In Defence of Assaulting Fascists

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“Only one thing could have stopped us – if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.” – Adolf Hitler

I take no personal gratification in watching physical assault take place. I recall the trauma of being punched at 14-years old in a racist incident. I was intimidated for years by even the most frivolous fights in high-school and even desisted from playing sports for a long time as a result. I know how intimidating violence can be.

Which is why I believe in violence against fascists. The New York Times today reported that Richard Spencer won’t be going on speaking tours for a long time as a result of being assaulted. He’s even afraid to go out for dinner. Before we conclude that that’s indubitably a good thing, I’d like to turn to the topic of collaboration.

We expect collaborators to appear in the form of the Devil himself. In other words, recognizable. But of course that’s far from the reality. The Biblical story of how Satan himself transmogrifies into the Devil is itself just as implausible. Collaboration, where it most matters, is passive. Collaboration is reduced to executing “normal” tasks in a programmatic manner. Nothing could be more “natural.” This was the insight of Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem: modern evil is banal. It is the work of millions of men and women. As she argues in The Origins of Totalitarianism, genocide requires the participation of engineers, physicians, accountants, scientists, journalists, small business owners, corporate executives and civil servants. It is an archipelago of labor in the narrowest sense of the term: tedious and mundane.

The most effective prophylactic against any infection is to deny it its conditions of survival. Today our infection is the prospect of collaboration.  Evil, according to Arendt, is committed by those who “never make up their minds to be good or evil,” but underlying that is careerism. Eichmann, the chief architect for the extermination of half of European Jewry, had “no motives at all” she argued, “except for an extraordinary diligence in looking out for his personal advancement.” And the problem, as Arendt pointed out, was that there were too many Eichmanns. There is no cure for collaboration. The only solution is to prevent the conditions in which passive collaborators have the excuse to say that they were only doing their jobs.

There is a crucial lesson to be learned from how Mussolini and Hitler consolidated power. It wasn’t overnight. It took years. And in those years paramilitary groups roamed the streets ravaging any potential threat. The threat of chaos that they incubated was crucial to the conservative governments’ decisions to permit them into the halls of total power. Violence, as any good anthropologist would tell you, is steeped in symbolism. State and, when allowed, non-State violence intends to send a message “We Are The Only Game In Town.” And in their violence, they assert their convictions. Citizens, too busy and exhausted to think politically, are always ready to acquiesce that point faute de mieux: if someone is violent and angry, then their demands, even ideology, must be somewhat rooted valid grievances and ideas.

The essence of fascism, as historians like Robert Paxton never fail to remind us, is not in ideas but in emotions. Robbing fascism of its virility and hyper masculine pretence is to rob it of its primary capacity to grow and survive. We have to confront the crucial question: are we more interested in upholding the slogan “Don’t Be Evil” or in making sure that no evil occurs? Is instilling fear in the hearts of fascists or fascist-curious individuals, even at the cost of isolated violence preferable to allowing fascists to consolidate power and therefore commit greater atrocities?

In this particular instance, we must utilize fear to our advantage. The continuation of protests and the show of strength must not only intimidate fascists, but also send a clear message to the three most important institutions that fascists require for total power: big business, media and state institutions. They must be constantly fear any form of collaboration with Trump’s administration. They must fear how the nation’s history books will view them but to accomplish that we must compel them to think that future historians will not be fascists. The fascist future must be cancelled, today. We can take it from the tip of fascist reaction today: “The point is that we got a lot of attention, and that alone creates value.” (Trump, The Art of the Deal, p. 57)

Take for instance a recent example in Egypt. Large large sections of civil servants and big business sabotaged Morsi’s presidency. Hoping against the grain that he would be overthrown by the military, they felt compelled enough to sacrifice their jobs and careers. But the background to this was fierce street violence against fundamentalist supporters of Morsi and weekly mass protests. They had mistakenly placed their faith in the military, but Americans can take comfort in the fact that a genuine opposition in Congress can represent them politically. Americans who will be torn about collaboration must likewise feel compelled to sacrifice their livelihoods and future; but only if the protest and civil disobedience continue unabated and if there exists a genuine political opposition in Congress.

We must be ready to meet their intimidation with greater intimidation. What fascism does is to returns politics to its fundamentals. Those of us who are united in the right of women and LGBTQ folks to their bodies, those of us who believe in the right of life for Black, Native, colored and Muslim communities have to confront that our primary task in the coming months and years is to defend the most basic of political rights: life itself. Politics is back to the visceral for those of us who have long grown accustomed to middle-class bourgeois bubbles. We must consign bourgeois morality to the ash heap before it does us in.

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6 thoughts on “In Defence of Assaulting Fascists”

  1. Hi Anas – thanks for this considered and referenced response – it is certainly welcome – I remain honestly in two minds about this and have also looked back to Hitler’s rise to power – to Chile and Argentina to see how much opposition, what type and what form may have had actual impact and if street level violence against Nazis may have proven effective at all.

    During Hitler’s rise to power there were ongoing & sporadic street battles and violence largely between the Rotfrontkämpferbund (a Communist antifa paramiltary) and the Nazis’ Sturmabteilung (SA) – the Nazi party paramiltary wing- In the early 1930’s several prominent Nazi party and SA leaders were actually assassinated – some shot point blank by various leftists.

    By the end of 1931 the Nazi SA had suffered 47 deaths, and the Communist Rotfront recorded approximately 80. Street fights and beer hall battles resulting in deaths occurred throughout February and April 1932 . In 1930, 2,500 Nazis were injured and in 1932, 9,715, all against the backdrop of Adolf Hitler’s increasingly successful competition in the presidential election. – So despite almost 10,000 Nazi’s being ‘bashed’ and 47 actually killed in pre-Nazi Germany and yet their power kept rising. It didn’t deter them – it didn’t frighten them off the streets – what happened instead?

    Dwarfed by Hitler’s electoral gains, the KPD (Communists) turned increasingly towards violence and totally eschewed any alliances with the more moderate left. In early 1932 SA storm leader Axel Schaffeld was assassinated. Hermann Göring, in his position of Reichstag president, asked that ‘decisive measures’ be taken by the government over the spate in murders of national socialists. When in power less than half a year later, Hitler used this legislation and courts against his opponents with devastating effect. In fact throughout its existence the National Socialist German Workers’ Party ( NSDAP)- the Nazi Party – was extraordinarily adept at using, fomenting, generating and manufacturing political violence as a destabilization tool to assist their rise to power.

    None of the violence within Germany leveled at actual Nazi’s, including punches, fights street battles and assassinations, during this time seemed anywhere near successful in stopping, reducing, hampering or restricting their power or their political strength – in fact they adeptly used violence against them to garner increasing levels of public support. I’m sure at times the anti-fascists forces in pre-Nazi Germany would have hoped that their physical attacks upon the Nazi’s in the streets were being effective as well and keeping people from colluding – but it seems, from my reading of those times, Nazis used any political violence, including violence against them and the fear it generated as a tool to bring more people towards them. I’d appreciate your thoughts.

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful response and detailed information.

      I would preface this by saying that I don’t think America today resembles 1920-30s Italy and, much less so Germany. For starters: unlike Hitler and Mussolini, Trump doesn’t have anywhere near a satisfactory share of the youth populartion, i.e. people can engage in street fights. I’m of the view that street violence is crucial for fascist power consolidation. The other factor is that the American Left is far more civilized and moderate than the KPD. My fear during the election was seeing the Greens take enough votes from Hillary that it would hand the election to Trump; clearly, that wasn’t the scenario by which he won.

      I would also point out that despite the street violence you allude to, the NSDAP began to lose votes after the November 32′ elections. After banning street violence the year prior, he came very close to losing control of the party. Then Nazi violence increased again before he came first place in the March 33′ elections. A similar story occurred right before King Emmanuel II handed power to Mussolini. This is what I’m trying to argue: violence against fascists may have adverse effects, but allowing fascists to roam the streets with a carte blanche is a certain death. I would also add that I don’t think Trump has the same amount of institutional power that Hitler had once he was appointed chancellor; it took him years to deal with the conservatives, zealots in his own party and Prussian military establishment. Trump is looking to have less power than Hitler had in 33′

    2. “So despite almost 10,000 Nazi’s being ‘bashed’ and 47 actually killed in pre-Nazi Germany and yet their power kept rising. It didn’t deter them – it didn’t frighten them off the streets – what happened instead?”

      I somehow missed addressing this question. To be honest, I’m not sure. But I tend to see politics in terms of the emotive and symbolic expression of conviction and will. I’m aware of the pitfalls of politics of symbolism, but I think it matters a lot. As for that incident you refer to, I would say that NSDAP did lose plenty of seats in November 32′ and Stresser’s later that year. But I’m not sure that’s an entirely convincing argument, though I am convinced by it.

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