Violently Ideating About Punching Nazis
Disclaimer: If “Nazi” can be considered shorthand for actual “fascist”, then I’ve punched a Nazi. More than once. More than one Nazi, actually.
This sounds like braggadocio and I’m not sure how to convey it any better, but the reality of it all is, like a lot of violence, actually rather pathetic. A couple of years after some of the horrible incidents mentioned in my last anonymous guest post, during which I was probably dealing with undiagnosed PTSD, the brother of an acquaintance decided that I needed to take responsibility in protecting white women – namely my mother – from being raped by black men.
In practice, this supposedly meant that I needed to accept Nazi Bro as my sensei. (I leave it to you to ponder the irony of a man vehemently opposed to Asian immigration wanting to be anyone’s sensei).
I wasn’t keen on the idea, one thing lead to another, which led to punching. In as far as anyone can win these kinds of things, he got the upper hand and my kidneys took a few blows. Nobody went to hospital.
He’s not the only fascist I’ve had a dust-up with since, even though I don’t try looking for trouble. Nowadays Nazi Bro can be found featuring on footage published by a couple of anti-fascist YouTube accounts, although I’ll not link to them in order to maintain my own anonymity. While I haven’t seen or heard from the guy in over 18 years, there still aren’t all that many degrees of separation between us.
Another disclaimer: On some level I’m fond of the Blue Monday remix of Richard Spencer being sucker punched; I don’t like Nazis and I do like New Order. It’s a matter of akrasia though; it’s not helping anything worthwhile at all for me to like it, and enjoying violence, or normalizing the enjoyment of violence, risks enabling the crossing of lines.
I hope this doesn’t come across as overly-confected principle. That’s not my intent. My set of principles is pretty minimal, actually.
There is of course a cloying line of appeasement that’s been doing the rounds that says you should never punch a Nazi. This is patently ridiculous and tantamount to the kind of twee, Hitler-appeasing rubbish you’d find in the lead-up to, and even during, World War II. (It doesn’t help that we now also have John Lennon memes in the mix).
And God, Slavoj Žižek, redefining Gandhian passivism as a form of justified violence, just comes across as a motivated attempt at reframing inaction as a form of dignified machismo.
There are situations when not using force against fascism will just end in one kind of catastrophe or another. If you were to find yourself in a context genuinely equivalent to Nazi Germany, it’d possibly be better to forgo the ethics of punching Nazis, and to start considering the logistics of hiding Gestapo bodies.
And if they came for your family… well, it sounds asinine even just to suggest that people are allowed to defend themselves. Of course they are.
There are two points I’d like to suggest before moving on; abstaining from hitting a Nazi can be the right thing to do, but such restraint is not universally desirable, and possibly, it’s worth distinguishing between “force” and “violence”, because not all force entails violation.
All the ideating
People want to feel some degree of solidarity, even in the best of times, and globally speaking we’re not in the best of times. Some of us just don’t realize it yet.
But I have to wonder what the hell some people think solidarity is. Apparently it’s a suitable hashtag to accompany pictures of Maajid Nawaz, posing for the camera all on his lonesome, despite solidarity apparently having something to do with a plurality of people.
At other times, there’s a crowd, but without any clear indication of what unites it – an atomized, neo-liberal mass. Folks slap “solidarity” on that too.
“What do we want? Like… good stuff, and affirmation of being good. When do we want it? We’ll get back to you on that, but likely now, only we’re yet to draw up a program!”
Last year I had a dilettante from one of the more performative of local socialist cults, aggressively try to convince me that the attempted hijacking of an anti-racism protest by said cult, was an act of solidarity with anti-racists. (Said cult is notorious for its hijacking attempts in other progressive circles too – marriage equality campaigns, you name it).
So what’s up with a lot of the violent emoting about Richard Spencer’s head being punched, and what’s it got to do with solidarity?
A lot of what I’m seeing from where I am, which is not to say all of what I’m seeing, is arch-patriarchal, or unthinkingly tribal, or pure fantasy, dressed up as solidarity of one form or another; a lot of people not knowing why they support it, or how it relates to what they stand for, or even what they stand for to begin with. This meaning, that if you have any qualms, even just qualifications to add to nominal support for Nazi punching, then you can be declared not a part of the team. Even if you have actually punched a Nazi, and nobody on the “team” has.
Rank tribalism isn’t solidarity, at least, not in the left-wing sense of the term. It can’t be. If it could, then racism could qualify as left wing, which is something not even worth considering. Sexism could be left wing – brocialism and socialism ridiculously being one and the same. Base group celebration of the use of force, rather than a measured sanctioning of it in certain contexts for certain ends, is just another rank tribalism.
It’s been the thrust of a number of recent critiques – Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? for example – that the left has forgotten what it stands for. It shouldn’t surprise anyone then, if there’s any truth to the notion that the left has a crisis of values, when rank tribalism is the best attempt folks can come up with when attempting, or affecting, “solidarity”. Rank tribalism around the issue of punching Nazis presents itself as just a recent example.
It also bears repeating that “fascist” and “Nazi” and other political demarcations of far-rightism aren’t just terms that have been thrown around too loosely over the years, but are also terms that are amenable to being thrown around. Just ask Orwell’s neck.
Take the urge to make punching Nazis a categorical, universal good, for reasons undefined, and couple it with the ability to be equivocal about who is and is not a Nazi, or fascist, or sympathizer, and you basically have a recipe for “punch whoever the fuck I want”. Consider the use of that rubric in the hands of folks who are hungry for violence, or fantasy, or power, or who are just too damn confused about what they want to defy groupthink.
I’ve already seen people soft-policing others’ opinions on Facebook comments threads, congratulating folks for arriving at the correct prescriptions, not only without regard for their reasoning, but with the implication that any further reasoning would be suspect. While people, especially those with a public platform, can be expected to support the arguments they publish, they aren’t obliged to become certified by the next random person off of social media.
The implication, especially when force is on the menu, isn’t too opaque.
I’ve seen an anti-racist activist, along with their cohort, go full on in the support of disinhibited violence against vaguely defined “fascists”, coupled with a none-too-un-aggressive ideation directed at anyone failing to agree. If this doesn’t raise an eyebrow, consider that this anti-racist activist, who on top of also being a person employed in a role tangential to helping vulnerable single mothers, is equivocal, confused and entirely – but also unwittingly – flip-floppy about trans-activist aspirations to open women’s shelters to trans-women.
Imagine escaping out of an abusive domestic situation only to wind up in or adjacent to that particular mix of threat and ambiguity.
A little clarity
In all of this, the only clarifying agents I can suggest are a few crucial questions. What do you hope to achieve in a given situation by punching a Nazi or Nazi-like figure? How do the likely outcomes gel with your values? What are your values and aims, exactly, and why should we find them compelling?
This last question will probably be the most vexing, but answers tantamount to “something something revolution” shouldn’t be able to pass muster, especially not in the context of left-wing politics. Not because all force is verboten, but because sanctimony can license abhorrence, and because on a practical level, when things get this vague, it’s often not clear when a purported leftist is left, nor a purported fascist, fascist.
If more people could learn to spot violent pantomime for what it is, as distinct from serious campaigning or consideration of the use of force, that’d be great. Punching-on against fascists may be necessary at times, but the purpose isn’t fun, and in my experience, certainly hasn’t been – I’d caution folks to be wary of people who treat it all like an adventure or a football match.