Date: 12-05-03

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Oddmund Garvik


The Fallacy of "Neither Left nor Right"

by Janet Biehl

Editor's Note: This report is courtesy of Janet Biehl and originally
appeared in Green Perspectives, A Social Ecology Publication, Number 37,
April 1996. Ms. Biehl is the author of Rethinking Ecofeminist Politics
and co-author of Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience
(co-written with Peter Staudenmaier, 1995, AK Press, P.O. Box 40682, San
Francisco, CA 94140-0682).

"Militia Fever" is reproduced with the author's permission; subscription
information may be found at the end of this report.

At a time when the political sands have shifted massively to the right
nearly everywhere, when the right is riding high while the left
languishes in debris, it is common to hear the cry "Neither left nor
right!" Few right-wingers issue this cry -- and why should they? In
times like these, their political label is the toast of several
continents. The fact is that the strongest political winds are blowing
many leftists, like the rest of the society, toward conservatism and a
glorification of the market.

Although the cry has become more common since the collapse of the Soviet
system, it did not originate in this era. Realo Greens were known to
define their party as "neither left nor right" in the late 1970s and
early 1980s, in its formative years. Much earlier in this century, in
the interwar years, European fascists who intended to reject both
capitalism and communism used a related concept to find their supposed
"third way." During the Spanish Civil War, the Falangists thought of
themselves as "neither of the left nor right nor centre," according to
one farmer:

We were a movement with our own spirit, out not to defend the rich but
also not to put the poor above the rich. In many points we agreed with
the socialists. But they were materialist revolutionaries and we were
spiritual ones. What differentiated us most was that we lacked the
hatred of capitalism which they exhibited. The marxists declared war on
anyone with wealth; our idea was that the right must give up a part in
order to allow others to live better . . .

[FN: As Alberto Pastor, a Falangist farmer, told Ronald Fraser for his
Blood of Spain: An Oral History of the Spanish Civil War (New York:
Pantheon Books, 1979). I'm grateful to Gary Sisco for pointing out this

In recent months the insurgent militia movement has occasioned still
more rejections of the left-right dichotomy. In the leftist Nation,
Alexander Cockburn describes a "Patriot" rally in Michigan as "amiable."
[FN: Alexander Cockburn, "Who's Left? Who's Right?" Beat the Devil,
Nation (June 12, 1995), p. 820.] The Boston Globe (3/30/96) advises its
readers that the "Freemen" movement of Montana, with its ties to the
militias and to apocalyptic religiosity, is "so far off the generally
accepted political scale that terms like 'left' and 'right' do not
apply." Jason McQuinn, formerly editor of Anarchy: A Journal of Desire
Armed and currently editor of Alternative Press Review, denounces left
and right as two sides of the same problem:

Left and right have both proved their bankruptcy throughout this
century. And neither can lay legitimate claim to ourloyalties. It's way
past time that both traditions receivedthe scathing critiques they
deserve, so that we can takewhat is best from them and discard what is
worthless. Itmay be true that the left has often added far more of
valueto the defense of community and international solidaritythan the
right has ever been able to conceive. But both left and right have
ultimately colluded in their support for the two 'opposing' sides of
capitalist development."

[FN: Jason McQuinn, "Conspiracy Theory vs. Alternative Journalism?"
Alternative Press Review (Winter 1996), p. 2.]

Meanwhile libertarian author and publisher Adam Parfrey objects to
leftists who would uphold distinctions between left and right, who
"stump for the division of anti-establishment rightists and leftists,"
since they are ultimately serving the interests of the ruling system. In
the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, he argues, the militias have
lamentably "become a scapegoat, a justification for intelligence
agencies' headlong rush into technocratic dystopia, where every
financial transaction is instantly monitored by computers operated by
the Fortune 500 and its omnipotent police force." Those who criticize
the militia movement, like the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern
Poverty Law Center, and Political Research Associates, ultimately serve
the conspiracy itself. Chip Berlet of Political Research Associates
demands "ideological purification" that "creates divisions between
individuals," while Holly Sklar, in her book on the Trilateral
Commission, advances a "crypto-Socialist theology." So runs Parfrey's

[FN: Parfrey defends the militias by exculpating them from any
connection with Oklahoma City bombing (which he equates with the
Reichstag fire). His far-fetched speculations are designed variously to
dissociate the militia movement from McVeigh and to show McVeigh
innocent of the bombing. Thus we learn that intelligence agencies used
doubles to implicate McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the militias, and that
McVeigh's buttocks were implanted with a "microchip" that allowed his
location to be charted. Parfrey goes beyond merely making a principled
defense of the militias against the
corporate-governmental-techno-cartel, as he claims; he seems in fact to
share many of their views. He even finds reason to support the existence
of the notorious black helicopters. Adam Parfrey, "Finding Our Way out
of Oklahoma," Alternative Press Review (Winter 1996), pp. 60-67, esp.
pp. 63, 67; reprinted from Adam Parfrey, Cult Rapture (Portland, OR:
Feral House, 1995).]

That Parfrey's "neither left nor right" approach has found a congenial
home in the pages of McQuinn's Alternative Press Review reflects the
drift of a major American anarchist editor away from the movement's
leftist roots. Meanwhile, some militia members are happy to meet Parfrey
and Quinn halfway in their rightward lurch. Bob Fletcher, chief
propagandist for the Militia of Montana, says, "We don't want to hear
about left and right, conservative and liberal, all these bullshit
labels. Let's get back to the idea of good guys and bad guys, righteous
governments -- the honest, fair, proper, American government that all of
us have been fooled into believing was being maintained." [FN: Quoted in
Michael Kelly, "Road to Paranoia," The New Yorker (June 19, 1995), pp.
60-75, esp. p. 63.]

To some extent, Americans of all political stripes have received a
libertarian education. The United States was born in a revolution, and
some of its most revered Founding Fathers extolled the right to make
one. A too-obvious betrayal of the main pillar of the American promise
-- the ideal of democracy -- could potentially inspire rebellion, even
at a time when capitalism is deeply embedded in American social life.
Antidemocratic forces that serve the interests of a privileged few
rather than the people as a whole find that they must either mask their
activities entirely or else stupefy the population by using the mass
media. Still, suspicion of government persists, even intensifies today,
as the institutions of the American republic are palpably ever more in
hock to capitalist masters. Distrust of capitalism has not kept pace
with distrust of government, even though corporate rapacity has at times
been so extreme as to beget movements, like the Populists of the 1890s
that cast capitalism's "creative destructiveness" as a betrayal of the
American promise.

It was a year ago this month that the militia movement came to national
attention, denouncing "the tyranny of a run-away, out of control
government." [FN: Militia of Montana Web site:] In the wake of bungled
government attacks on a militant separatist at Ruby Ridge (where an FBI
sniper killed two people) and on an apocalyptic preacher and his
followers at Waco (in which more than seventy people died), sentiment
ran high that the government was out to divest ordinary Americans of
their rights as citizens. In particular, the right to bear arms seemed
under threat by the passage of the Brady bill, which authorized the
beginnings of gun control. These smoldering resentments were intensified
by real grievances felt by working-class people in the American
heartland, where global and domestic restructuring was bringing
downsizing, declining real wages, and permanent layoffs. Resentments
burst into flames, and militia groups were established in at least forty

This movement swore to uphold American sovereignty against the array of
international forces that intended to diminish it: the "new world
order." The Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the
Federal Reserve, international trade treaties like NAFTA and GATT, and
the United Nations had all been castigated by the left; now the militias
saw these institutions as components of the "new world order" that is
subverting American sovereignty. They perceived, and still do perceive,
a global conspiracy in which unseen but powerful hands are manipulating
the American government and economy.

Conspiratorialism itself has a long history, as Michael Kelly recently
wrote in The New Yorker, that dates back to the late eighteenth century,
when some began to believe that conspirators have been at it for more
than two thousand years, perpetuating their plots through a succession
of secret and semisecret societies arcing across time and cultures from
the early-Christian-era Gnostics and the Jewish Cabalists, and on to the
Knights Templars of the twelfth century, the Rosicrucians of the
fifteenth, the Bavarian Illuminati of the eighteenth, and from there,
through the Freemasons, to the schemers of the twentieth -- the Council
of Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergers, and the Trilateral Commission.
Along the way, step by step toward one-worldism, the plotters have
caused everything from the French and Russian Revolutions to the
creation of the Federal Reserve, the United Nations, and the Gulf War."
[FN: Kelly, "Road to Paranoia," p. 61. Kelly's article, however, seems
to disallow the possibility that people could have genuine social
grievances and genuinely seek to redress them. For Kelly, even a leftist
social revolution against capitalism would appear to be based on a
conspiratorial analysis.]

In the nascent militia ideology, black helicopters, the Hong Kong
police, microchips inserted under the skin, and programs to change the
weather all become parts of the world-conspiratorial plot. An army
representing the "new world order," composed of United Nations troops
and inner-city gangs, was soon going to occupy America and reduce its
citizens to slaves. The Militia of Montana, one of the earliest and most
influential of the militia groups, warns that "the Conspirators to form
a socialist one world government under the United Nations are . . . at
work treasonously subverting the Constitution in order to enslave the
Citizens of the State of Montana, The UnitedStates of America, and the
world in a socialist union" (MOM Web site, ibid.).

The remnant left objects with equal ardor to the ongoing globalization
and centralization of social, political, and economic forces, but its
warrant is not that these forces are threatening American sovereignty;
it makes no appeal to patriotism. Nor would the old leftist analysis
perceive a sinister conspiracy manipulating the course of events.
Rather, it rightfully argued, a specific social force is siphoning off
people's control over their lives and pulverizing their communities,
commodifying social life and despoiling the biosphere, enervating
convivial relationships and reducing people to wage slaves when they are
at work and to mindless consumers the rest of the time. That system is

To be sure, elite planning bodies do exist, according to Holly Sklar,
author of Trilateralism, but they are not conspiracies:

Going back to the early 20th century, there are organizations that have
placed fundamental role -- not conspiracies but elite planning bodies,
there's a fundamental difference -- in planning not just U.S. policy but
global policy. I want to distinguish how I see the Trilateral Commission
from a conspiracy theory. It's not a conspiracy that pulls puppet
strings and controls everything and everybody. It is the single most
important international planning and consensus building organization
among people from Western Europe, Japan, the U.S. and Canada who
represent the interests of global corporations and banks -- corporations
like Exxon, General Motors, Sony, Toyota, Siemens, etc. . . . Too many
think there's either a grand conspiracy that controls everything all the
time, or there are no important institutions whose motives and goals we
need to understand. Too many people look at the Trilateral Commission
that way. Either it's a conspiracy or it's a joke. That's completely
absurd. [FN: David Barsamian, "Militias and Conspiracy Theories: An
Interview with Chip Berlet and Holly Sklar," Z Magazine (Sept. 1995),
pp. 29-35, esp. p. 30.]

Some leftists have apparently suspended this rational understanding of
social and economic forces to find a certain sympathy with the militias.
The siren song of conspiratorialism, with its facile explanations and
its occasional relish for dystopia, makes it all too easy to forget the
overwhelmingly structural social forces that have produced misery in the
world today. "This is the terrain," as Philip Smith puts it, "where the
Liberty Lobby meets the left, where the Trilateral Commission runs the
world, and one-time Vietnam War protesters join militias to fend off the
New World Order." Distinctions between left and right can fall by the
wayside, on the "climb toward the speculative heights where Communism
and Capitalism are merely facets of the one great conspiracy" [FN:
Philip Smith, "Off the Shelf" (book review section), CovertAction
Quarterly (Spring 1996), pp. 64-66, esp. p. 64]. Avowed anarchist
McQuinn maintains that while we must always remember our social
analysis, we should not shut our minds to conspiracies: he would
investigate and expose "the workings of the real world, whether this
leads down the road to conspiratorial or structural explanations, or
both." Meanwhile Parfrey, a true conspiratorialist, defends the militias
as kindred albeit misinformed spirits, since "the militia man with his
Manichean conspiracies and apocalyptic dreams" presents a challenge to
the "interlocking network" of government, private corporations,
foundations, universities, and media.


Militia members do share some views with traditional leftists, including
left-libertarians. Indeed, militia ideology shares with traditional
anarchism not only an opposition to the "new world order," however one
may define it, but a commitment to resisting government tyranny in
defense of individual rights. In a passage that could have come from any
leftist who takes seriously the legacy of the American revolution, the
Militia of Montana states that it intends to "put at odds any scheme by
government officials to use the force of the government against the

When the codes and statutes are unjust for the majority of the people,
the people will rightly revolt, and the government will have to
acquiesce without a shot being fired, because the militia stands
vigilant in carrying out the will of the people in defense of rights,
liberty, and freedom. The purpose of government is in the protection of
the rights of the people, when it does not accomplish this, the militia
is the crusade who steps forward, and upon it rests the mantle of the
rights of the people. [FN: Quoted in Kenneth S. Stern, A Force Upon the
Plain: The American Militia Movement and the Politics of Hate (New York:
Simon and Schuster, 1996), p. 76]

In statements that would not have been outlandish in the traditional
left, the militia movement calls for the people to be armed, in defense
of individual rights:

The security of a free state . . . is found in the citizenry being
trained, prepared, organized, equipped to and lead [sic] properly so
that if the government uses its force against the citizens, the people
can respond with a superior amount of arms, and appropriately defend
their rights. . . . Remember Thomas Jefferson's words that the primary
purpose of the second amendment was to ensure that Americans as a last
resort would be able to defend themselves against a tyrannical
government. [FN: Stern, Force, p. 71.]

Although the notion is distasteful to many on the left today, calls for
an armed people were once well known at that end of the political
spectrum. At a meeting of the Second International in Stuttgart in
August 1907, the congress adopted a resolution co-authored by Lenin and
Luxemburg that called for the establishment of militias:

The Congress sees in the democratic organization of the army, in the
popular militia instead of the standing army, an essential guarantee for
the prevention of aggressive wars, and for facilitating the removal of
differences between nations. [FN: Quoted in J.P. Nettl, Rosa Luxemburg,
abridged ed. (New York/London/Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969),
pp. 270-71]

Structurally, as a loose network of small groups rather than a centrally
controlled organization, the militia movement calls to mind traditional
anarchist movements. The local groups are to be coordinated "using
correspondence committees, which is the traditional method" [FN:
Constitution Society, "What Is the Militia" (1994), Web site:
history.html]. "These committees do not attempt to act as regional,
state, or national organizations, but only to facilitate communications
among local units, the sharing of literature, and the building of a
consensus for action." The whole movement "must be committed to the same
cause . . . but specific tactics should be left up to the individual
elements" [FN: Quoted in Stern, Force, p. 37]. In other words, militia
members are to think globally but act locally.

Again echoing anarchist opposition to hierarchy and leadership elites,
militia ideology advocates a concept of "leaderless resistance."
According to this concept, "All individuals and groups operate
independently of each other, and never report to a central headquarters
or single leader for direction or instruction." Reflecting this
decentralization, the movement was organized overwhelmingly through
UseNet newsgroups and fax networks, which allowed for a wide
dissemination of ideas and dispensed with the old former necessity for a
demagogic, crowd-stirring leader. The purpose of "leaderless resistance"
is "to defeat state tyranny. . . . Like the fog which forms when
conditions are right and disappears when they are not, so must the
resistance to tyranny be" [FN: Quoted in Stern, Force, p. 36.]

Decentralized in structure, tactics, and action, the movement's
purported aims are decentralist as well. Militia members look with favor
upon local political units, indeed define themselves in terms of their
locality, denying the legitimacy of political entities beyond. According
to the Constitution Society:

The militia, like citizenship, is fundamentally local. We are first and
foremost citizens of our local community. The word "citizen" has the
same root as the word "city." Although people may also be concurrently
citizens of larger political entities, such as states or the nation, and
although those entities may be considered to be composed of their
citizens, they are essentially composed of localities, and it is the
local community that is the basis for the social contract, although it
may be considered to include a certain amount of surrounding territory.
Today we would usually identify the locality with the county." [FN:
Constitution Society, Web site.]

The county as the highest level of legitimate government is a notion
that has a long currency in the far right. It ultimately derives from
the Posse Comitatus, a white supremacist movement that rejected
government authority and called for popular sovereignty. Today a county
supremacy movement has brought direct legal challenges to the authority
of the federal government over public lands, asserting that these lands
should be subject to county control. Talk of direct democracy is scarce,
however, in the militia movement. The sheriff is to be the highest
elected official -- but the nature of his power and his accountability
are undefined, leaving open authoritarian possibilities. No inkling do
we glean of community self- management, and little is said of
self-government in towns and cities, where most people live today.

Here it is instructive to compare militia ideology with libertarian
municipalism, the political dimension of social ecology. Social ecology,
a legatee of the traditional left, looks to the neighborhood, town, and
city as the locale for popular direct democracy. Its first political aim
is the development of free, democratic cities through a process of civic
education, creating citizens out of present-day constituents and
taxpayers, showing disempowered people the power of citizenship in
assembly, exercising their powers of self-government, and expanding the
latent and existing democratic institutions of the municipality at the
expense of the state. As readers of Green Perspectives are well aware,
libertarian municipalism calls for freed, democratized cities,
increasingly scaled to human dimensions, to confederate, constitute a
dual power, and ultimately eliminate the existing nation-state.

It is a quintessentially social revolutionary process. The militia
movement, by contrast, speaks of no such process and proffers no concept
of citizenship or civic education. Nor does it explain how society is to
be organized -- socially, politically, economically -- in a
county-dominated polity. Instead, the tactical emphasis is on an armed
people -- and by armed people, it most often appears to mean armed
individuals who perform individual actions, like refusing to pay taxes,
get social security numbers, or use drivers' licenses or license plates.
Its heroes are strong, even Rambo-esque individuals like Bo Gritz, who
was David Duke's running mate in his 1992 presidential campaign for that
electoral battery of neo-Nazis and Klan members known as the Populist

Another such action is to declare a local area, even an individual farm
or dwelling, to be sovereign -- outside the legal jurisdiction of the
United States. An obscure theory (known as "allodial title") dating from
feudal times and advanced in Militia of Montana literature purports to
validate claims that individuals who own land outright can be considered
sovereign. Hence the so-called "Freemen" enclave in northeastern
Montana, renamed "Justus Township," and dozens of other such enclaves
around the country.

When it comes to defining its enemies, militias tend to confuse
individuals with institutions. That is, they "take aim" not at a social
order but at individuals, threatening to murder members of specific
group of people -- government employees, simply by virtue of their
holding government office. Militias have sent death threats to senators
and local officials alike. In 1995 the "Justus Township" members of the
"Freemen" placed a million-dollar "bounty" on the sheriff of Garfield
County -- they said they would try him in one of their own "common law
courts" and hang him if he were found guilty. They threatened to hang
the county attorney by a rope from a bridge, without even the nicety of
a "common law" trial. Two other "Freemen" issued a death threat against
a U.S. district judge in Billings. Such tactics are calls not to social
revolution but to private acts of cold-blooded murder.

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