A short course on peaceful but determined activism
The F Word
Fascists, Nazis and Alt Right are a few now familiar terms attached to supporters of far right totalitarianism. Those involved sometimes claim the three are unrelated due to isolated differences of detail or policy. In reality the ‘thinking’, the prejudices and the bulk of the hateful policies all fit well under the same authoritarian label of fascism.
Fascists, (such as those found in 20th Century Nazism, Spain and Abyssinia, or in the United States in the early 21st Century), agitate for racial supremacy, racism, forced labour and genocide as matters of policy. In Nazi Germany they slaughtered the Socialists.
To compare the hate politics of fascism to those described by fascists as ‘the Left’ or the recently invented ‘Alt-Left’ is absurd. People protecting Human Rights, calling for Fair Pay or protesting cuts to education are the type of people who worked to deliver most of the human and civic rights many benefit from. Employment rights, holidays, pensions and universal health care are what ‘the Left’ campaign for. To try to bundle ‘the Left’ or all ‘liberals’ as violent agitators is to mark yourself as at best ill-informed.
The emptiness of fascist ideology can be laid bare on many levels, as it essentially involves becoming servile and brutalised. One example of the internal contradictions involved sees fascists continue to use the very employment rights, holiday entitlements, pensions and universal healthcare they seek to tear down.
If you are assaulted by Nazis or other extremists under any normal circumstances you can protect yourself using the minimum force necessary. Beyond that lashing out in retaliation, matching extremist aggression or turning vigilante takes us right back in the direction of becoming locked into conflict.
The White Rose Movement’s rebellion inside Nazi Germany (1942-1943) began when people started to received pamphlets in the mail, which were then copied and distributed around Germany. At the same time graffiti began to appear on buildings and across roads, using large lettering to calling for an end to the regime and for freedom.
The mainly young resistance fighters faced torture, concentration camps and/ or death, but still refused to resort to violence. Instead they called for determined passive resistance:
“But our present "state" is the dictatorship of evil. "Oh, we've known that for a long time," I hear you object, "and it isn't necessary to bring that to our attention again." But, I ask you, if you know that, why do you not bestir yourselves, why do you allow these men who are in power to rob you step by step, openly and in secret, of one domain of your rights after another, until one day nothing, nothing at all will be left but a mechanized state system presided over by criminals and drunks? Is your spirit already so crushed by abuse that you forget it is your right - or rather, your moral duty - to eliminate this system? But if a man no longer can summon the strength to demand his right, then it is absolutely certain that he will perish. We would deserve to be dispersed through the earth like dust before the wind if we do not muster our powers at this late hour and finally find the courage which up to now we have lacked. Do not hide your cowardice behind a cloak of expediency, for with every new day that you hesitate, failing to oppose this offspring of Hell, your guilt, as in a parabolic curve, grows higher and higher.
Many, perhaps most, of the readers of these leaflets do not see clearly how they can practice an effective opposition. They do not see any avenues open to them. We want to try to show them that everyone is in a position to contribute to the overthrow of this system. It is not possible through solitary withdrawal, in the manner of embittered hermits, to prepare the ground for the overturn of this "government" or bring about the revolution at the earliest possible moment. No, it can be done only by the cooperation of many convinced, energetic people - people who are agreed as to the means they must use to attain their goal. We have no great number of choices as to these means. The only one available is passive resistance.”
- White Rose Movement, Pamphlet #2
Clearly, despite the regime and the extreme risks, the White Rose Movement was settled on non-violent protest. We can to try to understand why they thought that way by considering how close they were to the obscene injustices they fought against. Under such circumstances they more than most would, perhaps, have been aware of the loss of authentic resistance involved in rushing to adopt the aggressive tactics of the dictatorship they challenged.
Alternatively, we can look to the words of Sophie Scholl to gain some insight to the reasons behind a commitment to a resistance made more of passion and determination than of reprisal and opportunism:
“Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare express themselves as we did.”
“The real damage is done by those millions who want to "survive." The honest men who just want to be left in peace. Those who don't want their little lives disturbed by anything bigger than themselves. Those with no sides and no causes. Those who won't take measure of their own strength, for fear of antagonizing their own weakness. Those who don't like to make waves — or enemies. Those for whom freedom, honour, truth, and principles are only literature. Those who live small, mate small, die small. It's the reductionist approach to life: if you keep it small, you'll keep it under control. If you don't make any noise, the bogeyman won't find you. But it's all an illusion, because they die too, those people who roll up their spirits into tiny little balls so as to be safe. Safe?! From what? Life is always on the edge of death; narrow streets lead to the same place as wide avenues, and a little candle burns itself out just like a flaming torch does. I choose my own way to burn.”
- Attributed to Sophie Scholl
“It was a sunny day, I was carrying a child in a white dress to be christened. The path to the church led up a steep slope, but I held the child in my arms firmly and without faltering. Then suddenly my footing gave way . . . I had enough time to put the child down before plunging into the abyss. The child is our idea. In spite of all obstacles it will prevail.”
Perhaps a couple more quotes may put across why passive activism was considered the only route available:
“It was not well to drive men into final corners; at those moments they could all develop teeth and claws.”
- Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage
“I am young, I am twenty years old; yet I know nothing of life but despair, death, fear, and fatuous superficiality cast over an abyss of sorrow. I see how peoples are set against one another, and in silence, unknowingly, foolishly, obediently, innocently slay one another.”
- Erich Maria Remarque, All Quiet on the Western Front
Put another way, whatever else was in the minds of the White Rose Movement it appears being in such close proximity to the terrors of totalitarianism did not encourage them to endorse or carry out violence. Sabotage against the Nazi war effort is proposed and under the circumstances this is hardly surprising, but this was to be conducted as a passive resistance.
Sabotage is a very broad term applied to situations from sabotaging a career through to destroying a bridge. In the extreme circumstances of Nazi Germany industrial sabotage certainly seems justified in terms of the nature of the regime and the impacts of the war effort.
Nevertheless, most forms of damaging or disruptive sabotage have the potential to either run out of control or to be easily brought under control. And, ultimately, as acts of disruption if not destruction, feed into the standard antagonistic interplay fostering only division.
Consequently, while a display or demonstration can make less of an immediate splash than a more dramatic act of direct defiance, a piece of street art with a bold, thought-provoking message is much more likely to step outside the adversarial and to be remembered or thought remarkable to all concerned.
Does your party or group back anti-Nazi policies?
- Concentrating spending on science, education, health and transport.
- Prioritising early education.
- Employing sensible immigration to boost aging populations.
- Looking to work with those of different opinions.
- Encouraging businesses to pay employees a genuinely Living Wage.
- Inviting more women and young people to take part in politics.
- Speaking out against war and weapons of mass destruction.
- Supporting broadly appealing sensible legislation.
- Seeking legislation against domestic violence.
- Working in close economic and social co-operation with other nations.
But I’m Not a Racist or A Fascist
If you vote or voted for the parties of the extreme right in the US or any of Britain’s nations . . . I do understand the sense of frustration against the system as it is. And I get the need for change.
What I cannot understand is why you would believe that doubling down on inequality could help to solve anyone’s problems. And why you would get up and go to the trouble of voting for anyone who boasts about violent assault on women, taunts the disabled or hates on child refugees.
The fact of the matter is the far right candidates’ racism and aggression weren’t deal breakers for you. Somehow you told yourself attacking the poor and the disadvantaged would let you ‘take back control’ - in return for discarding democracy and pursuing freedom.
So don’t tell me to mend fences when you mean normalise bullying. And don’t tell me elections fought on lies and racism are democratic, simply because you claim to have ‘won’.
But do feel ashamed for the consequences of your actions. For the lives lost and the wasted opportunities resulting from choosing to support white supremacists and misogynists.
Perhaps the worst part of all this is the way you’ve discarded the high values and principles you so often talk about, and torpedoed your kids’ futures, for nothing you can actually point to.
If conflict is in the air and threats are being made face-to-face it can be tempting to default to outright opposition towards those who are escalating the situation. You can escalate along the route they’ve taken and largely dispense with the issues and even politics, which become subordinate to the breakdown in whatever relations may be there. Alternatively, you can escalate your protection and ingenuity in dispersing and tackling hostility. For example:
- Become quick and effective at reporting, recording and escaping incidents, including knowing routes out when you go in.
- Let extremist troublemakers know they are being logged and recorded.
- Get hold of protective clothing and a personal alarm.
- If you feel you have to break something don’t pick a person.
- Inform, talk and co-operate with legitimate law enforcement.
- Meet hostility with f2f Like Attacks in the form of a ‘gift’; qualifying statement identifying common ground; or a positive performance put to political ‘opponents’.
- Meet online hostility with decorative Like Attacks, e.g. put positive memes and counter-narratives into negative feeds or hold a solutions-focused discussion on a negative page.
- Opt for banners and tops carrying messages instead of insults.
- Share snacks, photos and greetings across lines when possible.
- Train to get out of trouble, e.g. Parkour or Judo.
- Use performance and music to change the atmosphere/ uplift.
- Use technology to track and share awareness of how a situation is developing.
Ideally we don't let things get to the stage where confrontation escalates and part of doing so involves effective communication of ideas and understandings, which is only going to happen if we 'tell it how it is' and get to work on building mutual understandings.