Michael Albert, we open up space for a very contentious but important dialogue among the anti-capitalist left on questions of presidential politics, the dangers of fascism, and whether contingently “supporting” (mainly voting for) an extremely problematic Democratic nominee is a desirable position given the multiple stakes involved in removing the current administration. Last week, a group of 1960s members of Students for a Democratic Society signed a letter in The Nation calling for the left to support Joe Biden.  Daniel Finn responded to the letter at Jacobin, accusing the SDS emerita of “haranguing” socialists into supporting Biden. Other statements have been released as well. In the spirit of ecumenical left debate, we’ll publish future guest editorials on the question as long as there is interest. ~MJS

By Michael Albert
April 20, 2020

In a recent letter a group of old SDSers hoped to engage some young critics of the Democratic Party and Joe Biden. Those critics actually ought to be mightily commended for many of their analyses, insights, actions, intuitions, and feelings.

For example, the critics are correct that Biden is a tribune of power and wealth and of the current socio-economic system, not a friend of the poor, the disenfranchised, those doing rote and tedious work, those reviled and repressed by police, those living under occupations and bombs, those suffering the many diseases of our times.

The critics are also correct that Biden, Obama, the Clintons, and the establishment Democratic Party power brokers reject fundamental and even just substantial change and that many feared Sanders reducing their influence more than they feared Trump retaining the Presidency. Masters of war. Masters of impoverishment. Misanthropes of morality.

They are correct that U.S. elections don’t question underlying social and economic relations, and that the electoral college makes a mockery of democracy.

They are correct that even when rhetorically caring and humane, Democratic Party elites, like all the many TV ads now celebrating frontline workers to try to sell automobiles, are ultimately about business as usual.

The critics are also correct that as bad as Covid-19 is, multi-dimensional ecological collapse via global warming as well as death by starvation, inequality, and militarism are even greater threats to human survival. The young militant’s leadership on global warming and their observations that Biden and his overseers offer far, far less than we all ecologically need are also correct.

The critics would also be right if they pointed out that many old SDSers haven’t been very visibly active in a very long time, save for periodically supporting some Democratic candidate and that Old SDSers haven’t offered much inspiring vision and haven’t fully followed through on delivering a world worthy of young people’s on-going habitation.

Hell, the Biden critics would also be right to point out that Boomers writ large overwhelmingly exited “our generation” writ radical, and at a crucial historical moment became anything but Sanders supporters. They could reasonably ask those of us still radical why we didn’t do better reaching our own peers and how we could think we ever really knew much less that we still know how to reach out and organize? They could also reasonably wonder how come the old SDSers had barely a word to say about young leftists’ merits or about older leftists’ failings.

The young left has also been right that while Sanders didn’t voice all their desires and didn’t legitimate all their feelings, his was a brilliant campaign, program, and project that deserved their whole-hearted support. And they have been right to assert that the program, beliefs, and commitments of both DSA and the Green Party are monumentally superior to those of the mainstream Democratic Party.

Like the letter signers, I was in SDS and the broader left of the sixties but I don’t write this reply to the old SDSers based on my past membership. Like many of them, I have remained active since, in a myriad of ways, but I don’t write this based on that, either.

Like many of them, I have been and remain a militant advocate of fundamentally changing the racial, sexual, gender, political, economic, and ecological contours of contemporary life, right down to the roots, and I do hope that maybe that will weigh just a little bit positively on what follows, especially since what follows seeks to be heard not by old-timers like myself, but by young people looking around at crushing chaos and escalating pain and trying to find an effective path forward.

I write this seeing that because of their above views and many more besides young militants are the hope of the future. And because I want more than anything that they should have the room to pursue their own better world successfully.

But there is another dimension to address, because for all the many points that young radicals are rightly pursuing, one widely held stance many of them share is understandable but appears to me, as it did to the old SDSers, nonetheless ill-conceived.

And it isn’t that the young left are speaking from privilege because many aren’t in jail, or in detention camps, or looking up at drones, or starving…that is no more legitimate a criticism now than when my generation’s then elders, fifty years ago, threw such charges at us as we fought for civil rights and Black Power, for Women’s Liberation, for the Vietnamese, for the poor, dispossessed, shackled, and sickened in all lands. We old-timers should remember how we reacted hearing from older leftists – who did have insights worth hearing – that our form of militance was sometimes suicidal, that our analyses were sometimes misguided, that our anger and beliefs were sometimes the folly of immaturity? We wrote them off and didn’t look for the nuggets of wisdom they did indeed have to offer. And now, here we go again, except this time we are the old-timers undercutting our own chance to contribute usefully.

Here is the thing, young militants. I believe you are wrong about just one set of interrelated beliefs. And while in confused times like these that is a remarkably small debit, the problem is that that one set of interrelated beliefs matters a whole lot.

Trump winning in 2020 would not be less than a world historic disaster for all else you believe, feel, and think. Biden winning would be vastly better (albeit, of course, abysmally short of) all else you believe, feel, and think. Not voting or voting other than for Biden against Trump, at least in swing states, would not somehow strategically do more to uproot the two party system, to defend Democracy, to expand equity, to reverse racism, or to slay sexism, than would beating Trump while simultaneously working on all those and many other agendas as well. And finally, your choices in these regards do matter. Not only might the election hinge on fewer votes than you can swing, but who is better informed to talk successfully with working class Trump voters from 2016?

You have acknowledged Sanders’ intelligence, commitment, and courage. How comes it then that you so easily dismiss his choosing to keep fighting for his whole program, which is in large degree your current program, but also, and as part of that, to fight for Trump’s defeat via Biden’s election?

You believe in fundamental change. Me too. I have spent a lifetime trying to give it wings rooted in clarity. You passionately hate those who purvey business as usual over the bodies of countless corpses and uncountable diminished souls. Me too. “Hey hey LBJ?, how many kids did you kill today?”

You feel that supporting Biden against Trump is signing on to preserving the existing abominable system with, at most, some modest mitigating policies. And that feels to you like a direct route to being what you oppose. And I understand that feeling too. And to an extent, I think you are right. Slip sliding into being what we hate, or contributing to others doing so, is not only possible, it is oftentimes rather likely – unless we are very clear in our motives and actions.

But the good news is that the needed clarity is easily in everyone’s reach. Why not advocate voting for Biden in swing states where doing so could matter to beating Trump, on the undeniable grounds that Trump winning again also involves a slip slide – into hellish days well beyond those already endured, if not worse still. Do it not based on Biden’s non-existent merits but because Trump winning would accelerate the race to destroy the environment that sustains organized human life, maybe even reaching irreversible tipping points, with mounting and hideous catastrophes along the way primarily among the poor abroad and at home. Why not do it because Trump winning would increase the risk of terminal nuclear war, which is transparent, and because his winning would pack the judiciary with young ultra-right justices who, for at least a generation, would persevere to block any even mildly progressive legislation. And why not do it because Trump winning would mean further gutting the remaining structures of popular participation reducing democracy beneath even its current abysmal state. Of course this litany of reasons could go on, but let me just add why elderly passions are high, even as leftists who oppose supporting Biden and leftists who advocate supporting Biden in swing states agree on so much else.

As old as sixties SDSers are, we have elders too. And I hear them tell me how the Nazi plague engulfed Germany and ravaged the world in large part because the huge German Communist party refused to join with others to stop Hitler because they saw those others as “social fascists” and, they felt, Hitler wasn’t really all that bad a guy. And so when I and others my age hear them say they came into the world seeing that mistake wreak havoc, and they now fear leaving the world seeing that same mistake wreak havoc again, it adds to my sense of urgency. Do we really want to risk that for our kids, for the planet, for humanity, because we see Biden as bad to the bone and feel Trump isn’t really all that bad a guy?

So the SDS-ers’ point is, it is indeed possible to urge voting for Biden, and to do so in swing states, and to simultaneously retain radical commitments, beliefs, and integrity because we want to prevent the obvious known ills of Trumpism, not to mention the extrapolated even greater ills of resurgent fascism. It is possible to do it and not become what we hate. And not only will our doing it not contribute to solidifying existing social relations and not contribute to entrenching existing obstacles to change, it will help prevent those two dynamics and prepare for fighting on. Isn’t that what Sanders is doing? And if he can do it, can’t his supporters, and even people to his left also do it — without an iota of compromise, without an iota of hypocrisy?

But yes, I know some who reject voting for Biden will have followed this line of reasoning to this point but then decided that Sanders is selling out. He seemed good, great even, but he has shown himself a horrible shill for the mainstream power brokers.

I will admit I don’t know how to address those of you taking that path. Those decrying Sanders, and no doubt jettisoning the views of Chomsky, Ehrehreich and so many folks we have previously appreciated and perhaps even learned from, indeed perhaps even learned the views that we now think require us to reject voting for Biden – for example that the two parties are two wings of one corporate party.

But we know that Sanders, Chomsky, Ehrenreich and other such advocates of Biden over Trump — hell, of the nearest lamppost over Trump, if need be — including the old SDSers, are not dumb. We know their position isn’t due to their being unable to draw logical conclusions. But we also can’t shake nor should we shake that we feel it is transparently obvious that Biden favors system maintenance. For sure, he does, but the question is, does that recognition mean we can legitimately conclude that anyone smart and informed who favors voting for Biden must also be for system maintenance? That anyone who says we can be radical, revolutionary, and true to our values and aspirations, and simultaneously so realize the necessity to beat Trump that we advocate voting Biden – must want system maintenance? That people wanting Biden to beat Trump and willing to help in that task must actually like Biden’s beliefs and motives? That they must have sold out? Is it warranted for us to decide Sanders is a sellout, and so too for so many others?

Or, if we call those we disagree with our enemies rather than considering that they might be just as radical, just as revolutionary as they always were, and might differ from us because they see something we are missing, wouldn’t that be doing that which we would ordinarily ridicule and decry — being leftists who accuse everyone who disagrees with us of being an enemy of change despite the fully visible contrary evidence of the their words and deeds?

So if this debate has to happen — and I have seen it surging up online already — can we all, on every side, at the very least, agree to remove the personal denigrations, and agree to stick to the issues, so that the issues might be resolved and we might in the end agree on what is true and what is not true – on what is doable and what is not doable — and thus on where we can usefully act and where our actions, or lack thereof, may do irreparable harm even against our intentions.

Michael Albert, host of the Revolution Z: Life After Capitalism podcast, is an organizer, publisher, teacher, and author of over twenty books and hundreds of articles. He cofounded South End Press, Z Magazine, the Z Media Institute, ZNet, and various other projects, and works full time for Z Communications. He is the author, with Robin Hahnel, of the economic vision named participatory economics. He helped create the International Organization for a Participatory Society in 2012.

Image: Florida State University students marching for anti-war protest, courtesy of State Archives of Florida

Working People Have No Country

by Matt Stannard
January 3, 2020

Try this early and often–in every conversation about the administration’s war-drive against Iran, every discussion online and offline. Say:

“You and I have more in common with an Iraqi or Iranian militia grunt than with Donald Trump.”

. . . and simply: “Working people have no country.”

If your concern is beating this administration, and thus restoring the legitimacy of things like U.S. military hegemony, then this strategy and this blog aren’t for you. If your concern is to use the present political moment as an opportunity to strike at one of the root causes of this administration’s existence, the kind of world where mobbed up landlords become world leaders, then understanding our commonalities with Iranians is more than just liberal cosmopolitanism.

The warrant for “working people have no country” as an anti-war slogan is that if we see ourselves as beings in a common material class, and have adopted cooperative economic praxis, it won’t make sense to go to war with one another–at least where the interests of the majority are concerned.

There’s a large body of work on this, and it would be counterproductive for me to recommend that one read too much of it before diving right into direct political engagement. In reviewing the topic, I wanted to center on a singular explanatory text, and not necessarily a “Marxist” one, explaining why Marx and Engels were concerned that working people struggling for socialism or communism would center the ruling class in their own countries as the first oppositional force needing overthrow, and would view the working class as an international class.

So I tracked down Evan Luard’s Basic Texts in International Relations, in which Luard devotes an informative overview, “Class Consciousness as a Restraint on War” to the issue of why shared working class consciousness rejects war between states.

Part of the working class’s motivation for rejecting their own governments’ war drives is that the aspiration of working class political power includes eliminating those drives. “Once they had acquired power,” Luard puts it, “they would cease to have any interest in a war against any other state where the people had taken power. War would then, like the state itself, wither away.” Wither away because “the state” is based on antagonisms, war is a flare-up of such antagonisms. Luard points out that 50 years after the Manifesto Karl Kautsky, in a more utopian tone, wrote that workers would recognize the interdependence of their needs and the common conditions of their existence. In one form or another, most socialists adhere to that belief.

But I think it’s obvious, and probably necessary, to point out that we don’t need to view these beliefs as subscriptions to inexorable, mystical axioms. There might still be conflict. There might still be bloodshed. You can think this because you think humans are just inherently that way, or you can predict that the antagonisms of previous orders take a long time to exorcise and may never completely go away, or whatever. You don’t have to accept these premises as anything other than general prediction of tendencies. And you don’t have to believe that overcoming class will cause all other differences to be erased, synthesized, dissipated, or otherwise minimized. You can simply believe, as more and more people do, that capitalism and material hierarchy make it much, much harder to solve the conflicts that accompany those differences and conditions.

Class politics– emphasizing our shared materiality and shared security needs, using that shared materiality as a way of faithfully and vulnerably working through and dwelling in our other differences–can inform our anti-war politics, and connect our opposition to war to our larger ecological and economic justice agenda.

And, in many ways, most of us already recognize that our ethical obligations to each other transcend national origin. If the breakdown of such consciousness today can be discerned by opposition to the current administration’s actually existing fascism on immigration. Granted, it’s not a magic 8-ball on working class internationalism, but most Americans want more immigration and diversity, not less. Recently, political researcher Stanley Greenburg described how this administration has hastened the crystalization of such attitudes:

Pew asked whether immigrants “strengthen our country because of their hard work and talents” or “are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care.” The proportion embracing immigration jumped from 53% in 2015 to 62% this year. Trump sent troops to the border, warned of an America exposed without a wall and ran ads showing illegal immigrants who murdered innocent Americans, and yes, he made immigration the most important reason to vote against the Democrats in the off-year elections. His party lost the House in a 53%-45% landslide last year and has lost the battle of public opinion on immigration by much more than that.

This is an example of the various accelerations we currently live, whether we want to admit it or not–and at least some of this consciousness will survive even if trumpism does not. On immigration, as on climate and healthcare and, I ultimately suspect, on warmaking, a large cross section of America is turning sharply socialist, almost leapfrogging over more moderate-liberal analogs, and while it’s not the same as storming the palace, it points to what could turn out to be a massive fucking anti-war movement, assuming the administration treats the current war drive as a traditional war drive.

At least as important as magnitude will be motivation. Mass movements don’t often stop wars from starting, but mass opposition to those wars energizes class politics. We have an opportunity to make the slogan “working people have no country,” and the careful and powerful analysis behind it, central to our argument against this war and all wars, and in so doing, invite more people into socialist politics.

Uttering and explaining the slogan will help win people over. It will cause some other people to yell back “yes we do have countries” and invoke their fatherland myths–and it’s useful to know who those people are too.

Matt Stannard is operations director of Solidarity House Cooperative and produces content on cooperative economics and law.

Cleveland Baseball Team Won’t Enforce “Offensive Images” Rule on Racists

Some baseball teams, like the Chicago Cubs, have taken proactive approaches to dealing with racist fans. The Cleveland Indians* have not.

My friend Lauren alerted Cleveland Indians management concerning this tattoo in front of her in the security line:

D3kMqZyXsAESsCP

. . . as well as this pic of a different racist tattoo, taken by Lauren’s partner . . .

D-_9ED3XUAAceIn

And Lauren got this response.

“Hi Lauren. Thank you for reaching out to the Cleveland Indians. We are very thankful that you and your family are fans of the Tribe. We want you to enjoy your experience here at the ballpark. If you let the usher or anyone in lower fan services aware of this, [sic] someone can be sent to ask the fan to cover their tattoo if necessary. As well, even if you would not want to be re-located, it is possible though to get re-located for that game if you and your family are at the ballpark.”

Not sure where to begin, but this response places the burden of objecting to racism on the fan, not the club or stadium management. It promises nothing even if the fan does speak up, and then offers to relocate the family — even if they don’t want to?

But we shouldn’t even have to ask these questions. As baseball and politics blogger Sarah Sanchez pointed out in our discussion, the club’s fan behavior section provides that “offensive words or images must be covered or removed from the ballpark”.

Stadiums generally kick people out for yelling at umpires, stop serving alcohol late in the games, and even remind people not to swear because kids are present.

Lauren wrote:

I do have a bee in my bonnet, as they say, about hate speech tattoos at baseball games. I think the reason it bothers me so MUCH is that they wore this into the ballpark! It’s no different than a Nazi t-shirt, right? And the onus is on their seatmates to bring this to the park’s attention? Why? They didn’t just draw this on. They wore it in through security, in front of God and everyone. If people can be refused entry for having restricted items in their bags, for being too drunk, for any number of reasons, why don’t we say the same here? It’s not reasonable to expect their seatmates to take a personal risk to document something everyone can SEE and then – what? Raise it with the same management who let them in and seated them? And have any confidence they’ll take an action? And it’s bad! BAD bad. I shouldn’t have to sit near someone who felt SO STRONGLY about being a Nazi that they literally permanently altered their body so everyone would know HOW NAZI THEY ARE. Is this something I should have to address MYSELF?

So, if you’d like to sound off on this to the Cleveland Indians and Progressive Field, all the information to do that is here.

I write about why we should do everything we can to make racists socially uncomfortable here.

Thanks to Lauren & Yusuf for the pictures and the bravery.

 

* I’m gonna bracket (for now) the question of whether the Cleveland Indians mascot is itself racist (it is).  The fans of clubs with racist mascots deal with that reality in complex and varied ways. This episode is probably connected to such institutional racism in big-picture ways, but is totally worth pointing out by itself. 

by Matt Stannard on July 13, 2019

Podcast & Watch Guide on Protecting Your Kids from Fascism

Today at Solidarity House Cooperative we posted this special podcast featuring Lindsey Hanlon, Brad Kramer and me talking about how to talk to kids, especially teenage kids, and particularly white and mostly male teenage kids, about the alt-right. In the wake of the latest and worst fascist massacre in New Zealand, we felt like it was important to address the toxicity and danger of youth hate radicalization.

Lindsey, who blogs at Into the Void, also compiled the following list of video resources for parents, kids, and anti-fascist activists.

Contrapoints:

The Darkness (a great take on edgy humor and how it is done well versus how it is done poorly)

 

Decrypting the Alt-Right: How to Recognize a F@scist (what it says on the tin)

 

Incels (a deep dive into the Incel community that manages to be sympathetic but also call out what is really messed up about it)

 

Innuendo Studios:

The Alt-Right Playbook: Mainstreaming (the whole Alt-Right Playbook series is great, but this one is most relevant to what we talked about)

 

Lindsay Ellis:

Mel Brooks, The Producers and the Ethics of Satire about N@zis (an excellent look at the irony/boundary pushing discussion, specifically centered around the representation of Nazis)

hbomberguy:

PewDiePie is a Nazi (A lot of hbomberguy’s stuff is great, but again this is the most relevant to the discussion that we had. It’s both an old video and sadly relevant again)

 

Peter Coffin:

Somewhere to Belong: Jordan Peterson and + Alienation (again, many great videos, but this one is super relevant to what we talked about)

 

Angie Speaks:

Jordan Peterson, Jungian Archetypes, and Masculinity (again, awesome in many ways, but this one is most relevant for today)

 

Kat Blaque:

Freedom of Speech + Social Media (again, many great videos, but this one is most relevant for today)

 

Philosophy Tube:

Steve Bannon (a really good look at someone who is helping to normalize radicalism)

Can Racists Be Good Citizens? Should They Be Citizens At All?

by Matt Stannard
October 31, 2018

The title question is derived from “Can Atheists Be Good Citizens?” a dreadful essay published way back in 1991 by Richard John Neuhaus, a leading voice on the religious right, who was as responsible as anyone for conservative Christianity’s turn to militant, and often ruthless, political activism. That activism, and the political structures it built, punched down rather than up and was never about liberating the oppressed. The essay appeared long before “atheism” came to designate the bigotry of Richard Dawkins, et al. It simply denoted proactive nonbelief, which Neuhaus found incompatible with good citizenship, because one could not truly be a good citizen unless one acknowledged the Common Source of Good. That was pretty much it, a “gotcha” argument right up there with “you oppose capitalism but you’re using a computer.”

How incredibly, disturbingly ironic to reread Neuhaus’s article now, at a time when far-right groups are back in the public square calling for the extermination and subordination of nonwhites and non-Christians people, and performing that call with bullets. The idea that atheists are a danger to public order because they don’t share a very particular foundational metaphysics is just fucking quaint.

Tolerance and co-existence get a lot of crap from both the right and left. I get the left critique of liberalism, but I’d like to revisit the necessity of tolerance at least long enough to assert that, at a time when the current presidential administration is enabling and encouraging fascism, along with threats to strip citizenship rights away from some, and deny asylum and freedom of movement to others, while all the while white supremacists are harassing, beating, and killing people and not fearing for their own status or citizenship in the least, it’s time for us to contemplate the legal subordination of racists.

In the abstract, it may be that a willingness to welcome and engage others who are different from us is supererogatory at most–morally desirable but not morally required. If we stop there, we can easily conclude that a racist can never be a good citizen in a society nominally premised upon welcoming difference. This seems noncontroversial to anyone to the left of Donald Trump or Stephen Miller. So the answer to the first question is easy for us, and I suppose we could debate it out with those in the “center” who believe that we need to tolerate intolerance, although those debates tend to go in circles.

But because we are not in the abstract, and because white supremacists in America are doing more than just thinking shitty thoughts, and because there is no abstract, and wherever there is white supremacy there is violence and murder and the closure of public space and incursion of secure private space, I want to move beyond the question of whether a racist can be a good citizen and ask whether racists ought to be stripped of
their citizenship altogether. There is a solid case to be made.

By the way, it’s equally obvious to me that to propose an ethno-state as some counter-antecedent to the “good citizenship” question is to beg that question. To advocate the ethnostate is to advocate racism per se, and that is the battle-cry of contemporary American fascists, although, as I’ll explain a bit below, they often propose such things half-ironically as a rhetorical trick.

It is reasonable and, in the current context of racist violence, desirable, to demand as a condition of citizenship the acceptance of the citizenship, dignity, and autonomy of others in one’s community; and where dignity and autonomy are concerned, such an obligation extend to respect respect for non-citizens as well.

The idea of revoking citizenship is provocative, of course, but it’s far from absurd. Rainer Baubock and Vesco Paskalev’s 2016 article in the Georgetown Immigration Law Journal discusses various grounds for revocation of citizenship, mostly in the context of the European Union, but with much to consider when contemplating a more cooperative and egalitarian iteration of the United States. There are a number of weak reasons why states revoke citizenship, such as service to a foreign state; but there are stronger reasons too, such as the discovery that an applicant had deceived authorities in order to acquire citizenship (although we can ask whether that is an adequate reason). Then, of course, there are those who threaten public security in such an extreme way as to expose as false one’s commitment to the society in which they live. “No right is absolute,” Baubock and Paskalev write, “and in the Hamdi case the U.S. Supreme Court found that grave threats to public security can justify significant limitations of the right to due process. It would not be inconsistent for the Court to sustain abridgment of their right to citizenship on the same grounds too.”

As a general category, “noncompliance with citizenship duties” can go beyond just obeying laws, though. Baubock and Paskalev cite Shai Levi’s speculative argument that citizenship could be revoked for serious violations of the “duty of civic allegiance.” Although Lavi’s argument is in the context of terrorism, which violates a citizen’s “commitment to self-government,” it isn’t a stretch, and may even be more reasonable, to extend that duty to respect for the rights of others to exist (period), and to participate in public life. This doesn’t strike me as a free speech concern, either, since the act of renouncing one’s state is also a speech act–one which denotes an explicit rejection of the foundation of one’s citizenship. I do understand the danger giving the state the power to throw around “duty of civic allegiance” and think such a concept could be replaced with some kind of minimal duty of acceptance of others, a literal duty of non-racism or nondiscrimination applied to those identity categories we currently define as protected classes (plus a couple more that we should so define).

So a simple statement of my hypothetical proposal would be something like “Those advocating discrimination or subordination of other humans on the basis of race, sex, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity and expression, religion, ethnicity, nationality, age, or socioeconomic class are subject to revocation of citizenship.” Not unproblematic, but a good starting point for discussion, I think.

The liberal argument against this kind of hard line is most often the marketplace of ideas metaphor, that the solution to racist speech is anti-racist speech. We have to ask: solution for whom? Although we don’t realize this when we’re making the argument, it’s made from the privileged position of those least likely to be killed as a result of bigoted incitement. History demonstrates that allowing racist discourse in public dialogue does not result in the sorting of good and bad ideas through the filter of public choice. Instead, because racists explicitly reject such argumentative ethics to begin with (embracing them only in cruel irony to justify making inroads into such incitement), racism becomes a perennially unsettled, re-presented issue that we re-litigate again and again and again, each time accompanied by spiraling levels of extra-discursive and fatal violence.

And in any event, I’m not arguing for censorship of racist speech or criminal punishment of the racist. My argument is that, in being racist, one fails to meet one’s citizenship obligation threshold. I should be entitled only to such status which I am willing to categorically and sincerely extend to others, with only non-arbitrary exceptions. I should affirm, or at least not actively oppose, the inherent worth and dignity of all people and their right to co-exist in the state and civil society so long as they also affirm the same. If I refuse to do that, then I am refusing to join with others in upholding a basic ethical obligation to those with whom I exist, the violation of which directly threatens others’ security and participation in the state and civil society.

But what about those of us with radically critical views of the state and civil society? Well, I may be “against the state” or large parts of it (e.g. I may be an anarchist or a revolutionary communist), but this doesn’t have to undermine the social obligation to affirm, or at least not actively oppose, the inherent worth and dignity of all people and their right to co-exist in the state and civil society. In fact, this is an important difference between anarchism or communism on one side, and fascism on the other. The former are critiques of the state that do not arbitrarily exclude people from participation and moral status (and actually attempt to propose social orders where all people are truly free to so participate), while the latter is premised upon those exclusions and mandates them in praxis.

Drawing such a line in order to retain one’s status as a citizen is also desirable because the classical liberal line of protecting racist speech while outlawing violent action is a line that fascists have learned to blur through an elaborate system of ironic practices such as the use of outrageous statements that the speakers deny being serious about when called on them. This quite often appears as “We should kill all of you. Stop, stop, I’m joking. Maybe.” “We need a white ethno-state. Perhaps I am only being ironic.” Fascists can and will make endless versions of these statements, mixing them with conspiracy theories and non-actionable discourse advocating racial hierarchies and appeals to the desirability of ethnic cleansing and eradication. As long as they aren’t calling for specific acts of violence against specific people, there are no real consequences for such speech acts even when they inspire actual violence. My hypothetical proposal recognizes this limitation and suggests that the requirements for citizenship in a just democratic society ought to be heavier than simply being able to claim one was only joking about the desirability of slavery and genocide.

Similarly, racist conspiracy theories about marginalized people serve as a subsidy to those with a political agenda served by marginalizing potential opposition. Fox News can assert, with no legal consequences, that powerful Jews are responsible for people of color being mad at police. The ability to do such things is similar to the ability of corporations to create (and avoid paying for) negative externalities like pollution. A social cost is extracted and paid by others for the profits of the polluters. My hypothetical proposal says that the polluters should pay the costs of those externalities. Rejecting my proposal wouldn’t make those externalities go away; it just ensures that innocent people, and the state, will continue to pay for them. Those rejecting the proposal ought to provide a counterproposal for how those costs will be paid, one that solves for the fact that they are externalized on innocent victims now.

The last two years of public life in the United States, filled with spiking numbers of racist violence, open fascist activity, and the occupation of the White House by white nationalists devoted to turning the United States into an ethno-state (or perhaps more accurately, preserving it as such) makes Richard John Neuhaus’s 1991 piece on atheism and citizenship even more disgusting in retrospect than it was originally, as if nonbelief in God threatened the safety of vulnerable people and the body politic in any way comparable to white supremacy, an ideology very compatible with conservative theism and which, in totality, carries no possible consequences other than to subordinate, hurt, or kill other people.

Racism, particularly manifest in fascism, serves another nefarious role: It’s invoked to preserve the existing socioeconomic order through violence and intimidation. I believe the existing socioeconomic order threatens to destroy all life on earth, but even if it didn’t, racism prevents public deliberation rather than facilitating it. White supremacists, racists, and fascists produce metaphysical justifications for murder, arbitrary hierarchies, and structural violence, and in doing so, not only pose direct threats to people’s safety, but also long-term threats to democratic participation in public life. That they are allowed to do so is a political anomaly caused not by America’s unwavering commitment to free speech, but America’s antecedents in material hierarchy and ideological bigotry. Because we want to put such antecedents behind us, racists ought not feel safe, let alone affirmed, in the United States. They ought to fear for their citizenship and social status. One could even reasonably argue for the social utility of them fearing for their personal security and safety, since they knowingly create climates where others fear for theirs. But at the very least, they should not feel at ease about their relationship with the state and civil society. Racists should be afraid to be racists.

Matt Stannard is operations director at Solidarity House Cooperative. His latest article at Occupy.com is “After Rahm, Can Chicago Create a Cooperative Economy?” The opinions expressed in this essay are solely Matt’s.