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Following the horrific events in Charlottesville, in which an anti-fascist counter protestor was killed by a white supremacist, a familiar question has once again arisen.
When is it OK to punch a Nazi?
This question first arose in relation to an incident involving neo-Nazi Richard Spencer earlier this year.
Spencer was punched unprovoked in the face by a masked Antifa activist during an interview.
The incident coined a new sport for those on the left: “Nazi punching”. The idea being that views espoused by these loathsome Nazis justified them being punched and attacked.
The general view on the left is that violence should always be a last resort, and only to be used in self-defense if all other means have been exhausted.
In the case of Charlottesville, this appears to be precisely what happened, but in the case of Spencer it patently doesn’t.
The negative aspect of this unprovoked attack is that Spencer and the Nazis were able to turn themselves into the victims – exactly how they want to be seen. Their claim that the left were the violent ones was suddenly given validity.
However, Mark Bray, author of a new book called “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook”, says that the goal of the movement is to stop fascism from spreading — through any means necessary — including violence.
Well, the question of how to combat fascism, I think, always needs to come back to discussions of the 1930s and 1940s. So, clearly, we can see that rational discourse and debate was insufficient. Clearly, we can see that the mechanisms of parliamentary government were insufficient.
We need to be able to come up with a way to say, “How can we make sure never again?” By any means necessary, this can never happen again. And the people back there who witnessed these atrocities committed themselves to that.
So the question is: OK, if you don’t think that it’s appropriate to physically confront and to stand in front of neo-Nazis who are trying to organize for another genocide now, do you do it after someone has died, as they just did? Do you do it after a dozen people have died? Do you do it once they’re at the footsteps of power? At what point?
At what point do you say, “Enough is enough,” and give up on the liberal notion that what we need to do is essentially create some sort of a regime of rights that allow neo-Nazis and their victims to coexist, quote-unquote, “peacefully,” and recognize that the neo-Nazis don’t want that and that also the anti-fascists are right in not looking at it through that liberal lens, but rather seeing fascism not as an opinion that needs to be responded to respectfully, but as an enemy to humanity that needs to be stopped by any means necessary?
The idea is essentially to prevent and then eradicate the spread of fascism.
Parallels can be drawn between today’s hard line Antifa activists and those who traveled from around the world to join the Spanish revolutionaries in their fight against Franco during the Spanish civil war.
The Spanish revolutionaries were defending not just against Franco, but against other fascists such as Mussolini and Hitler, and were therefore forced to take up arms against this onslaught of empire and fascism.
This situation really did call for the use of arms in the struggle against fascism. The situation today, however, is hugely different.
One of Bray’s central arguments is that fascism is on the rise in a similar way to that of the 1930’s and unless stopped completely will inevitably lead to similar horrors to those carried out by the Nazis repeating themselves.
However, the noted political philosopher Professor Noam Chomsky – when asked during an interview with BBC Newsnight about the direct parallels between fascism in the 30s and 40s and that of today – explained that nowadays:
“There are no storm troopers, there’s no ideology — Trump’s only ideology is ‘me’ — that’s quite different from Hitler and Mussolini, there’s no organization, there’s no fascist organization.
It’s a very different situation: it’s deeply authoritarian and very dangerous — but not fascism”
Chomsky has also noted that the fascism of the 30’s was largely supported by the British and the US powers, especially the business community who admired the “productivity” that such brutal, fascist regimes produced.
Trump appeals to a certain group of Nazis and white supremacists who have always been used by the Republicans to mobilise against minorities, cashing in on long held racial division and white supremacists views.
Perhaps, the big difference is that usually the Republicans do not appeal to this group quite so overtly as Trump does.
The views held by the white supremacist Nazis are, if anything, slowly dying out, and Trump is their last desperate call. But Antifa is right to oppose, disrupt, and sometimes use violence to stop the fascists.
It is in this spirit that Antifa’s goal should be to protect the oppressed – just as they protected those in Charlottesville. Freedom of speech is just that, and unless threats of violence are made, imperfect as it may be, it is essential to respect that freedom.
Although it may seem unquestionable to those of us on the left that our own beliefs are morally justified, we must also remember that even those on the far right believe the course of action they choose is correct.
Hitler believed he was justified in his attempts to exterminate the Jewish people; the British establishment believed they were right to enslave, starve and then exterminate indigenous peoples across the world during colonialism; ISIS believe that they are right to kill innocent civilians in the name of Allah; and the US and UK governments believes it is right to kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the Middle East to spread “democracy”.
The thing that separates us from those groups is that we do not believe in using violence as a means to enforce our ideological goals.
Rather, violence is seen as a last resort, used only when all other options have been exhausted.
The saneness and practicality of this ideology is tested on a daily basis.
Fascism, as Chomsky described, is dying – but the principles are still bubbling under the surface.
We, as a society, should never become tolerant of intolerance itself. But using unprovoked violence to silence such rhetoric simply exacerbates the victimhood of those espousing such despicable views.
As I see it, there is a clear choice to be made:
Sometimes it may be necessary to punch a Nazi, sometimes it may be necessary to punch a Tory, sometimes it may be necessary to punch a leftie, but only in self-defense, or to directly prevent such people perpetrating or inciting an act of violence.
Like so many things, this compromise is far from perfect, but it is the only conclusion I feel safe to say I can reach.
Many things can be done to prevent atrocities, the most powerful of which is to educate, mobilise, and construct positively against them.
It is that kind of unity which those who seek to cause harm really fear, whether they be fascists or the state.
It is that kind of unity which will eventually overcome the atrocities of them both.
And if you that makes me a foppish, dreamy eyed leftie then so be it. I reserve the use of violence for when it is clearly and justifiably needed.
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