The Five Word Meme

Jim has given me five words to say something about. Anti-fascism, Brockley, secularism, immigration and iconoclast

Anti-fascism is at the core of my political being. The first political activism I was involved in, as a 15 year old, was action against the NF. Almost everything else about my politics has changed, but that has remained constant. What has changed, of course, is fascism. The classic Nazi-style fascism of the NF is no longer much of an issue (although extreme right violence remains a threat in the US and UK, and classic neo-Nazis are a major issue in parts of Central and Eastern Europe). The two mutations of fascism that are most important to combat now are, first, the rising forms of Euro-nationalist populism that are predicated on a generalised anti-immigrant racism as well as anti-Muslim racism, a movement that has been growing electorally across Western Europe, and, second, the rising forms of Islamist fascism which have had such a destructive effect on so many parts of the world.

Contrary to the “from” in my blogonym, I am not native to London SE4. I came here first to visit a friend when the Breakspears Arms was still open, and still reportedly the hub of drug-related crimes that gave the area a less than safe reputation. However, I immediately liked the laid-back, unpretentious, live-and-let-live bohemian feel. I moved here a year or so after that, and have lived in a few different parts of the manor. I think of Brockley as a microcosm of London itself in that it is made up of a series of micro-villages (Brockley Cross, the conservation area, Honor Oak, Crofton Park, and so on), each shading almost imperceptibly into the townships that surround it (Nunhead, St Johns, Ladywell, and so on). That is, I have a conception of a Greater Brockley, rather than the narrow Hillyfields-centric view of the posh types. But an inclusive confederalist Greater Brockley, in the tradition of the Austro-Marxists or Tito, rather than an irredentist Milosevic style Greater Brockley. Good things in Greater Brockley: the wealth of parks and green spaces, the Brockley leyline (ask Transpontine), the standing stones, the paint shop, the Babur, the open studio day every summer...

I am very much a secularist, in that I believe in a public sphere in which no one faith has privileged access, in which all faiths and none are tolerated. The cleresy, in its various forms, has been the primary enemy of freedom in most of the eras of history, because fundamental to freedom in general is the freedom to imagine, to think and above all to doubt, secular values I hold dear. At the same time, I do not have time for the fossilised nineteenth century forms of secularism which have been so fashionable again of late as a backlash against the apparent halt of our society’s modern secular drift, forms of secularism particularly popular amongst the bloggers to whom I am in most ways the closest. This sort of secularism – secularism as anti-religion – misses, it seems to me, what faith has to offer our world. This offering is exemplified by language of the King James Bible which permeates the speeches of Martin Luther King and the writings of WEB Du Bois. It is exemplified by the music of Mehdi Hassan and Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan and Sam Cooke. It is exemplified in the sanctuary movement in the US and by the Strangers into Citizens and Living Wage movements in the UK. I could go on... Or maybe, as Will puts it, I’m soft on god.

I come from immigrant stock. On my father’s side, Irish labour migrants to the UK (according to my non-Irish grandmother, I have her mother-in-law’s blue Irish eyes). On my mother’s side, Jewish immigrants to the US, occupying that blurry line between “economic migrant” and “refugee” that makes the two terms unstable, as “economic migrant” does not do justice to the need to escape an unbearable life, while “refugee” has not generally been recognised as including the likes of them by the states who shape its meaning. This may be partly why I am so passionately part of the pro-immigration lobby, but then all humans are ultimately of migrant stock and I think to be truly a humanist is to be pro-immigration.

I can’t remember if it was in an interview, or told to me by a friend who used to hang out in the Sniffing Glue/Bromley Contingent scene, but apparently when Elvis died in 1977, Danny Baker got very upset at his fellow punks’ wilful delight in this tragedy. I think I have something of Danny Baker’s (probably unhealthy) aversion to iconoclasm. As well as being soft on god, I am soft on places of worship and soft on those considered (by me) to be “great”, like Elvis, or BB King, say, or Hank Williams.

I didn’t mean to write as much as that. Don’t feel you have to if you want to play this game. The rules (at least as Jim and Stroppy played) is that you just ask in the comments below, and I’ll give you five words of your own. If you’re not a blogger, feel free to ask and put your paras in the comments. If you’re one of my regular blog acquaintances, I’ve already thought up some of your words.


Noga said…
"I’ve already thought up some of your words."

I'm agog with curiosity.
DK said…
This may be partly why I am so passionately part of the pro-immigration lobby, but then all humans are ultimately of migrant stock and I think to be truly a humanist is to be pro-immigration.

Even when the population of immigrants may not share your country's secular or universal values? Why would you support Muslim immigration when you understand the threat Islamicism poses? And doesn't that also contribute to European fascist movements?
Martin said…
Great post, Bob.

Can I join in?
schalomlibertad said…
yeah, nice post. would be interested also in joining in. have you picked out 5 words for me?
bob said…
Your words first, then immigration below.

Now I have to my money where my mouth is! I can't remember all the ones I had in my head, but here goes. Noga: Generation, Translation, Heels, Disraeli, Ladino. Schalom Lib: Whiteness, Berlin, Squatting, Bundism, Autonomy. Martin: Soul, Saramago, Lisbon, Buddhism, Humanism.

On to immigration. DK, the population of immigrants brings many things I don't like, including religious and political views and moral attitudes I oppose and fight against. And to be sure many immigrants might be unpleasant people as individuals, secular, fundamentalist and otherwise.

But the "natives" of my country (if such a category half makes sense) include many who hold unpleasant views too, and whose universalism does not extend to all people. And the immigrant population also bring many things I value and enrich my life on a day to day basis.

The idea that immigrants are bad, too, because they provoke fascism is abhorrent to me, because it is the same as saying that the Jews should have left Germany because they provoked the Nazis.

Finally, Islamism poses a danger when it stays in the Middle East too.
. said…
I don't accept the immigrants provoke fascism argument at all, apart from anything else it let's racists off the hook - people who vote BNP are grown ups who have to take responsibility for their actions. I get fed up with lefties making excuses for them - e.g. that BNP voters are provoked by multiculturalism.

On a straightforward demographic front, mass immigration has actually undermined the possibility of electoral fascist success. Put crudely, there are probably too many 'non white' people in inner London for the BNP to ever win majorities and a party that can't win seats in the capital is in a weak position.
TNC said…
I know I have said I am not interested in these tag names but I am very interested in the five words you would pick for me!
bob said…
TNC, I did come up with five for you, and I am trying to remember what they were. How about: Coast, Temple, Avrich, Dosa, Neocon. Now you have to actually complete the task.
kellie said…
He's got you now!
Waterloo Sunset said…
Hmm, could be interesting. Hit me!
Bob I forgot to mention my delight in hearing you have lots of Irish blood in you (I'm using the term "blood" deliberately; I know it drives at least one of your readers ballistic). Two of my best, most intelligent and most entertaining Internet friends were Irish. There is something about your gentle irony that is in line with how they communicate. Must be an Irish trait.
. said…
Can I have 5 words at my History is Made at Night identity?
schalomlibertad said…
totally unrefined and unreflected. big risk! like a blog should be? my 5 are here.
bob said…
Schalom L: That's a good response. You handled Bundism well enough despite your complaint. Thanks for the open invite to Berlin!

Transpontine: Here's your five words. Funky, Surrealism, Exodus, 121, Pirates.

Sunset: Here's yours. Waterloo, Hoodie, Aufheben, Squadist, Republicanism.

Anyone else? I got words galore.
bob said…
Oh and Irish blood. I think a very large percentage of English people, especially from working class backgrounds, have Irish kin not too many generations away. I don't know how much Irishness was transmitted from the two Irish great-grandparents I had. There was no Irish music or taste for scotch in my family, although my grandmother made some good stews and often (over)cooked cabbage. My dad has gentle irony, I think. I'll ask my mum where he got it from.

Irish humour has strongly influenced English humour. There's a Billy Connelly sketch about why the differnt cities of Britain are witty (Liverpool and Glasgow are funny because of the Irish presence, Mancheter and London are VERY funny because they're Irish AND Jewish, Birmingham is not funnny because it has neither Jews nor Irish) but I'm not sure how far it goes.

Unsuprisingly, I don't "believe" in blood, but I like the idea I carry a gentle irony in my line.

Incidentally, I had a horrible time the once I actually visited Ireland...
Imposs1904 said…
"Irish humour has strongly influenced English humour. There's a Billy Connelly sketch about why the differnt cities of Britain are witty (Liverpool and Glasgow are funny because of the Irish presence, Mancheter and London are VERY funny because they're Irish AND Jewish, Birmingham is not funnny because it has neither Jews nor Irish) but I'm not sure how far it goes."

No Irish in Birmingham? Is Billy sure?
kellie said…
I'm sure there must be a fair few whisky drinkers in Birmingham, and even a couple of genuine whiskey drinkers.
Andrew Coates said…
Very good post. I am partly Irish btw. And Scots. And French. And English.

Interested to hear about your anti-NF background. The first violent demo I went on was when I was about 17 - Red Lion Square.

Really can relate to this.

As a secualrist though I have no tolerance for the intolerant - Islamicists.
"I think I have something of Danny Baker’s (probably unhealthy) aversion to iconoclasm."

It just occurred to me that maybe part of the Rabid Left's hatred for Israel might be attributed to an iconoclastic urge.

Holocaust denial, too, might be regarded as Iconoclasm, in some way. Isn't it why the same Left is soft on Ahmadinejad?

And of course, the Taliban might be easily re-designated the very incaranation of postmodern era Iconoclasts. They went to some effort to destroy the Buddha icons in their country.

No wonder, then, Bob, that you harbour such a (healthy) aversion.
Waterloo Sunset said…
Cheers Bob. To do them here, as I obviously don't have a blog of my own!


Heh. I suspect you're probably one of the few people who's picked up the double meaning in my choice of name.

On one hand, I do like the Kinks a lot. A lot more than the Beatles or the Stones. They're clever and a bit strange and good at social observation. And there's something so very British about them, in a good way. They simply aren't a band I could see any other country producing.

The other thing it references is of course the Battle of Waterloo which I think was probably AFA's finest hour. Both in terms of effectiveness and getting the involvement of 'normal people'. It, in my view, is the main reason why Blood and Honour have never tried to hold a publically advertised concert since. And while the liberals and the middle class left bleated and whined at the time about militant antifascism, and still do, that doesn't change that simple fact. Because they've got nothing. They've done nothing that can be shown to have stopped the spread of fascism in that way.


Before the current media moral panic, the outfit de rigeur of anarchists on demonstrations, combined with a scarf round the face. Again met with disbelief and condemnation by those who never understood why some of us might feel the need to hide our identities from the state. You only feel the chains when you start to move, as the old saying goes.

Never really my thing though. I was more from the "baseball cap and sunglasses" axis of anarchist fashion choices.


Pretty much the definition of "pointyheads". And a bit of a guilty pleasure of mine. They were probably the first properly theoretical journal I came across (apart from Class War's "Heavy Stuff" which doesn't really count). At the right time, when I'd started to move away from my youthful "fuck theory" position. When they're not being overly arcane, I think they're pretty good. Their analysis of the anti CJA movement, in particular, is the best I've read.
Waterloo Sunset said…

Someone who believes squadism is sometimes a viable antifascist tactic. Nothing more or less, although that's sometimes forgotten in a sea of condemnation and counter-condemnation. It suggests that there are time where it is effective to use physical violence, on a small scale, to counter the fascists in a way that avoids media publicity. And it refuses to accept that you can't be an antifascist with a lot of people doing the same. It's often misunderstood. The throwing of eggs at Griffin is a good example. That was stuntist, not squadist. I think it's a bit backburner at the moment. A small role to play, but our current struggle is overwhelmingly one for hearts and minds. I do find those who make the most fuss about it, when it does happen, either don't like the idea of stuff happening outside their control (Andy Newman) or are hostile to any notion of antifacism outside the mainstream (David T)


Damn you! ;-) My guilty past. I was remarkably influenced by Red Action when I was younger, to the point where a lot of other anarchists considered me too much of a 'fellow traveller'. Some of that was that I wasn't active in any of the areas where the main fallouts happened (London, Glasgow). The other was that I joined AFA at 17. And they weren't so much antagonistic to me as a bit protective and tolerant. So where other people had really bad experiences, for me they were the cool older brother who smoked dope and had sex with girls.

One thing I picked up from them though, without ever really thinking about it, was a staunch support for republicanism. Pretty full-on as well. I was pro both IRA and INLA and heavily involved in Troops Out.

It wasn't until I got out of that milieu and moved to a different AFA group, combined with a growing interest in theory, that I started to examine that a bit more carefully. And actually started to feel that, no, the fact they were against the British state wasn't really enough to justify that kind of unconditional support. So it was 'conditional' for a bit, moving gradually to the opposition to nationalism you see today. Hanging round with the then Anarchist Commuinist Federation had a big role to play there. It's one of the reasons I'm so positive about them.

Which explains why I'm so dismissive of nationalist arguments now. It's nothing new to me. I've heard them all before and used them myself. "My nationalism is different from their nationalism. My nationalism is pragmatic. My nationalism is based on the self-deteremination of oppressed groups. My nationalism might commit atrocities but the cause is just. My nationalism's bigger than your nationalism.". Because I was full of shit then. And they're full of shit now.
Imposs1904 said…
Waterloo Sunset,

I wish you had a blog. I always enjoy reading your comments when I stumble across them.

But that's enough simpering from me . . .
Waterloo Sunset said…
Darren- Shucks, thank you. Quite honestly, the main issue is laziness on my part. I've considered setting one up, but I need to do stuff like familiarise myself with the blogging software first.
bob said…
Thanks Waterloo. Great response. I'm thinking of putting this as a guest post in a post of its own. (And if you want to send me any other guest posts, you can contact me at bobfrombrockley at googlemail dot com, although I am slow to respond and will be especially slow over the summer.)

Re Noga on iconoclasm. On the other hand, in my circles it's kind of iconoclastic not to be anti-Zionist, which maybe makes me (or at least my blogging persona) more pro-Zionist, despite my theoretical commitment to Sunset's sort of anti-nationalism, so maybe I do have an iconoclastic streak after all...
TNC said…
Here is my response:
Me too please Bob.

Might help shift this mount Sinai shaped blogger's block
Mike said…
Hey Bob,

Your fantastic word choices, and Waterloo's answers in particular, have inspired me to ask for my five words, which marks the first time I have ever participated in any blogging meme thingy. If you don't mind, I will probably post my responses as a comment here, even though I do have my own blog, because I try to keep my blog fairly strictly limited to STO research. (Of course, maybe some or all of my five words will be related somehow to STO, in which case I will be happy to post over at my own place.)
bob said…
The more the merrier.

Social Republican: Toon, Freedom, Chartism, Anti-Stalinism, Anti-Americanism.

Mike: PR, Platformism, Autonomism, Ska, Fatherhood.

By the way Mike, if you think the meme bug might be catching, head over to Noga's place where she's tagged you for the seven loved things meme (scroll down a bit) if you haven't seen it.

I'm going away tomorrow for a little, but if anyone else wants words, leave a comment here, and I'll service you on my return.
Find my over long bably spelt and wilfully decorative reply

Ta Bob and all
Waterloo Sunset said…
Thanks Bob. And, obviously, feel free to guest post it. I'm flattered.

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