The Necessity of Anti-fascism: An Open Letter to Nick Cave

Update, 26th of October: The response to this letter has been overwhelmingly positive — no word from the man himself however. There has been some criticism, here’s an example from Twitter:

And this is how he describes his beliefs and worldview

Not surprisingly, white supremacists and fascists are gloating about having Nick’s tacit support. I haven’t worked out if this white supremacist chose Murder Ballads because he’s fantasizing about murder or because he’s a new fan starting with the most popular of the Bad Seeds discography. Either way, this outcome is as bleak as it is predictable. I wonder how Mr Cave will feel if this new wave of Nazi fandom turns up at one of his Conversation events with iron cross and swastika tattoos. As many people have pointed out, this is the same man who said he continues to perform in Israel due to his love and fondness for the Jewish people.

Dear Mr Cave,

I finally saw you perform live at an In Conversation event earlier this year and it transformed me from a big fan to a cult member (I even found a Facebook group for it!).

All the warnings about idol worship suddenly made sense when I read today’s post in the Red Hand Files. In particular, seeing the way you characterised Antifa is horrific. You said;

Antifa and the Far Right, for example, with their routine street fights, role-playing and dress-ups are participants in a weirdly erotic, violent and mutually self-sustaining marriage, propped up entirely by the blind, inflexible convictions of each other’s belief systems. It is good for nothing, except inflaming their own self-righteousness.

[…]

Some of us, for example, are of the generation that believed that free speech was a clear-cut and uncontested virtue, yet within a generation this concept is seen by many as a dog-whistle to the Far Right, and is rapidly being consigned to the Left’s ever-expanding ideological junk pile.”

The two groups you’ve described here are fascists and anti fascists. People who want to commit genocide versus people who want to stop them. I have to ask; precisely what, when it comes to genocide, should we be flexible about? What can people who are organising with the goal of murdering every single Jewish person on earth have to offer us in discourse? How is opposing genocide “good for nothing”?

I’m in shock. Flabbergasted. You haven’t articulated why you believe fascists and anti fascists are the same and I can’t address explanations you haven’t offered, so I’m going to try and very briefly summarise the problems with this (though again, it’s a bit like someone saying they believe the earth is flat so I barely know where to start). I’ll have to assume that you’re not aware of the burgeoning global neo Nazi movement happening right now or aware of the history of Antifa.

The first Antifa arose as a coalition of leftist groups in Germany to oppose the Nazi regime. Even as fascism was very new, leftists were acutely aware of it’s danger, especially as fascists began by attacking political opponents, especially communists. Antifa isn’t an organisation with membership, it’s a response to fascism. There’s no direct link between the first Antifaschistische Aktion and modern iterations because it’s inherently decentralized. Antifa is a grassroots movement where people of all political persuasions organise in opposition to fascism (Nazism and fascism are often used interchangeably these days). Anyone who takes action to disrupt fascist organising is Antifa.

Fascists' tactics included both above ground work like campaign rallies and talks to recruit new members plus criminal underground actions like threatening and intimidating the families of their opponents and destroying their homes, beating them, even murder.

In the case of the Nazis, once they had effectively destroyed their opposition they rose to power easily, taking advantage of how gravely underestimated they were by the government at the time (which granted Hitler the position of vice chancellor). This seems to be a recurring motif. Communism was seen as a greater threat than Nazism so Nazis violence was largely tolerated by the state.

The suppression of their opposition was absolutely essential; for a period of time under the Nazi regime there was no communist party at all. This is one major reason why the free speech argument fails; Nazis silence opposition whenever they have the power to do so, it’s one of the very first steps they take to build power. By advocating for their free speech, you are silencing those who oppose them.

The Nazis killed six million Jewish people and eleven million people overall. They targeted Jewish people in particular because this was, and is, a core component of their ideology; they replaced an analysis of class exploitation with antisemitism which convinced their followers that Germany’s economic woes were caused by the Jews. Additionally they targeted Romani, gay men (especially Jewish men), disabled people, sex workers.. anyone they deemed subhuman. These sentiments are echoed in the modern iterations of Nazi propaganda; memes of antisemitic caricatures, code words they use to describe people of different ethnic backgrounds, and their constant use of the word degenerate.

Antifa has always stood in the way of neo Nazis from its inception, they are not facilitating fascism and as a historian I’m at a loss as to how anyone could come to such a conclusion. Your answer implied that neo Nazis would just go away if they were ignored, meanwhile fascism is on the rise all around the globe both as a grassroots movement and as a tendency of multiple sitting governments. I’d love to know how you reached the conclusion that anti fascists are at fault for fascism, this makes as much sense as claiming that fire fighters cause more fires by dousing them with water. Perhaps you’ve heard some of the right wing propaganda, like made up stories of Antifa protesters attacking bystanders. Even if these stories held a grain of truth that wouldn’t make antifascist action pointless. In a decentralized, horizontal, incredibly loose knit community that spans the entire globe you’ll inevitably end up with a few bad apples. Even a few people self identifying as Antifa have done something harmful, that doesn’t change the necessity of publicly opposing and disrupting genocidal fascists.

You seem to believe that the battle between fascists and anti fascists is limited to confrontational protests; this is completely untrue. These might be the spaces where fascists and antifascists come face to face but both Nazis and antifa are everywhere; they do not materialise during a protest then vanish into the ether.

A young Antifa activist in Portland, Sean Kealiher, was murdered by neo Nazis just days ago in Portland, Oregon. He was a friend of many friends of mine and by all accounts a dedicated activist and incredible person. This case bares similarities to the 2017 murder of Antifa activist Heather Heyer. She too was run down and killed.

As it stands now, United States Antifa has killed no one. Fascists have killed 175 people so far.

A neo Nazi attacked a synagogue during Yom Kippur in Germany just days ago, modelling his attack on the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand. How is this not worth opposing? How can you claim Antifa is responsible for this (as you said antifascists and fascists are “mutually self sustaining”)? Do you really believe this wouldn’t have happened if Antifa did not exist? Antifascist Action was formed to combat the already existing fascism in Germany.

These murders are a key component of neo Nazi action which the original Nazis also engaged in; they work to incite terror and fear to discourage people standing up to them while testing the criminal justice system to gauge how it will respond. The attacks like the one in Germany during Yom Kippur are part of the Nazi project to murder every single Jewish person alive; these murders evoke the entire history of German antisemitism and utilise intergenerational trauma as a weapon. Is this not worth opposing? What has Antifa done that in any way compares to this?

Fascists don’t believe in free speech. That should be obvious but you brought it up so I feel the need to point out that there is no such thing as free speech in a dictatorship (which is another core tenet of fascism; the belief in a single, unquestioned leaded everyone must put their faith in). I mentioned this before but it needs to be emphasized; when you’re advocating for a fascists right to free speech, you’re being manipulated into doing their work for them. You are collaborating with them.

Fascists debate to recruit, not to listen or have a good faith conversation. Every time someone debates them, they are providing a platform while tacitly suggesting that fascism is a legitimate point of view worthy of discussion. This is playing right into their hands. This is how we end up with public discourse that asks “are Jews people?” Why, I have to ask, should we be trying to create a dialogue with the people asking these questions? How is this anything other than at best stupid and most truthfully, absolute evil? This is what discussion with fascists looks like, this is what they have to offer. Not only is this absurd, it’s also designed to evoke horrific antisemitic conspiracy theories while reminding Jewish people of the antisemitism that runs through the world like a wound in order to traumatise and terrorize them.

You can’t apply the ideology of liberalism to a group dedicated to silencing dissent and committing genocide. Anything short of condemnation is a victory for the fascists because they don’t need your support, they just need you to look the other way while they murder people and attack synagogues and mosques. The majority of people living under the Nazi regime in Germany were not loyal followers, they were disengaged, apolitical and just going along with it, many because of the lack of alternatives resulting from the Nazis destruction and criminalization of communism.

The original Antifaschistische Aktion of 1930s Germany knew that there is no such thing as free speech for all because some speech is always going to silence others. Free speech for antisemites creates too much danger for Jewish people for Jews to speak freely. This is not just a “new left" perspective. Besides the fact that free speech does not legally apply to speech that incites hatred (like Nazi ideology does), we have to ask, whose freedom are we going to prioritise; the people who just want to live their lives without the fear of violence and genocide, or the people who want to murder them and wipe them off the face of the earth?

If you’re still not convinced of the necessity of opposing fascism, consider the words of holocaust survivor Franz Frisson:

If fascism could be defeated in debate, I assure you that it would never have happened, neither in Germany, nor in Italy, nor anywhere else. Those who recognised its threat at the time and tried to stop it were, I assume, also called “a mob”. Regrettably too many “fair-minded” people didn’t either try, or want to stop it, and, as I witnessed myself during the war, accommodated themselves when it took over…”

I know you’re an optimistic person and you believe the world is essentially safe but I have to say, this is just untrue. Fascists are terrorizing people, especially Jews (and increasingly Muslims, as well as Romani in Europe especially), they are committing murders and working in very large numbers in the police force; something like half of all police in Greece are affiliated with the neo Nazi party Golden Dawn. Antisemitic hate crimes are at record highs. How can we expect the police to take action against fascism when the police are also fascists? Remember, everything the Nazis did was legal.

I’m trying to articulate the scale of the burgeoning neo Nazi movement because your post suggested that you think this battle is limited to public protests: it is not. This is not a situation where people on opposing sides show up to a protest as if they were supporters of different teams at a soccer match. Nazis are out there in the United States, in the United Kingdom, in Australia, in South Africa, Greece, Germany, all throughout Europe, basically, and they are infiltrating positions of power where they can do the most harm.

Nazis are not only violent as a means to an end; violence is a core component of their ideology. They believe violence is an inherent good and a virtue. They’re opposed to women’s rights entirely (this is another core tenet of reactionary politics) and believe a woman should be in the home caring for children. They believe that disabled people should be wiped out for the sake of “purity” and they consider “race mixing” to be a form of “degeneracy”. Again, what do we have to discuss with these people?

The work anti fascists do is vital. They disrupt protests where fascists are speaking to prevent them sharing their message of white supremacy, they make sure they’re afraid to keep speaking publicly which makes the people Nazis target safer, and when they turn up to a neo Nazi rally counter protesting and absolutely drown out the fash, they show that the fascists are a minority and do not represent the views of most people. If we want to keep it that way, that’s means preventing them from recruiting. Here’s a write up on Antifa that’s much better than mine.

It’s important to note that many people who engaging in antifascist action are people Nazis want to murder because of their background, religion, ethnicity, orientation, etc. Antifascist action, for many people, is self defence. A Nazi could stop believing in their white supremacist ideology and antifascists will leave them alone. But there is nothing Jews, Romani, Muslims, disabled people, LGBT people etc can do to appease the Nazis; the Nazis want to murder them for simply existing.

If you do come across this, I beg you to consider that your understanding of this is issue is incredibly skewed and dangerous.

To reiterate the key points I’m trying to make

  • Anti fascists are trying to prevent a repeat of the mass murder and genocide fascists have committed in the past
  • Fascists are not just attending rallies, they’re infiltrating organisations where they will hold power and make connections with other fascists. This is happening everywhere from medicine to STEM to law to law enforcement
  • Fascists are committing murders. Antifa hasn’t murdered anyone while fascists have murdered 175 people (these are just the ones that meet strict criteria and have been reported)
  • The core of Nazism is antisemitism, and all fascism is ultra nationalist, racist, socially regressive, misogynistic, oppressive, and working towards the goal of genocide
  • Many people engaged in antifascist activism are targets of Nazism themselves and engaging in self defence
  • Nazis don’t need you to agree with them, they just need you to tolerate them. Claiming we need a dialogue is helping them recruit and legitimising their views, which has lead to things like CNN asking if Jews are people or not
  • It is impossible to provide free speech for everyone because some speech is oppressive and silencing. We have to ask instead, who are we going to prioritise; the person who wants to commit genocide or the person they want to murder?

I’m still trying to get my head around these bizarre comments and I’m sure there will soon be a flurry of media attention and I’m interested to see how it goes down. I know you won’t backpedal or apologise but I am hoping against hope that you will genuinely realise how wrong your comments are. Frankly I feel a bit silly writing this because I can’t imagine you wouldn’t know this; you are intelligent and well read and I’m just stabbing in the dark trying to think of how and why you came to the conclusion that Antifa and neo Nazis are mutually reinforcing and dependent on each other. I know I won’t get a response but I’d love to hear the reasoning — perhaps it will come up in your next interview or someone will ask at an In Conversation event.

If I can still enjoy The Smiths knowing about Morrissey’s politics I’m sure I’ll be able to enjoy yours again eventually. At the same time I’m heartbroken that you’re in the same category.

    Lunarian Saturnian contrarian historian musician sociologist astrologist anarcha-nihilist #twitterstorians

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