Mass movements always reach a stage where they can break through and become legitimate social forces or they can fizzle out and die. They either take the next step and begin to attract a larger audience or they reveal themselves to be a boutique fad. The neo-reaction movement of a decade ago is a good example of the latter. It was a big deal on-line for a while, but then it lost steam and faded away. Its two main idea men have moved onto other things. The alt-right is at the point where it either blossoms or it dies.
If a movement is going to outgrow the pot in which it was a seedling, the people in leadership need to regularly reassess. The New Left in the 1960’s went through several such resets, finally becoming an intellectual and cultural movement that swept the major institutions of the country. One of the early re-thinks for successful movements is coming to terms with previous failed efforts and failed leaders. The New Left figured out early on why the old CPUSA guys failed and made sure to avoid the same mistakes.
Last summer the alt-right fell into the trap of Charlottesville and allowed themselves to be aligned with the bogeymen the Left has been using for generations to scare white people away from identity politics. Guilt by association is powerful stuff, because it works in a mass media culture. It really works when one sect controls the mass media. The result of locking shields with various white nationalist groups on TV was that the alt-right has become tied, in the public mind, to people who are proving to be unstable and unreliable.
The alt-right, if it is going to be anything more than Stormfront with better websites, is going to have to build its own thing, clearly separate and independent of the old white nationalist guys of the past. It has to stand alone and that means cutting all ties with the guys who like marching around in public pretending to be the freikorps. Whatever arguments can be mustered in their defense, there’s no getting around the fact these groups have had half a century to make their case and they have failed miserably at ever turn. That’s a clue.
Exclusively racist groups are not the only failures of the past worth considering. The paleocons were smart, creative and energetic, but they were outmaneuvered and eventually purged by the political elite. It’s hard not to admire guys like Paul Gottfried and Pat Buchanan, who have spent their lives fighting the good fight, but it is also hard not to notice that they failed. Sam Francis was a great thinker and everyone should read him, but there is a reason these super smart guys were never able to carry the day politically.
The reason they failed is they made the mistake of thinking the other side was reasonable and amenable to their arguments. The paleocons wanted to be in the club, not burn the club down. It was this desire to belong that was used to derail them. Even today, after all that has happened, these old guys still talk like this is just an argument between friends. It is this unwillingness to accept the enemy at face value that killed the paleos. If the alt-right is going to thrive, it has to accept that what comes next is revolution, not reformation.
Another useful lesson from past losers is getting the chain of causality wrong. For as long as anyone has been alive, right-wing movements have started with politics first, hoping to rally people to sway elections. The result in every case was the effort being hijacked by political opportunists, who quickly set about trading the goals of the cause for entree to the political class. The Tea Party is the most obvious recent example. It was an authentic grassroots movement that was quickly hijacked and sold off piece by piece to the GOP.
The one thing about rejecting the losers of the past is it clears the mind so you can objectively examine the winners. The winners of the post-war cultural revolution won for a reason. One reason is they built their politics on top of a cultural movement. The 60’s counter culture started long before the radicals of the 70’s started taking over Democratic politics. In other words, there were lots of people ready to vote for someone that spoke their language and understood their perspective, before the radicals entered politics.
I watched a documentary about the Weather Underground and one of the things that jumped out to me was a statistic. By the middle of the 60’s, Students for a Democratic Society had 100,000 members. The thing is, the group started small or grew quietly, focused more on building membership than activism. Groups like Identity Evropa may seem overly cautious, but the only way they can grow on campus is if the people in charge ignore them. If successful, there will be a time when they can’t be ignored.
Another valuable lesson from the New Left is they built independent organizations well outside the mainstream. Many of the fads of the era strike us today as being loopy and weird, but they served a valuable purpose. The radicals of the 70’s, who began invading the academy and politics, were born from these counter culture groups. Living outside the Eye of Sauron is even more important today, now that we have a full blown surveillance state. Public activism today is a good way to be flagged and destroyed by the state.
Related to that last point is something else worth noting from that documentary on the Weather Underground. The radicals of the 60’s and 70’s took every shot to establish who was inside and who was inside, especially when dealing with the media. They would charge establishment media a fee to attend their events, but grant free access to their guys. they would use insider language in public events, to make sure you knew if you belonged. It was highly effective at attracting and keeping people in the movement.
The alt-right, mostly through serendipity and dumb luck, has a chance to be a legitimate right-wing mass movement. That’s not going to happen if they keep blundering into unforced errors. The fiasco of the Traditional Worker’s Party should be a wake up call for the people leading the alt-right. They have to get smarter and they have to stop screwing up. The alt-right needs to get smart, or it will end up in the same dustbin of history as previous white identity movements. That means learning from the winners and the losers.