Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Jewish Hero or Israeli Criminal?

This is a guest post by Michael Ezra

Below I copy a reasonably lengthy extract (pp.286-290) from a book, originally published in 1961, about the First Indochinese War: Bernard Fall’s, Street Without Joy: The French Debacle in Indochina (Stackpole Books, 1994).   I would not normally copy such a lengthy extract, but the self-contained section that I have copied is, I believe, so remarkable, that it should be read in full. I would urge everybody to take the time to read this piece. I am particularly interested in any views in the comments boxes that provide an opinion, based on the facts presented, on the judges’ final sentence.

The last chapter of the [French] Foreign Legion’s colorful history in Asia was written, in, of all places, the drab surroundings of an Israeli Navy court-martial in May 1958.

The defendant was a 25 year old man, in the neat white uniform of the Israeli enlisted seaman. Eliahu Itzkovitz was charged with desertion from the Israeli Navy, but his case was not an ordinary one, for he had deserted from a peacetime hitch in Haifa to a twenty-seven month ordeal with the Foreign Legion in Indochina.

Eliahu had grown up in a small town in eastern Rumania when the country threw in its lot with the Nazis at the beginning of World War II. Soon, the Rumanian Conductoral (the “Leader”) Antonescu began to emulate all the tactics of the Nazis, his own version of the Brownshirts calling itself the “Iron Guard” and practicing mass murder on a large scale. In fact, according to the British writer Edward Crankshaw in his book Gestapo, they “offended the Germans on the spot by not troubling to bury their victims; and they offended the R.H.S.A [the administrative section of the Nazi police in charge of mass exterminations] by their failure to keep proper records and by their uncontrolled looting.”

The Itzkovitz family did not escape the collective fate of the Rumanian Jews. Eliahu and his parents and three brothers were sent to a concentration camp, no better and no worse than most Eastern European camps; one lived a few days to a few weeks and died from a wide variety of causes, mostly beating and shooting. Rumanian camps were not as well equipped as their German models, the “death factories” of Auschwitz and Treblinka with their sophisticated gas chambers. Again, according to Crankshaw, “the Rumanians showed a great aptitude for mass murder and conducted their own massacres in Odessa and elsewhere,” and the Itzkovitz family paid its price – within a short time, only Eliahu, the youngest boy, survived.

But he had seen his family die, and he remembered who killed it. It had been one particular brute, not the coldly efficient SS-type but a Rumanian not too far away from his own home town who enjoyed his new job. And Eliahu swore that he would kill the man, if it took all his life to do it. More than anything else, it was probably that hatred that kept him alive; he was a skeleton but a living one when the Russians liberated him in 1944. Eliahu then began his patient search from town to town. Of course, Stanescu (or whatever name the brute had assumed in the meantime) had not returned to his home town for good reasons, but Eliahu found his son there and took his first revenge; he stabbed the son with a butcher knife and in 1947, a Rumanian People’s Court sentenced him to five years in a reformatory for juveniles.

Eliahu had served his time but did not forget. His family’s murderer was still at large and he had sworn to kill him. In 1952, he was finally released and given permission by the Communist authorities to emigrate to Israel, where he was drafted into the Israeli army in 1953 and assigned to the paratroops. Training was rigorous in the sun-drenched barracks and stubby fields south of Rehovoth, and thoughts of revenge had become all but a dim memory. There was a new life to be lived here, among the people from all corners of the world who still streamed in and who, from Germans, Poles, Indians, Yemenites or Rumanians became Israelis. To be sure, Eliahu still met some of his Rumanian friends and talk often rotated back to the “old country,” to the war and the horrors of the persecution. Camps and torturers were listed matter-of-factly, like particularly tough schools or demanding teachers and Stanescu came up quite naturally.

“That s.o.b. made it. He got out in time before the Russians could get him,” said a recent arrival, “then he fled to West Germany and tried to register as a D.P. [displaced person] but they got wise to him and before we could report him, he was gone again.”

Eliahu’s heart beat had stopped for an instant, and when it resumed its normal rhythm, he had shaken off the torpor of peacetime army life. The hunt was on again.

“Do you know where Stanescu went then? Do you have any idea at all?”

“Well – somebody said that he had gone to Offenburg in the French Zone, where they recruit people for the French Foreign Legion, and that he enlisted for service in Indochina. The French are fighting there, you know.”

On the next day, Eliahu’s mind was made up. He reported to his commanding officer and applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy; he liked the sea, had learned something about it while in Rumania, which borders on the Black Sea, and would be happier aboard ship than as a paratrooper. A few days later, the request was granted and Eliahu was on his way to the small force of Israeli corvettes and destroyers based in Haifa. A few months later, the opportunity he had been waiting for came true; his ship was assigned to go to Italy to pick up equipment.


In Genoa, Seaman Itzkovitz applied for shore leave and simply walked off the ship; took a train to Bordighera and crossed to Menton, France, without the slightest difficulty. Three days later, Eliahu had signed his papers in Marseilles and was en route to Sibi-bel-Abbès, Algeria, the headquarters and boot camp of the Foreign Legion, and again three months later, he was aboard the s/s Pasteur on his way to Indochina.

Once in the Foreign Legion, Stanescu’s trail was not too hard to pick up. While no unit was made up of any single nationality, each unit would have its little groups and informal clans according to language or nation of origin. It took patience, but early in 1954, he had located his quarry in the 3d Foreign Legion Infantry. The last step was the easiest; the Foreign Legion generally did not object if a man requested transfer in order to be with his friends, and Eliahu’s request to be transferred to Stanescu’s battalion came through in a perfectly routine fashion. When Eliahu saw Stanescu again after ten years, he had no particular wave of hatred, as he had somehow expected. After having spent ten years imagining the moment of meeting the killer of his family eye to eye, the materialization of that moment could only be an anticlimax. Stanescu had barely changed; he had perhaps thinned down a bit in the Legion; as for Eliahu, he had been a frightened boy of thirteen and was now a strapping young man, bronzed from his two years of training with the Israeli paratroopers, the Navy and the French Foreign Legion.

There was nothing left to do for Eliahu but to arrange a suitable occasion for “execution;” for in his eyes the murder of Stanescu would be an execution. Stanescu (his name was, of course, no longer that) had become a corporal, and led his squad competently. The new arrival also turned out to be a competent soldier, a bit taciturn perhaps, but good. In fact, he was better trained than the run of the mill that came out of “Bel-Abbès” these days. He was a good man to have along on a patrol.

And it was on a patrol that Stanescu met his fate, in one of the last desperate battles along Road 18, between Bac-Ninh and Seven Pagodas. He and Eliahu had gone on a reconnaissance into the bushes on the side of the road, when the Viet-Minh opened fire from one hundred yards away. Both men slumped down into the mud. There was no cause for fear: the rest of the squad were close by on the road and would cover their retreat. Eliahu was a few paces to the side and behind Stanescu.

“Stanescu!” he called out.

Stanescu turned around and stared at Eliahu, and Eliahu continued in Rumanian:

“You are Stanescu, aren’t you?”

The man, the chest of his uniform black from the mud in which he had been lying, looked at Eliahu more in surprise than in fear. For all he knew, Eliahu might have been a friend of his son, a kid from the neighborhood back home in Chisinau.

“Yes, but ...”

“Stanescu,” said Eliahu in a perfectly even voice, “I’m one of the Jews from Chisinau,” and emptied a clip of his MAT-49 tommy gun into the man’s chest. He dragged the body back to the road: a Legionnaire never left a comrade behind.

“Tough luck,” said one of the men of the platoon sympathetically. “He was a Rumanian just like you, wasn’t he?”

“Yes,” said Eliahu, “just like me.”

The search had ended and the deed was done. Eliahu was now at peace with himself and the world. He served out his time with the Legion, received his papers certifying that “he had served with Honor and Fidelity” and mustered out in France. There was nothing left for him to do but to go home to Israel. The Israeli Armed Forces attaché in Paris at first refused to believe the incredible story but the facts were soon verified with the French authorities and a few weeks later Eliahu was on his way to Israel. At Haifa, two Israeli M.P.’s, perfect copies of their British models with their glistening white canvas belts and pistol holders, took charge of him and soon the gates of Haifa military prison closed behind him.

The three Israeli judges rose, Seaman Itzkovitz stood stiffly to attention as the presiding judge read out the judgment.

“... and in view of the circumstances of the case, a Court of the State of Israel cannot bring itself to impose a hefty sentence..... One year’s imprisonment....”

61 comments:

Innocent Abroad said...

Well, I suppose the verdict answers your question: he was both. But he was bloody lucky to have served so little time in communist Roumania, given that he'd killed in a cold blood a man who had done him no harm.

BrockleyDave said...

I,d say he was not a jewish hero or an Israeli criminal.
If the story is to be taken at face value its a boy/man unable to forget the brutal killing of his family and friends.
Understandably if you or I were in that extreme situation we might be tempted to seek revenge.
In my mind you can,t be a hero because he did not save anyone or help anyone ,but just coldly killed his enemy.
As for being an Israeli criminal we can,t find in the story any indication that he commited any criminal act whilst serving the Israeli armed forces.
He may well have commited a crime serving the foreign legion and was suppressing the desires for freedom of the vietnamese.
Yet presumably he thought that joining the israeli defence force was supporting freedom.
You could argue the judgement endorses or understands the killing of jewish enemies.
This is nothing new jewish resistance fighters some of who attempted to poison captured SS men in a camp were admitted to Palestine /Israel as heroes.
The film defiance about the Bieleski brothers sets out to portray jewish resistance fighters as heroes .
Yet increasing number of eastern european countries see jewish resistance fighters as war criminals for killing the local population.
In latvia and lithunaia those who joined the ss in defending the country against the soviet union are praised by some and the jews who fought them are seen as the criminals.
You can see this in the attempts of eastern europeans in equating the crimes of the Soviet Union as worse or the same as those of nazi Germany.
Why bring this into the debate because one persons revenge attack is another persons war crime.

It really depends on what your view is .The victim of the revenge attack may well had he been alive returned to Rumania as a nationalist hero to some ,having had to flee from the clutches of the soviet union.

With parties in Hungary such as Jobbik setting up their own fascist militia ,their may be more support for nazi era war criminals than before.The governing hungarian party with its links to the UK,s conservatives is promising to overturn legislation banning holocaust denial.
We have also seen UK Conservatives mep,s forced to support a Polish leader for EU office who wants the jews to apolagise to Poland for their war crimes.
To me i fully understand why this Rumanian jew took his revenge and i find it difficult to condemn him for his actions as i have never been in that situation although my family were murderd by the nazis in the war .
I await the anti-zionists who will soon be telling me i should therefore support the effort of Palestinians to murder jews in Palestine who may or not be responsible for the death of Palestinian children.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Both. His son was not a legitimate target, as there is no evidence that he was a Nazi. On the other hand, the killing of Stanescu was only a "crime" in the legal sense, not morally.

Fuck the "rule of law". Fascists deserve killing, the only questions surrounding that are tactical ones, hence the lack of dead fascists in the UK.

Fabián said...

Amazing story.
זכרונך לברכה, אלי.

Ross said...

It is an amazing story.

Did the son of Stanescu who he stabbed survive?

Assuming the son wasn't involved in the father's atrocities then stabbing him means he can't be a hero, although the rest of his actions were morally justified.

If he actually killed someone whose only crime was who their father was then that is inexcusable.

eamonnmcdonagh said...

So, you can be in the French Foreign Legion and empty a magazine into an NCO's chest and get clean away with? No one asked how he died? Why he was full of French bullets? The story doesn't seem credible to me.

Jimmy said...

A hero does not hunt down a man and kill him in cold blood, no matter how appalling his past crimes might be. War criminals deserve a fair trial just like all other criminals.

How many lives were saved by this action? None.

There are hundreds of examples of heroes in Nazi occupied Europe, those who saved Jews and others from extermination, those who fought the Nazis when they were in power, and those that performed actions small and large to reduce the suffering of their fellow human beings. These people are the heroes whether Jews or Gentiles.

Michael Ezra said...

@Ross, I know no further information than that I copied, so I cannot answer your question.

@eamon, If you took the trouble to read about the French experience in Indochina including what occurred at Dien Bien Phu, I doubt you would make your comment. Bernard Fall's book, from where I have taken my extract, is superb on this and I highly recommend it.

The Contentious Centrist said...

I don't suppose there was an autopsy to determine which bullets killed him. The author does explain the set up:

"He and Eliahu had gone on a reconnaissance into the bushes on the side of the road, when the Viet-Minh opened fire from one hundred yards away. "

They were alone under fire and the other soldiers close by would naturally assume he was killed by enemy fire. End of story.

As for the question whether he was a hero, I think it is an irrelevant question. He was seeking revenge for the murder of his own family which he witnessed. Within the frame of mind and "rules" of revenge, international law doesn't figure. The fact that he killed or tried to kill, the son, proves that it was not justice but revenge he was after.

Two popular novels came to my mind as I was reading the excerpt: PD James's "Original Sin" and Frederic Forsythe's "Odessa File", where a similar motivation (a surviving relative going to a great deal of effort years later to avenge the murder of his family) underlies the entire movement of the respective plot.

Here is Orwell, about revenge:

"It is absurd to blame any German or Austrian Jew for getting his own back on the Nazis. Heaven knows what scores this particular man may have had to wipe out; very likely his whole family had been murdered; and after all, even a wanton kick to a prisoner is a very tiny thing compared with
the outrages committed by the Hitler régime. But what this scene, and much else that I saw in Germany, brought home to me was that the whole idea of revenge and punishment is a childish daydream. Properly speaking, there is no such thing as revenge. Revenge is an act which you want to commit when you are powerless and because you are powerless: as soon as
the sense of impotence is removed, the desire evaporates also. "

I guess that's just it. Eliahu Itzkovitz was not seeking punishment. He was seeking revenge. And another factor to be considered is that the whole story took place BEFORE Eichmann was found, kidnapped and brought to trial, thus setting a model for addressing the atrocities.

Anonymous said...

I checked the story in sites in Hebrew.
The story is true the trial was in 1956. There is some french producer that wants to make a movie on the story. Amazing story

socialrepublican said...

Small point of order. The Iron Guard, the party militia of the Legion of the Archangel Saint Michael were not Antonescu's version of anything by mid 1941. The royal state of Carol II had raged a war against the increasingly violent and anti-carlist fascist movement since 1938, killing the "Captain" Codreanu after some tentative approaches of co-opting the movement (Cuza and other right radicals who joined the governement in 1938 under the Patriarch's Premiership had been closely allied with the Legion since the mid 30s.)

After the German order submission of Romanian Translyvania to Hungary in late 1940, the Legion took power under Sima in conjunction with a military junta headed by Antonescu, naming the new regime, the national Legionary state. Increasing Legion radicalism, uncontrolled theft of Jewsih property and German unease at the possibility of Romanian instability ended in a pre-emptive coup in Jan 1941. During the intense fighting in Bucherest, 120 Jews were killed by Iron Guardists, include twenty disposed of in the machinery of the central abbatoir. The Legion was soon defeated and about 5 thousand members, including Sima, fled to Germany to be interned. The party was banned and although individual ex-Guardists were prominant in both Army units involved in the Iasi pogrom and in the post war resistance to the Soviets, it had not real power. The Romanian part of the Holocaust was almost entirely directed by the army and conservatives within the state structure. Only after the Antonescu coup did widespread killing of Jews begin, mostly in the areas gained by the Romanians in the 1919 treaty

After the defection of Romania in late 1944, Sima was resurrected as a leader to a new Legionary state in exile by the Germans. A few SS companies of Romanian exiles (there were several weak divisions of Romaina Germans) were formed, only to be destroyed in the Budapest and Vienna offensives in late 1944-early 1945

socialrepublican said...

Further, the Legion's tactics of social scission and assasination predates even the Beerhall uprising in Germany. By 1923, Codreanu had already made quite the name for himself beating up Social Democrat student societies and even murdering a Police captain (he was freed, on appeal, by conservative judges, enamoured by his youthful "energy")

sackcloth and ashes said...

'So, you can be in the French Foreign Legion and empty a magazine into an NCO's chest and get clean away with? No one asked how he died? Why he was full of French bullets?'

Military history is full of cases of soldiers using combat as an opportunity to kill a 'comrade' they detest, or an unpopular officer. This incident takes place in Vietnam, during jungle fighting, and the Viet Minh did use captured French weaponry.

Furthermore, as Michael Ezra says, Fall quotes it in 'Street Without Joy', and he was a careful scholar.

As for the question Bob poses, Stanescu's son was not a legitimate target, and Eliahu's attempt to murder him makes him a criminal in that regard.

As for the fragging of Stanescu, well yes - in an ideal world - war criminals should be brought to justice and put on trial. But this wasn't going to happen in this case, and I've got no problem with the fact that Eliahu gave that greenshirt bastard the good news.

Sarah AB said...

Like others, I find the murder of the son unjustifiable.

Richelleux said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Simon Evans Miami Vice said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michael Ezra said...

To Sarah and those that have commented that the stabbing of the son is unforgivable, what are your views on the shooting of the father?

Anonymous said...

Here's one line which just can't be right:

"He... applied for a transfer to the Israeli Navy... A few days later, the request was granted"

Give me a break. No army reassigns a soldier from one unit to another so quickly. Especially not the IDF! :)

bob said...

Does it make any difference that he was only 14 when he killed the son? Or not?

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Bob

It possibly helps explain it, but I don't think it does any more to justify it.

Flesh said...

I think it's always important to put up arguments against summary justice and vengeance. After all, surely the only point in discussing this is to decide how the next person who summarily executes somebody who presided over a great wrong should be treated.

So Waterloo, does it make a difference to you if the fascists have/had power, or is simply holding fascist beliefs enough for you to condone their execution?

Re Bob's question about the age, he was a minor, we should consider him subject to impulses and with unformed judgement, and so diminished responsibility - he deserves a break. But the crime stands.

sackcloth and ashes said...

Firstly, can I point out that Richelleux is a racist piece of filth who poppped up on Harry's Place to abuse an Albanian commenter. He's been banned on HP, and I'll leave it to Bob to decide what he wants to do with him/her here.

Michael - Eliahu's killing of Stanescu senior was completely justified.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Flesh

It depends on whether you're talking about morals or tactics. (Although I'd see this as more about fascist activists, as opposed to those who merely hold fascist views without acting on them).

Morally, no, I don't have an issue with it either way. The violence we see from fascists now pales in comparison compared to how they'd be in power. So I don't think the argument that any direct action against fascists needs to be either a) strict self-defense or b) in retaliation for a specific act by an individual fascist holds any water. In fact, that strikes me as a really bad idea. Why wait until after fascists are in power to stop them? Fascism doesn't start with concentration camps. That's where it ends.

Tactically I think a policy of targeted assassinations would be very unwise, certainly in the context of Western Europe. I'd shed no tears if Griffin got killed, but I don't think it would do any real good overall. There's several reasons for that. To 'step it up' in that way would obviously lead to massive ramifications from the state and I don't think there's enough benefit to justify that. The political climate isn't right for this kind of 'propaganda by the deed' and is unlikely to be unless we do actually have a fascist movement on the verge of gaining power. It's a distraction from the more serious issue about taking back the streets (EDL) and the war for hearts and minds (BNP). And a move in that direction would, by necessity, mean that militant anti-fascism needed to be secretive and arguably elitist. Whereas I think it's far more productive to put on a message that everybody has a part to play in militant anti-fascism.

On physical force anti-fascism generally, I think the old 43 group slogan of "maim, don't kill" is broadly still correct tactically.

Richelleux said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Simon Evans Miami Vice said...

a 'guest post' by Ezra.

fucking hell

Sarah AB said...

Michael - like Flesh I don't think one should condone the killing precisely - or at least the state can't. But on a personal level - I don't blame him at all (putting aside the issue of the son). The Israeli court seemed to get it about right?

Flesh said...

@Waterloo - maybe this one's gone off the boil now but I thought I'd come back on this:

"The political climate isn't right for this kind of 'propaganda by the deed' and is unlikely to be unless we do actually have a fascist movement on the verge of gaining power."

Yes, and behind that not-right climate is probably a belief that - how can I put this without sounding like a fluffball - people are not *only* fascist. Reading about the eugenics of the early 19th Century reminds me of a conversation I had not too long ago with a conservationist - and although this person is not organising to promote these views, they were undeniably fascist views. Which leads me to view fascists as are also parents, sons, daughters, carers, lovers. Even in the case of worked-out fascists, I find the idea of picking them off, or even maiming them, before all other recourse had gone, appalling.

And in the elitism you point out, murdering fascists also bypasses any of the defences against fascism a society needs to develop if it is to maintain resistance. Things would have to be very bad indeed before I willingly entrusted my society to a bunch of assassins! And that is to say nothing of the practical problems with extrajudicial killing, including collateral damage, mistakes, and all the kinds of eager rites-of-passage kids &tc that these kinds of cloak and dagger things attract.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Flesh

Which leads me to view fascists as are also parents, sons, daughters, carers, lovers.

This reminds me of a broadsheet supplement in the 90's (I can't remember which one). It had photos of fash doing the ironing, going to the park with their kids etc.

The message obviously being the one you're arguing here. "Fascists are human beings too". Thing is, I don't recall anybody ever arguing differently. I just don't see the political relevance.

Even in the case of worked-out fascists, I find the idea of picking them off, or even maiming them, before all other recourse had gone, appalling.

More or less appalling then letting the situation grow to one where there is no recourse at all?

If you can't stop the fascists while they're weak, how can you hope to do so when they're strong?

Because we've seen what happens when there isn't a militant fascist boot on the fascist neck. In 1984, the fascists were confident enough that around 80 of them attacked a TUC anti-racist gig, attended by thousands of people. That's the reality of not taking the militant approach.

We're not at that point currently. Which makes it all the more farcical that the EDL are currently managing to disrupt left wing and anti fascist meetings with what is, in essence, a non-violent campaign of intimidation.

And in the elitism you point out, murdering fascists also bypasses any of the defences against fascism a society needs to develop if it is to maintain resistance.

But physical confrontation is not only a possible part of that resistance, it's a necessary one.

And that is to say nothing of the practical problems with extrajudicial killing, including collateral damage, mistakes, and all the kinds of eager rites-of-passage kids &tc that these kinds of cloak and dagger things attract.

Sure. And I'll even hold my hands up and say that all of the factors you list are also an issue in any kind of physical force antifascism. But I'm not convinced that a legalistic approach is a step forward. From what I can see, liberal antifascism has utterly failed to halt the growth of the far right. To end with a quote:

Only one thing could have stopped our movement – 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)

bob said...

@WS: that'll be the militant ANTI-fascist boot, no? Hopefully not a Freudian slip!

Boneheads ironing: I think that's Leo Regan's Public Enemies, subject of a negative review in Fighting Talk as I recall.

More later on substantive issues.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Oops. Worst typo ever!

bob said...

On the substantive issues, I kind of think that we need to approach this question on something like 4 different levels: moral, political, strategic, tactical. Morally, I respect pure pacifists, but I can't go along with them, and it is certainly the case that certain forms of fascism straightforwardly pass any sensible moral test in terms of deserving stopping physically.

On a political level, I think it is important to hold on to the right to physical force anti-fascism, even though this must always go alongside ideological contestation too (the "twin track" approach). Anti-fascists must show (and I think can) show that fascism is an exceptional form of politics, qualitatively and not quantitatively different from other forms of politics we disagree with. (The camps are the ultimate image of this exception, but as WS says they're where fascism ends not where it starts. Other, less extreme but nonetheless compelling images would be the dictatorships that ruled Spain, Portugal and Greece in my lifetime, or the NF attacks on left papersellers in the 1980s and 1990s, or the reign of racist terror in the orbit of the BNP HQ in Welling in the 1990s including the killing of Adams, Lawrence and Duggal.)

Both liberal and militant anti-fascists share that argument. However, liberal anti-fascists abnegate the right to physical force and hand it to the state. This is deeply problematic for a number of political reasons: 1) it reinforces the idea that the state has the sole legitimate claim on the use of force, a belief that disempowers the citizenry (this critique is not only rooted in marxist and anarchist positions, but in wider libertarian, communitarian and radical democratic positions too). 2) the powers of repression it gives to the state are also used against legitimate forms of dissent, and are in fact much more often used against the left, against unions and so on. 3) liberal anti-fascist legalism also reinforces a worldview in which liberal democracy is understood as exceptionally good (versus "extremism" of various stripes) rather than that fascism is exceptionally bad - as a bit of an extremist myself I reject that, and we've seen today arrests of "alleged anarchists" and recently all of the insane counter-terrorism tactics revealed in the anti-capitalist and environmental movements, as well as the policing that killed Ian Tomlinson and kettled students in the icey weather - the legalistic position only strengthens that sort of policing.

[continued...]

bob said...

[...continued]

On a strategic level, I think you need to look at a particular conjuncture, a particular configuration of forces in time and space, and see whether violence would work or not, or whether it would be counterproductive. In the last decade, filling the vacuum left by the retreat of the left was strategically much better than physical force. With the rise of the EDL, we might need to think again.

Finally, on a tactical level, we need to consider the specifics of every mobilisation, on a case by case basis, and this includes looking at "collateral damage, mistakes, and all the kinds of eager rites-of-passage kids", as well as spook culture, infiltration, surveillance, machismo, getting people hurt for no reason, negative publicity, blowback, etc etc. Thinking tactically, I suspect that there are very few cases right now when I would recommend physical force against fascists.

--

I think there are two problems with physical force anti-fascism in general today, that go beyond the case by case limits and strategic arguments, but probably relate more to the political and moral level respectively.

First, fascism has mutated massively in the last decade or two. We now have various forms of post-fascism and rebranded fascism, non-fascist extreme xenophobia, all sorts of strange authoritarian populist movements. We also have the EDL, which is perhaps proto-fascist rather than fascist, with a fascist-connected leadership and a non-fascist rank and file.

And we have too Muslim political movements that are intimately connected to fascism, but may not be fascist strictly speaking, including Salafi movements, Muslim Brotherhood related movements and so on.

I don't think that anti-fascism has come to terms with either of these sets of mutations.

--

Second, there is the question of the mandate for physical force. I still accept the militant anti-fascist rejection of giving that mandate to the state, for reasons outlined above. But I am no longer sure about the mandate anti-fascists have to take violence into their own hands.

I used to subscribe completely to the metaphysics of class, a faith in the Marxist analysis which underwrote our actions as representatives of the working class, and I have lost that faith.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Anti-fascists must show (and I think can) show that fascism is an exceptional form of politics

I'd agree. The idea that fascism is simply an offshoot of capitalism is one of the worst analysises to come out of the far left last century. Not only is it incorrect (fascism is a specific political ideology in its own right and needs to be understood in that context), it also was highly destructive to anti-fascist theory.

On a strategic level, I think you need to look at a particular conjuncture, a particular configuration of forces in time and space, and see whether violence would work or not, or whether it would be counterproductive

Agreed. This is, in a nutshell, what it boils down to for me. The use of violence is first and foremost a tactical question, not a moral one. I think there's a lot of inconsistency from liberals on this issue. Unless somebody is a pure pacifist (which most people aren't), they have already accepted my premise that violence is justified as a tactic, even if they don't support it in a specific case.

In the last decade, filling the vacuum left by the retreat of the left was strategically much better than physical force

I'm unconvinced. More specifically, I am now highly dubious that the launch of the IWCA was worth winding down AFA for. In terms of relative successes, I don't think the balance sheet justifies doing so.

With the benefit of hindsight, I think I'm now of the view that Liverpool AFA were putting out; the vacuum needs filling, but single issue anti-fascist groups are not best placed to do so. (Which isn't to say that anti-fascist activists can't be involved in doing so, merely that the anti-fascist arena probably isn't the right battleground for the 'hearts and minds' approach, outside specifically anti-fascist propaganda).

Thinking tactically, I suspect that there are very few cases right now when I would recommend physical force against fascists.

We differ there. I think there's a strong argument for looking at physical force in relation to the EDL, as they very much use the traditional fascist "march & grow" controlling the streets tactic. Ditto the occasional BPP types and their mobilisations. If we could find where B&H were holding their gigs, I think it would be justified. (Although the fact that they're quite so secretive is arguably a testament to AFA's previous success anyway). On the BNP, I think it's mostly 'hearts and minds', but I can see an argument for turning over any stalls they try, if it's tactically sensible on the day. And while that BNP guy getting hit with a hammer was supposedly tactically disastrous according to commentators ranging from Andy Newman to David T, I've not actually seen any evidence to back up that claim.

First, fascism has mutated massively in the last decade or two. We now have various forms of post-fascism and rebranded fascism, non-fascist extreme xenophobia, all sorts of strange authoritarian populist movements.

I don't think that's all that new. It's a logical progression from Le Pen style "Euronationalism", which has been around for a fair bit. And while it's grown bigger recently, it's the kind of thing that fash like Patrick Harrington and Troy Southgate have been pushing for years. Fascism, like all political ideologies, has always mutated and evolved.

Waterloo Sunset said...

We also have the EDL, which is perhaps proto-fascist rather than fascist, with a fascist-connected leadership and a non-fascist rank and file.

Again, I don't think that's that much of a radical mutation. Their tactics are very much traditional far right. A movement springing from the football firms is something that the far right have tried to do previously, it's just that the EDL have done so far more successfully. Even the public support for Israel isn't new- Le Pen always combined being strongly pro-Israel with antisemitism. The two big changes are that a) they couch their ideology in cultural, as opposed to racial terms and b) the public rejection of homophobia. While those are both interesting developments ideologically, I'm not sure they need any revision of anti-fascist tactics. They're pretty minor issues in the greater scale of things.

If anything, the EDL bear out the old school AFA analysis that fascism isn't reducible to racism, even if the vast majority of fascists are also racists. Again, this kind of cultural approach was foreshadowed by Harrington and his associates quite some time ago. What is very traditional fascism is the EDL's hostility to the left and to any working class institutions like trade unions etc.

And we have too Muslim political movements that are intimately connected to fascism, but may not be fascist strictly speaking, including Salafi movements, Muslim Brotherhood related movements and so on.

That, however, is a much more complicated problem.

One tenent I still hold dear is that you should primarily focus on fascism's proponents and potential recruits, not its victims.

And to do so, most of an antifascist movement needs to come from the same broad background, to not be seen as outsiders. Hence the necessity of militant anti-fascism being a working class movement.

And, quite obviously, the vast majority of militant anti-fascists are white. Whereas what you need to tackle the Islamist far right is the Muslim community on board and they currently aren't.

I don't have any easy answers for that quandry. Working with Muslims in anti EDL activity may go some way to redressing the balance, but that's a long process. Building trust takes time, especially considering the understandable mistrust many young Muslims have of the left.

But without that, I don't see any real potential for addressing this. Especially with physical force. (I think the tactical problems with a group of white anti-fascists turning over an entirely Muslim group are pretty obvious). And we're not seeing that at the moment. The vast majority of those who are most active in anti Islamist arguments (at least on the net) seem to have little interest in doing so. Which means that, at best, it comes across as patronising finger waving. At worst, a significant percentage are at least fellow travellers of the Eurabia crowd and are as "intimately connected to fascism" as those they criticise.

Waterloo Sunset said...

There's two other current major tactical issues you don't mention.

The first is the rise of surveillance culture. That obviously has serious tactical ramifications for militant anti-fascists. We can't afford to have lots of people nicked after each action. That said, it's not insurmountable either. People overestimate the effectiveness of CCTV in identification and the amount of manpower needed to go through footage in the first place. But that does mean that numbers are more important then they used to be. And, realistically, we already don't have the numbers to confront the EDL properly.

Second is the rise of the net. On top of that, the BNP are now big enough that they're going to get on news programs etc. Those two factors combine to mean that traditional no platforming is no longer an option. I still think there's a place for stopping the fascists operating freely on the streets, but the possibility of using no platform as a form of 'containment' is no longer there. We need to recognise the fascists are going to be able to get their propaganda out and adjust accordingly.But I am no longer sure about the mandate anti-fascists have to take violence into their own hands.

I think you run the risk of mystification of violence here. It's a tool and as such I'm unconvinced that a "mandate" is needed in the first place, other than an individual one.


I used to subscribe completely to the metaphysics of class, a faith in the Marxist analysis which underwrote our actions as representatives of the working class, and I have lost that faith.

I never saw it like that anyway, although I do think it's true that working class people are often less averse to violence then middle class people are.

At most, I see myself as a representative of the long tradition of militant anti-fascism (Cable St/43/62/AFA) and no more than that. At the end of the day, the only true judge of this kind of thing is history. And, historically, militant anti-fascists have generally ended up being accepted as a necessary component in the defense of democracy (as a concept, not liberal democracy). It's certainly the case with the 43 and 62 group, who now get supportive articles in The Daily Mail. We're even starting to see it with AFA. Amusingly, HnH supporters over on Socialist Unity, most of whom wouldn't have had any time for us at the time, are now getting all nostalgic about the time anti-fascists could field a proper 'firm'. It'll be interesting to see what happens with that. In ten years time, are we going to see the kind of historical revisionism we've seen with the 43 Group, where they're now presented as strictly defensive and are largely 'fluffied up' in terms of how violent they actually were.

A hilarious example was the CST talking about the 43/62 approach compared to the Board of Deputies lobbying tactics and suggesting that it "embodies the combination of these two traditions". The fact that if you work "solely through legal means" you aren't in the 43/62 tradition seems to have escaped them.

Flesh said...

The killing of Bin Laden provoked me to comment again.

Hopefully it is safe to take Bin Laden as an example of somebody an antifascist would like to stop. Bob, Waterloo, would you agree that a legal trial of an unmaimed, live person is the best outcome? Would you agree that it is better, as in the case of this state-sanctioned action, that there will be wide and deep scrutiny - whether enough was done to avoid killing Bin Laden, what the side-effects of killing him will be, how to plan and execute the action better next time? Would you also agree that the vacuum-creating lawlessness of the countries where Bin Laden finds sanctuary is the most direct enabler of his power (of course there are many more pervasive contributors)? If so, how would you reconcile the vigilanteism you favour with shoring up the rule of law?

Sorry, many questions - they are in response to what you have already commented here.

I'm coming to anti-fascism, I think, from a statist and legal human rights perspective (I believe in as little law as possible, but human rights law is to be cherished I think). My position is therefore incompatible with pre-emptive injury or murder of certain people other people hold to have certain politics. I cannot make the exception Waterloo advocates for fascism, since that undermines all I stand for. I do not think a death at the hands of a fascist is worse than a death at the hands of a trafficker. So all I can do is shore up legislation against fascist acts, and keep the arguments alive that human beings are diverse and states or domains (to comprehend religion) do not have rights. If people with fascist views attempt to act out their politics, I want a society which brings them to justice with reference to human rights law.

To me it is very unfortunate that Bin Laden is dead, rather than at the Hague awaiting charge. One reason for this I haven't touched on is that when states kill, the reprisals are far more of a threat to the innocent than if vigilantes kill.

bob said...

Flesh, these are important and interesting questions. I only just saw them now (haven't subscribed to this comment thread!) so I wasted time on formulating responses to a less interesting thread and have run out of time. Back later.

Sarah AB said...

I find some of the comments here a bit startling (though I'm not completely unsympathetic). Fascism is so difficult to define for a start - I can see there was something uniquely evil about Nazism but there are different kinds and degrees of fascism and they don't all seem markedly worse than manifestations of communism.

Quoting Bob - 'However, liberal anti-fascists abnegate the right to physical force and hand it to the state. This is deeply problematic for a number of political reasons: 1) it reinforces the idea that the state has the sole legitimate claim on the use of force, a belief that disempowers the citizenry' - I find myself turning that round and imagining all kinds of unpleasant people liking the idea of the citizenry being justified in a bit of correctly aimed violence against the right enemies.

bob said...

I'll try and collect my thoughts, but they'll be a bit all over the place.

1. We need to be clear that the examples we are talking about here are wildly heterogeneous, and we'd need to approach each of them completely differently, although there are some common features. Stanescu seems to have been a sadistic brute empowered by a fascist regime to commit horrific murderous acts that went unpunished by the post-war civil authorities, and may not have had any ideological motivation for his actions. A British BNP leader is ideologically committed to fascism, but may never commit a particular crime against specific people. Bin Laden was an ideological leader of a political movement connected to but radically different from (and in my view much worse than) fascism, and politically inspired and organisationally instigated horrific crimes against civilians on a massive scale.

Bin Laden was almost certainly totally beyond the reach of any individual anti-fascists, however well organised, so it is a little academic in a way thinking about individual killing him. He was also very unambiguously a criminal, which is not the case with some fascists.

Two other examples might also help us think about some of the issues. One is Symon Petliura, the minor intellectual who rose to leadership of the brief Ukrainian republic and presided over a wave of pogroms that saw the death of some 30-50,000 Jews, although it is hotly disputed how much responsibility Petliura had. He was tracked down six years later in Paris by the Jewish anarchist Sholom Schwartzbard, who had lost all 15 members of his family in the pogroms, and was actually acquitted by the French courts after turning himself in. The second example would be Talat, Enver and Djemal, the "three pashas" responsible for the Armenian genocide, who were tracked down and assassinated by Armenian revolutionaries in "Operation Nemesis".

--

I am not totally sure about the lawlessness of the countries where Bin Laden sought sanctuary being an argument for the strong rule of law. Pakistan is not lawless, at least not that part of Pakistan, and the actual perpetrators of most of the al-Qaeda atrocities operated perfectly well in functioning regularly policed states like the UK and Spain. It is true that the training camps and so on were located in places like Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, but they would have found alternatives.

--

I am also not sure I would prefer a trail for Bin Laden than to have him killed while evading capture. What would be the appropriate punishment for a trail to come up with? What would be the cost of the enormous machinery required to try him, in terms of accommodating him, keeping him secure, protecting the prosecution teams from reprisals, etc etc? What would be gained?

On the public reflection on how he was dealt with, I am not sure that this is dependent on the state being the actor that killed him. It is true that a certain vigilante mentality in some anti-fascist circles breeds a political culture not characterised by publicity (publicity as in Öffentlichkeit rather than as in PR). But the militant anti-fascist movement has historically been perfectly capable of its own public, open debates and scrutiny about morality and strategy. Just as with the state's armies, certain operational details are kept close to the chest (that is certainly the case with Bin Laden!) but the general principles and so on can be debated openly.

--

Death at the hands of a fascist is no worse than death at the hands of a trafficker. I agree with that. But fascism is a political phenomenon, based on ideology. It needs to be dealt with politically.

--

Possibly more later. Sorry that was rather disjointed.

bob said...

On Sarah's point (all kinds of unpleasant people liking the idea of the citizenry being justified in a bit of correctly aimed violence against the right enemies): This is true, and that is part of what I meant about the problem of the mandate.

Two points, however. First, the state also gives licence to all sorts of unpleasant people to do unpleasant things. Stanescu in the story was an agent of the state, acting within the law. That's an extreme case, but even in liberal democracies, the law gives licence to cruel prison guards, thuggish policemen, sadistic judges and so on to inflict terrible damage. Anyone who has been on more than a couple of demonstrations can give examples of legal brutality. Sometimes they get punished if they overstep the line (Ian Tomlinson's murderer might get punished), but often as not they get away with it.

Second, I think most people actually have decent moral impulses. If given the licence themselves, as citizens, to deploy some correctly aimed violence, I believe most people will use that right wisely and morally.

Jogo said...

Capture Bin Laden?
And put him in neo-Guantanamo?
Mumia abu-Jamal to the 100th power?
A symbolic god-man on the order of Jesus?

Try him in court?
Not possible because the languages are too different.
Crime, victim, illegal, morality, murderer, justice, innocent ... even law ...
there is no agreement on what these words mean.
Carlos the Jackel's lawyer would make a fool of "civilization."
Osama bin Laden cannot be turned into Eichmann.

You're dreaming

Flesh said...

One strand of this discussion seems to boil down to a question of law v. the natural discretion of individuals.

Two things:

To say we have "decent moral impulses" seems like a wishful assertion to me. Particularly compromising as far as I'm concerned, people devour and exploit tens of billions of animals each year, and most consider this decent enough, even humanising. Nobody - not even farm workers themselves - celebrates factory farms - and yet they are the norm. When I see revolutionary socialists eating chicken, the proletariat of the animal world, I give up. So if you think of people as morally compromised and tending to the negligent, law made in roughly the way we make it in this country becomes something quite inspiring.

"the law gives licence to cruel prison guards, thuggish policemen, sadistic judges and so on to inflict terrible damage."

And so they are held to account (hence you are aware of these failings). We have the CPS and the IPCC. The media care. From EU law we got the Equality Act. The BNP was forced to change its discriminatory constitution. For me the state means this - it also means professionalisation of law and governance, which I think is for the best.

On the question about whether first-resort extrajudicial killings are sometimes OK.

The US position is that they were trying to bring Bin Laden to justice. They didn't drop a tonne of explosives on his compound, but sent in the SEALs. Do you think that Obama was hoping he might oblige them to kill him after all, Jogo? On what grounds?

Yes, a trial would have been fraught. But in what other cases, if there were a chance to apprehend a criminal, would we say that criminal justice was too challenging or risky, and therefore it was necessary to suspend human rights and pursue the alternative strategy of waging war on a single individual?

bob said...

It is probably wishful thinking to say that most people have decent impulses. Your counter-example is powerful, and of course even the most decent people act in a way that contributes to climate change, to taking us over the peak oil cliff, to the destruction of the rainforests and so on. We also buy products manufactured out of the misery of distant sweatshop workers, or whose harvest involves bloodshed in warzones. But I think that behaving well in these regards takes a kind of moral education to extend our instincts far beyond the visible effects of our actions: we find it difficult to concretely understand what we are responsible for when the chain of effects takes us so far out of sight. But I think our instincts tend to fail us far less when the effect is immediate: given the opportunity to actually pull the trigger, to maim the fascist, most people would draw back immediately.

On the holding to account of the sadistic policemen and so on. I think it happens in a tiny minority of instances rather than being the norm. There were 270 complaints of police assault at the G8 demo where Ian Tomlinson was killed, according to Statewatch, and many more unrecorded; how many of them will lead to any justice? No-one has been punished for the savagery the British police displayed during the miners' strike. No-one has been punished for hardly any of the huge number of deaths of custody that occur int the UK http://www.irr.org.uk/2002/november/ak000006.html . No-one has been punished for the appalling way the winter demos against fees were policed. A few of the war crimes committed by the British state during the Troubles have been brought to justice, but we've barely scratched the surface.
(I used to work in a pub where ex-squaddies drank, and the stories they told, if just a quarter of them were true, were horrific.) I could go on. Harry Stanley, Delroy Lindo, Satpal Ram, Mark Barnsley, Jimmy Mubenga, Smiley Culture, Azelle Rodney, roger Sylvester... These are not exceptions: this is how policing works in this country.

Flesh said...

Physical power over others brings out the worst in most people, so of course there can't be too much (constructive - unlike Sagar's kind) scrutiny of state institutions that confer it on their members. There isn't nearly enough, by all accounts.

But the police and army are populated by people more or less like us, so why should we think that armed paramilitary groups operating on their own initiative would have better checks and balances against sadism? Unite Against Fascism, would probably be first in the queue to have the chance to interpret "correctly aimed violence" and would reject any outside scrutiny as an attack on them.

Steven Powles makes a good argument (tonight's Moral Maze) that it would have been possible and desirable to bring Bin Laden before an international tribunal. I notice that he also in his chambers' Actions Against the Police team which is representing kettled protesters as well as the family of Christopher Alder. I'd rather throw my lot in with people like that, who hold our institutions to high account.

Waterloo Sunset said...

I second Bob about this shaping up to be an interesting discussion. Thank you all.

@Flesh


Hopefully it is safe to take Bin Laden as an example of somebody an antifascist would like to stop.


I certainly won't be shedding any tears, but I'm not sure I'd see Bin Laden as a fascist per se. That's largely an academic point however. I'm quite cautious about applying the "fascist" label, mostly as a reaction against the trend to apply it to any vaguely authoritarian ideology or individual we disagree with.

Bob, Waterloo, would you agree that a legal trial of an unmaimed, live person is the best outcome?

Not necessarily. I have no trust or stake in the "law" as a concept; I prefer justice and I believe the two are mutually exclusive.

What I will say, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracist, is that Bin Laden not coming to trial is quite a useful outcome for some involved parties. It means there is no chance of him being able to talk about potential issues as links with Pakistani intelligence services or such thorny issues as Operation Cyclone.

Would you agree that it is better, as in the case of this state-sanctioned action, that there will be wide and deep scrutiny

No. Because history shows us that any such scrutiny by the state will not be focused on the humanitarian concerns that are your main concern.

Would you also agree that the vacuum-creating lawlessness of the countries where Bin Laden finds sanctuary is the most direct enabler of his power

No. Some of the worst genocides in history have been carried out by extremely authoritarian states, with a very rigid law system. And I agree with Bob that Pakistan isn't at all lawless.

If so, how would you reconcile the vigilanteism you favour with shoring up the rule of law?

As is probably clear by now, I have no interest in shoring up the rule of law. It assumes the law is a neutral societal force, which I don't believe.

My position is therefore incompatible with pre-emptive injury or murder of certain people other people hold to have certain politics.

But doesn't that mean that you are de facto accepting that fascists should be able to do serious damage before moving against them? In other words, I'm arguing for pre-emptive self defense.

I do not think a death at the hands of a fascist is worse than a death at the hands of a trafficker.

Of course not. But I don't believe traffickers have the same ideological commitment to controlling the streets.

One reason for this I haven't touched on is that when states kill, the reprisals are far more of a threat to the innocent than if vigilantes kill.

There's another major difference for me. When states kill, it's almost invariably the case that there is a significant level of collateral damage.

I said before that I accept fully that mistakes will be made. That's absolutely true. But, personally, there's no way I could accept the amount of innocent deaths that liberal interventionists accept as a matter of course.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Sarah

I find some of the comments here a bit startling (though I'm not completely unsympathetic).

I can certainly understand you disagreeing, but I'm intrigued to why you find the comments startling.

You're a blogger on HP. Obviously, HP is known for its support for the Iraq War (as a blog, although not necessarily all individual commentators). And Mikey Ezra spends every other post talking about atrocities committed by communists. Both of which are actually far higher levels of violent acts then anything mentioned in this discussion which, at its most extreme end, isn't likely to have involved any weapons more serious than iron bars.

So I'm interested why this discussion has come across as 'beyond the pale' in a way those don't. Of course, it could simply be that Bob comes across as such a genial chap that people don't expect him to have such 'extremist' views!

Fascism is so difficult to define for a start

Yes and no. There's certainly some grey areas. But I think there's a sizeable section where we can find basic consensus- would anybody who's looked at the issue seriously suggest that the BNP aren't fascists in the Moselyite tradition?

they don't all seem markedly worse than manifestations of communism.

That's a fair point. All I can really say as a counterpoint is that, certainly in the West, I consider Maoists and Stalinists utterly irrelevant, politically and physically. So it doesn't seem worth bothering with.

I find myself turning that round and imagining all kinds of unpleasant people liking the idea of the citizenry being justified in a bit of correctly aimed violence against the right enemies.

To turn that round again, surely it takes more of a leap to allow people to do violence on behalf of others, as opposed to seeing everybody as their own moral barometer.

And, practically, people that want to use violence in general are going to do so, one way or another.

It links to my point above. Why is this more of an issue, even if you don't agree with it, than people hitting each other over football on a Friday night at kicking out time?

Waterloo Sunset said...

Sorry, missed this before.

Unite Against Fascism, would probably be first in the queue to have the chance to interpret "correctly aimed violence" and would reject any outside scrutiny as an attack on them.

No, they wouldn't.

1. It would run completely counter to the vapid liberalism that they campaign on.

2. UAF aren't capable of mustering up the force to storm a kindergarten.

Flesh said...

Bob, "we find it difficult to concretely understand what we are responsible for when the chain of effects takes us so far out of sight"

I think that is absolutely crucial.

I guess that this: http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2009/08/24/equalities-and-human-rights-commission-vs-the-bnp/ is the tradition that Bob and WS are coming from. A tradition that finds law against fascism ridiculous. http://brockley.blogspot.com/2009/08/class-politics-versus-identity-politics.html

Such a gulf between that and my own views it's hard to know where to start.

Semple says "The use of State mechanisms to suppress a political party is not acceptable: the alternative, an activist response, is a much better idea."

I think that Dave Semple is admirably complex about the problems of state intervention, and shockingly 2D on the "everybody has a part to play in militant anti-fascism" part.

Fact is, most of us do not assume this role. I think that Bob's explanation about chains of reasoning may be an explanation here, and I think WS's "Yes and no" response to Sarah's point about fascism being hard to define supports this. The struggle against exploitation embedded in the stuff we consume probably faces the same intellectual challenges as the struggle against fascists.

So, I can't really shake the feeling that in Britain in 2011 law and states compensate for a common and deep neglect on the part of individuals (and unlike you, I'm not convinced that we can attribute this to the way we are governed) and so law and states will be around unless individuals can develop these chains of reasoning to engage ourselves far sightedly.

Waterloo Sunset said...

@ Flesh

I guess that this: http://thoughcowardsflinch.com/2009/08/24/equalities-and-human-rights-commission-vs-the-bnp/ is the tradition that Bob and WS are coming from.

I'd not seen Dave's article before, so thanks for the link. And you're right; I think I'd agree with about 90% of that.

Such a gulf between that and my own views it's hard to know where to start.

That's an interesting point and would bear out some of my own experiences. I've come to the conclusion over the years that, despite the seeming similarities, the differences between liberal and militant anti-fascism are far deeper than just disagreements about tactics. It's entirely different ideological perspectives, which your comment would seem to bear out.

Such a gulf between that and my own views it's hard to know where to start.

Sarah AB said...

@waterloo sunset - I completely take your point about supporting wars, but not your point about Michael Ezra - his concern about atrocities committed by communists seems quite compatible with my own views. I don't think the discussion *is* 'beyond the pale' - it's very interesting - but I still don't feel that violence on behalf of antifascism is either strategically or morally justified (not now or here in any case). I'd have personal sympathy for anyone who hit out at a BNP supporter who was being threatening/abusive - just as I had sympathy for the Israeli soldier discussed in the OP - but I don't think the state should (completely) condone them. Maybe the BNP are fascists - I'm not sure - but they are not in danger of winning an election and violence against them might win them more support - which is why I might be more concerned about violence carried about by anti fascists than by football thugs.

bob said...

Just a couple more not very well connected thoughts.

On the grey areas: I don't think many serious militant anti-fascists would use violence against the more grey area fascists: physical force has historically been and remains used for hardcore fascists and not for borderline cases.

--

On the support the BNP might win by being victims of violence: This is a question of tactics and strategy, and not of morality and politics. If it was clear that the negative impact of a specific act violence was significant, then it would be tactically stupid to carry it out. That doesn't affect the principle, in my view.

I think that the appeal of the NF and BNP in the 1980s and early 1990s was based primarily on the glamour of their muscular posturing and not on their intellectual arguments at the polling station, so showing that they were actually cowards who were easily outnumbered and out-maneouvred lost them a lot of support among the disaffected white working class men who they sought to recruit. This humiliation was one of the reasons the BNP switched track in the 1990s, towards the airbrushed electoral appeal. When serious militant anti-fascists cottoned on to this, we too switched tracks, to concentrate on filling the political vacuum they attempted to fill. (We were very unsuccessful in that, on the whole, and the BNP has been quite effective in re-branding itself, although seems to have largely exhausted its capacity now.)

--

I realised that some of my arguments about the state were quite confused and confusing, as I blurred together the state as a primary strategy for dealing with fascists, and the state in itself. I am not an anarchist who thinks we need to abolish the state here and now. But I do think that using the state and the law for our political ends might be useful from time to time but on the whole leaves us politically impoverished and, at worst, backfires against us.

Flesh said...

Do elections count as state? All over the country the bnp are losing tonight. Hope Not Hate twitter feed says not a single seat won. Can we thank liberal anti-fascism?

bob said...

I don't think that anti-fascism, liberal or otherwise, can claim much credit for the self-destruction of the BNP over the last few years. Nick Griffin's high point, Question Time, was also the beginning of the end, as the non-fascist voters they had drawn in through their re-branding realised he was an unhinged extremist after all, their constant internal faction fights, corruption and lack of normal human beings to do things like be half-decent councillors were the other main factors. Plus the immigration issue is actually falling away as a public concern now that the A8 wave has receded. For the middle class little Englanders who swung to the BNP, Cameron's tough on immigration rhetoric makes the BNP less necessary; for the disaffected working class support, the obviousness of the Coalition's responsibility for cuts in housing and services makes the blame-the-foreigners message less appealing, and there has been a big swing back to Labour among such voters.

bob said...

On not preferring to be killed by traffickers, part of me thinks I would have no problem with citizens maiming traffickers either.

Waterloo Sunset said...

Do we have the figures for the overall BNP vote, as opposed to percentages, yet?

I'm cautious, because in the past HnH have claimed victory on a reduction in percentage of votes, even when the overall BNP vote has grown. Barking is the obvious example.

bob said...

WS - good point re BNP vote. Too early. Worth noting that they have kept one councillor so far, so not decimated. Also worth noting the high vote (19.5%) for ex-BNP now English Democrat candidate in Morley South, Leeds, who came third but with large vote.

Peter Risdon said...

I can't really distinguish between some of these comments and fascism itself, one characteristic of which is a willingness to use violence to further political ends.

I suspect, also, that focussing on the powerless BNP is a form of group hug that makes people feel virtuous when they're either unwilling to confront the genuinely fascist forces in the politics of today (not of the mid-twentieth century) or directly allied with them.

bob said...

I can't really distinguish between some of these comments and fascism itself, one characteristic of which is a willingness to use violence to further political ends.

Personally, I think that this is indeed a characteristic, but hardly a defining characteristic, in that almost all ideologies (certainly nationalism, conservatism, socialism, liberalism) have been more than willing to use violence to further political ends. (Cf the famous Clausewitz quote.) If this was the defining characteristic of fascism, then ALL anti-fascists, from Winston Churchill to George Orwell, would be defined as fascists.

I suspect, also, that focussing on the powerless BNP is a form of group hug that makes people feel virtuous when they're either unwilling to confront the genuinely fascist forces in the politics of today (not of the mid-twentieth century) or directly allied with them.

This is a very accurate diagnosis, in my view, of much of the contemporary left (e.g. "Unite Against Fascism" who now have Islamic Forum of Europe's Azad Ali as a vice chair, someone who represents, well, not fascism but certainly very right-wing, repressive, intolerant and authoritarian politics). But it is an inaccurate diagnosis, I think, of those in this comment thread, who are robust in their criticisms of the movements I imagine you, Peter, have in mind when you talk about "the genuinely fascist forces in the politics of today".

Waterloo Sunset said...

I can't really distinguish between some of these comments and fascism itself, one characteristic of which is a willingness to use violence to further political ends.

Then I'd suggest you really need to up your analytical skills. That's not to say you should agree with me, merely that arguments along the level of "Hitler had a moustache so Freddy Mercury was a Nazi" are so intellectually risible that a GCSE politics student could knock them for six.

What you're doing is starting from the position that fascism is violence personified; that it is specifically their violence that makes them fascist, as opposed to the underlying political ideology behind the violence.

As Bob points out, that doesn't hold water. There are very few ideologies that haven't used political violence for tactical aims at some point or other- capitalism, socialism, Islam, Christianity, liberalism, the list is near endless. So it raises the question why the use of violence is significant for you specifically in the case of fascists and anti-fascists, but (apparently) not an important factor in analysing other political ideologies.

There is one exception to this. If you're coming at this from a pacifist perspective, we have very different world views, but I do accept that your aversion to political violence is part of a consistent ideological position. If not, you're essentially calling for the state to have a monopoly on violence. Which is a bit of a weird position for a supposed libertarian to take, no?

I suspect, also, that focussing on the powerless BNP is a form of group hug that makes people feel virtuous when they're either unwilling to confront the genuinely fascist forces in the politics of today (not of the mid-twentieth century) or directly allied with them.

Antifa were, to the best of my knowledge, the first group in this country to counterdemo Abu Hamza... Class War and the AWL were at the anti Al Quds counterdemo in the past- that basically stopped because the counterdemo organisers weren't prepared to use their numbers to remove the far right and nobody else had the capability to do so.

I'm also interested in several your comment raises. What is the difference between a genuine and a non-genuine fascist in your book? Do the BNP not qualify as such in your book and if so why?

What do you see as making a group significant and needing confronting? What groups are you talking about and what votes are they able to pull in at elections compared to the "powerless" BNP?

131488WOLF131488 said...

AFA, ARA, and the like are cowards who use tactics to avert free speech. Loving your own is natural, but calling WN's fascists is teriffic! " No soy fascista, soy nationolista.
You aid as " dupes " doing the dirty work to help further the end of your lineage. Your parents must be proud!

131488WOLF131488 said...

We will find you.