My first encounter with what could be described as “leftist activists” was over ten years ago at an Amnesty International presentation to my sixth form debate club (absolute chad I know). They recommended some student speakers from a “world without borders” group, so stood before the assembled nerds -who were just there for a priority lunch pass - were these two painfully posh crust punks with white people dreadlocks who spoke like they were on a “gap yaar” giving a utopian presentation that was basically the lyrics to John Lennon’s “Imagine” interspersed with dark mutterings about “direct action.” The entire experience was painful for everyone involved, not least the well meaning tutor who’d organised the talk. In his mind he just wanted to get the students “more politically engaged,” but inadvertently he’d exposed us to the pantomime that is modern political activism & type of warped creature that partakes in it.
At the same time I’d encountered another brand of activism online, the beginnings of the now endlessly cringed at “Anonymous” in the form of 4Chan’s campaign against the Church of Scientology. The internet was supposed to revolutionize activism, & this event is often cited as a watershed moment in organising physical protests using the resources of the digital world to fight & overcome a larger foe. The only issue is, as someone who was there at the time, that’s purely fiction. What little was achieved mostly revolved around keeping information & cult resources accessible online that lawyers had been continuously supressing for years. The part everyone remembers -the real life protests with the infamous Guy Fawkes masks -was a mildly embarrassing & wholly symbolic act even at the time.
The iconography of “Anonymous” filtered into mass protest movements of all kinds & became a symbol of listless, unfocused & painfully twee rebellions. Protests in which people stand around for a cause no one seems to fully agree on against an opponent no one can quite define to enact nebulous change on one understands. It is people merely going through the motions of expected political action, it is safe, it is forgettable but it is most of all permissible.
Nowhere is protest & activism safer or more ingrained than in universities, students are expected to be engaged in some form of leftward political activism to the point that it has been a cliché since the 1970s. Those who partake are often going through the motions as described above, with many of the more violent actors in their midst being long time bussed in rent-a-riot agitators with a variety of causes under their belt. We are led to believe by those who posit themselves as “guardians of the west” that through this activism the universities have become the main wellspring of all political ills and that the activists that spew forth are the agents of revolutionary chaos that we must defeat at all costs.
As a response to this, there has arisen a type of anti-left activist who’s purpose is to play the counter role to whatever cause the activist class has taken up. They have no identity outside of being “against the left” and embody the Marxist idea of a “reactionary” not only in thought but in function. This has come to dominate what is loosely defined as the ‘new right’ or ‘anti-SJW’ activist space & most of the popular figures featured negatively in mainstream media but lauded in ‘alternative media’ fit this mould to a tee. They ceremonially do battle with the evil communists on campus, both sides replete with their shiny LARP gear, as we boo & cheer our respective champions. Others fight endlessly on Twitter & YouTube, slaying their dirty leftist foes with facts & logic. In their minds this is the battle for the soul of their nation & what is done on that hallowed ground will decide it’s fate. Online slap fights become the front line in an existential war we must win at all costs.
There is only one problem: none of this matters.
This form of unreality prevents both arbitrary sides from looking at those who are consequential parts of the power structure. What happens if we “defeat Antifa?” What materially changes if Extinction Rebellion get booed off the streets? Conversely, what changes if Antifa “defeat the proud boys?” None of the activists involved hold any real power. Despite what Reason.com or Breitbart might tell you Antifa, Breadtube, Extinction Rebellion, Black Lives Matter or even someone like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez aren’t actually setting the agenda. The naïve students, counter protestors & professional agitators don’t hold any real sway within the power structure, they are simply there as loud agitation. Those who hold & wield real power have as much disgust for the middle class crust punk activist or the Blood & Soil LARPer as everyone else. Most of those supposedly radical activists are employed by government funded NGOs or alphabet agencies who act as their handlers. There is no danger of a far-left or far-right revolution because those who claim to want it are overwhelmingly led by assets of the existing hegemony. It’s one arm of the government pretending to fight another arm in a controlled way, that’s why the discourse is allowed to take place. That is why it is permissible.
Leftist activists are low hanging fruit, you are supposed to get angry at them. In doing so they set the debate: ‘the right’ would not be talking about, for example, “trans children” unless ‘the left’ were engaged in activism that steers the discussion. Instead of implementing useful change, or even discussing it, they endlessly engage with the red rags professional agitators wave in front of them. Both sets of activists end up engaging in the same permissible debate, wasting time, energy & money on fighting causes that did not exist outside of the fever dreams of a handful of niche academics & radicals until they became useful as a distraction.
Suddenly your revolutionary movement, no matter where it falls on the political map, is only talking about the minutiae of childhood consent to hormones. It no longer focuses on those who hold real power. The vast majority of modern political discourse is made up of this surrogate activism by design, it insulates those in power from examination through layers of useless debate.
The end result of surrogate political activism within the political process is always the same: false compromise. The two imaginary sides come together & agree to implement what the ‘Side X’ wants, but at a pace ‘Side Y’ is happy with -or to add meaningless ‘safeguards.’ When framed as social issues ‘the left’ gain concessions, when framed as security issues ‘the right’ gains concessions. Both sides are then able to go to the populous & inform them that their will has been implemented & their thirst for change placated. The “mission accomplished” banners come out on both sides & nothing changes, apart from what those who hold the reigns of power want to change. The issues involved & the groups involved don’t actually matter, what matters is the process ending in the performative act of compromise. It’s a miniature version of “the peaceful handover of power” & the compromises therein, it allows ideas that the populous at large may find utterly distasteful to become part of the political fabric as a supposed means of preventing conflict. Within a modern liberal democracy you must always surrender to ideas elites want to implement if they can pretend a sizeable or loud enough minority believe in them. Its a method of manufacturing consent.
How this is kept in check is the strict enforcement of what is & isn’t permissible activism. As we’ve seen with the rhetoric since the January 6th Capitol Hill Reichstag fire re-enactment, activism relating to the fraudulent results of an election is strictly beyond the pale. Despite all the rhetoric against them, the MAGA believers were tolerated within the discourse up until the 2020 election. Those who followed Donald Trump were allowed their own space within the activist stage show, after all it was useful containment, but as soon as it butted up against the ugly realities of real state power it was suddenly nixed. Even as a reaction to a mostly imaginary threat, the removal from the political process of the MAGA movement has been almost total. They now have no way within the system to express their displeasure. Their ideas, as middle of the road basic bitch populist as they are, are no longer permitted because they stepped a toe outside of the pre-agreed political talking points by questioning the legitimacy of the voting system- and they will expend a huge amount of political energy simply trying to return to where they were prior to 2016. Bare in mind these are not people who wholesale question the legitimacy of state power & those who wield it, they just wanted the power structure spray-tanned orange & draped in an American flag.
The difference between a “domestic terrorist” and an “activist” in the U.S. or U.K. is the same as the difference between a “Rebel” or an “ISIS fighter” in Syria -its what the CIA says it is. If you extol the virtues of a worldview that could genuinely threaten the power structure & those within it you are no longer engaging in “activism,” you are in their eyes engaging in “terrorism.” You have gone beyond the pale of acceptable ideas & must be disavowed by those activists supposedly on ‘your side,’ those who have a stake in the left/right stage show continuing. Permissible activism is often profitable for those who engage in it, by design it doesn’t fundamentally change anything so there is no foreseeable end point. Its the perfect grift: they can subsist as pets of the power structure, dogs barking at each other over a mostly digital fence.
Those in power don’t parade out an eight year old in drag because they genuinely believe in the virtues of drag artistry to change the world, they do it as an act of ritual humiliation & transgressive power demonstration. They do it whip up the professional activists & create a debate in which we compromise on just a little pedophilia. Ultimately they do it because they want to demonstrate they can & to waste your time engaging in a good faith argument with dishonest people who would say or do anything to make you out to be a monster, because the uncomfortable answer is that nothing changes until there is a vast ‘overcorrection’ in regards to the power structure -a line of thinking not permissible in any kind of “legitimate activism” & one that will eventually result in the kind of fate that befell twenty Brach Davidian children.