Zero trust for Antifa

Communes, The NSW Greens, Spanish anarchists, and a plethora of other groups have adopted grass-roots, informal organizing structures on some level, often with the same results: accountability suffers and power differentials go unchecked. Those participants with the will are more or less able to act with the liberty to deprive others of their liberties; freedom from intimidation, freedom from sexual harassment, freedom from having your labour exploited – it’s all up for grabs if nobody’s held responsible.

The “grass roots” approach isn’t magic. For some, it’s organizing for people who’ve been made to feel that “organizing” is a dirty word, while for others it’s a source of ready-made suckers.

Enter Antifa.

I used to like a number of Antifa groups and pages on Facebook and had, up until two or three years ago, a number of Antifa-affiliated friends I’ve since walked away from. What can I say: I didn’t like fascism, but I also didn’t like bullshit.

Philosophy Tube has a breakdown of the philosophy of Antifa that’s largely sympathetic, if you’re curious and have the time. Closer to the concerns I’m airing here, is the matter of how Antifa is non-hierarchical and de-centralized.

An early warning sign in discussions of such matters is when non-hierarchal structures are readily referred to in order to indemnify when something goes wrong, but are rarely ever explained or justified on their own merits, often being mere expediencies. You may get some kind of suggestion that being non-hierarchal, they are the natural opposite of authoritarianism, but that’s just splitting. There’s a world of possible organizational structures between authoritarianism and anarchism, and it’s possible to be discerning about which ones you choose and then hold yourself to it.

In the non-hierarchal, de-centralized anarchist world, you can’t just expect a discussion of how a lack of formal consequences could be exploited by crooks, macho-men, fantasists, demagogues or apaths. In fact, if you voice these kinds of concerns don’t be too shocked if you’re treated with suspicion. If this kind of thing is a concern then perhaps Antifa isn’t for you – as it’s not for me.

It’s probably worth mentioning, before moving on, that “Antifa” is not synonymous with “anti-fascist”; one serves as a proper noun, the other does not. You can be “anti-fascist” and not “Antifa”. There’s a rhetorical trick of equivocation some use that switches “critic of Antifa” out for “critic of anti-fascism”, thereby positioning the critic of Antifa as an ally of fascism. Aside from being breathtakingly dishonest, it’s one of many examples of the kind of black and white thinking that should have people more worried when they see it.

***

After a series of concatenated disappointments, it finally came as no surprise to find out that one “feminist” Antifa friend was involved in a campaign to harass dissident feminist academics and activists in Melbourne (which broadly was aligned with a campaign that then went on to see a survivor of particularly severe child sexual abuse having a placard of “blow jobs are real jobs” abusively shoved in her face). It was no surprise to find out that one former Antifa friend, a feminist “ally” no less, had an AVO taken out against him by his ex.

These aren’t the only examples of such non-surprises I’ve seen, and it’s also no surprise that it’s often women that end up on the wrong end of these exchanges. It’s the men with skinny necks who want to be Captain America the most.

***

There’s no shortage of silliness, it seems, when it comes to the intersection between Antifa and Black Metal. Both scenes have more than their share, so when things overlap? People were hoping they’d cancel each other out? Sadly not.

To be clear, despite having listened to metal – including black metal – for thirty-something years, I’ve never listened to Marduk, nor so much as owned a Burzum t-shirt. I’ve heard one or two Burzum songs here and there, but haven’t owned a CD. I’ve no particular interest in changing any of this. It’s pretty uncontroversial to state that Varg Vikernes’ politics are fascist, that he’s not a very nice guy, and I can’t imagine a reason why I’d think otherwise.

If however you think Nergal is fascist, you’re ignorant and either gullible or obtuse. You’re precisely the kind of dillweed I’ve long since stopped trying to take seriously. Want that to change? Do better. Here’s a starter: Appearing in a movie as a Nazi doesn’t make you a Nazi.

nergal

Nergal (Adam Darski) as Joachim von Ribbentrop on the set of AmbaSSada (2013) – three years before the Antifa Against Black Metal (AABM) post (2016).

Foolishness not withstanding, there’s definitely an angle to be explored countering fascism in black metal. Nationalist Socialist Black Metal (NSBM) is a sub-genre, fascists do mine sub-cultures and marginal movements to radicalize new recruits and black metal isn’t immune, and there’s no shortage of potential creative projects that could get off the ground; black or Viking metal artists with an interest in European paganism may for example want to consider restoring its iconography from the influences of Nazi fetishization. (Not that I’m really that Nietzschean, but correcting Nazi mis-readings of Nietzsche would seem to be something that could run parallel to this).

There are definite angles here, but also definite possibilities to fuck up like the way AABM did with Nergal. Typically I’m suspicious of artists presenting as activists, but I’d rather trust an artist accountable to a grants committee with most of this, than I would an Antifa or Antifa-like activist.

So it was with only a little hope that my ears pricked up at the mention of “Neckbeard Deathcamp”. My early thoughts were that their work appealed to my prejudices (I don’t like InCels or basement-dwelling white-supremacists), but came with a degree of facetiousness that I’ve come to see as a warning sign.

When someone focuses on the lolz this intensely in the face of serious evil, there’s always the possibility that it’s not just your enemy that they regard as a joke, but your cause as well. And while on the one hand, comedy is a useful political tool, on the other, well, people laughed at Hitler before he ratcheted things up, and look at how well that went. People laughed at Trump too.

***

UK label Blackened Death has released volume two of Worldwide Organization of Metalheads Against Nazis (W.O.M.A.N.). Neckbeard Deathcamp feature, alongside others. What’s ND’s contribution? “TERF Crisis”. Go ahead and navigate to the tropey lyrics yourself.

Beyond any issue of how “TERF” has been used as a means of painting the target for a barrage of (usually online and often misogynistic) abuse, and beyond any issue of it being “just descriptive” or technically accurate, associating gender critical or radical feminism with Nazism like this is an exercise in false equivalence that’d have Rush Limbaugh jizzing in his pants. Pull back the disguise and you’ve got a group made up mostly of men calling women “feminazi” yet again – a pretty good indicator of failure in my books.

Pick up any serious undergrad textbook about fascism that attempts to list its essential features, and you’ll find hyper-masculinity listed. Hyper-masculinity is hardly the only criterion you’ll see failing to line-up with second-wave feminism, either. Whatever your take on the material analysis of gender, or of the various strains of radical feminism, if you consider them fascist I have little interest in taking your politics seriously because clearly you don’t take your politics seriously either. Clearly if that’s the case, it’s all just a game to you.

The schism between second-wave feminism and the currently dominant strand of transgender activism has been a Godsend to posturing brocialists; guys looking to finally lecture women on feminism and to be licensed to do it. They get to have their “well actually” and eat it too. Couple this with a climate where anything can be identified as fascist, and therefore punched, smashed or whatever else, and you’ve got an absolute wet dream for the left’s own misogynists.

People are implying, if not openly stating, that Blackened Death’s move will make metal more accessible to previously excluded groups, including women. Owing to repeated past experience, I’m not at all sure it’ll pan out that way. I hope I’m wrong.

***

You may be left wondering how Neckbeard Deathcamp’s Superkommando Uberweinersnitchel fits into all of this after exiting the band last month, owing to a number of his past not-entirely-woke social media antics being dredged up. The band delivered the standard anti-perfectionism defense in response. Hailz Komradez’s past membership in the now-defunct misogynistic $lutrot was then raised and the implications decided upon almost immediately.

“…You Trojan horsed your way in through a parody band and now you’ve been uncovered in less than five minutes research. Sucks.” – Dean Brown, 2018.

It has to be said that the resentment thrown up by these kinds of hyperbolic exchanges makes for a great climate for recruitment by various shades of political nasty. You can imagine alt-right media types rubbing their hands together at the sight of it.

I don’t expect these kids to be perfect, or censured, or censored, or excommunicated. But their contribution gives you the impression that “TERF Crisis” was selected right-off the back of their recent social media shaming for a particular reason; the phrase is a shibboleth in Twitter pile-on culture, and second-wave feminists are easy targets with limited material power with which to fight back. It seems like an effective strategy for re-directing angry tweets – maybe it’ll work, if that’s the aim.

I don’t know if the naysayers are right – that Neckbeard Deathcamp have just trojan horsed their way into the left – but you’ll forgive me if past experience has taught me not to get my hopes up that people’s motives are sufficiently genuine.

***

Blackened Death seem about as ad-hoc about campaigning as does Antifa, and about as accountable to their own base and to the broader community as well. I don’t know their working conditions, so I can’t comment on what capacity they have for planning and reflection; I imagine they’re a damn tiny, thinly-stretched outfit, actually.

I have no interest in castigating them. I can’t say I know they’re insincere, either.

But you can’t fault an audience for suspecting fertile soil is being tilled for abusive brocialists and their fellow travelers. You can’t fault women for staying away, despite gestures like Gaylord’s Filosofemme – a play on Burzum’s Filosofem – or the declarative acronym “W.O.M.A.N.”

You can’t fault people for getting the impression that violently misogynistic sentiments like those expressed by the Degenderettes are more than welcome in these circles. (Let’s cut the shit, this “I PUNCH TERFS” business isn’t about liberating the gender non-conforming, it’s about fantasies of bashing women).

And you can’t fault people for assuming that Blackened Death believe second wave feminism is a form of fascism – i.e. that Blackened Death isn’t actually serious about either fascism or feminism. They are, primarily, a music label, not a political organization. Take that for what it’s worth.

Instead of putting a small, independent label under the microscope, though, it’s possibly a better idea for any political wonks watching this episode to observe the way purposely anti-fascist groups, not labels or online music magazines, respond to and influence this project. That and maybe gauge the response of listeners (and comments threads if the requisite hazmat suits are available).

What’s Antifa’s role if any in all of this? Do involved anti-fascist groups hold themselves accountable via formal mechanisms, or do they just wing it, or indeed, indulge themselves? Who if anyone will be blamed if and when shit does hit the fan? How will they be blamed? Does this have material consequences for participants – particularly women and people of colour?

How long will it take for the “I feel personally safe as a member of x, therefore there’s no problem” trope to drop? Which purportedly welcome social group, if any, will be caught on the pointy end of this kind of apologetics first (my money is on lesbians)?

Until something changes, my trust in Antifa and the like will remain as low as it’s ever been. Maybe something will change. I’m not holding my breath.

~ Bruce

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