When the nazis came to town, a friend of mine got in her pickup truck and drove around the entire night. Not just to keep track of the fascists, but to give rides and offer safety to anyone and everyone who felt threatened by them. I know without a doubt she would have climbed out of her truck and intervened more bodily if it had been required of her.
She’s also white and has a rather large and prominent tattoo of Mjolnir, “Thor’s hammer.” She listens to black metal, writes in runes, tends towards misanthropy, and draws strength from the old gods. These are all things a lot of nazis do too. Which is to say, my friend spends a lot of her time in contested cultural terrain. I love her for it.
* * *
My favorite type of metal is black metal. My favorite type of goth is neofolk. My favorite type of punk is oi!. All my favorite musical genres are rather heavily populated by fascists.
I don’t like fascists.
I still listen to black metal because I love it. I still listen to black metal because I don’t believe we should cede cultural and aesthetic terrain to fascists.
On one level, it’s easy to distinguish myself and my interests from those of fascists: I don’t believe in racism, “racialism,” conservatism, or patriarchy. I don’t believe in authoritarianism or nationalism. But the fascist project, as I understand it, doesn’t organize itself solely on political lines; it’s actively engaged in cultural warfare (which it refers to as “apolitical”). It attempts to imbue society with certain values.
Some of those values are those overtly political ones I outlined above, but there are others. There are values like glory, honor, struggle, tradition, faith, reverence for the earth, love of family, and the beauty of death. These values aren’t inherently fascistic, but they are values that are easily perverted to fascist ends.
I’m drawn to black metal and neofolk precisely because they incorporate aesthetics based on those values. This wasn’t a conscious choice, of course. I like the music that I like. But in retrospect, it seems obvious that these values attract me.
As anarchists, we interact with those values too.
To take “war” as an example: I once wrote a book about the militaristic defense of an anarchist society. I struggled to represent war as complicated and traumatizing at the same time as I valorized it. Whether or not we tend to use words like glory, honor, or valor, we celebrate the courage of people who are willing to fight and potentially die for the larger social body. We celebrate that courage because we need that courage ourselves, and it is largely through culture that we imbue ourselves with that courage. As an antiauthoritarian, however, I’m going to go about imbuing that courage in a different way than authoritarians might. I have no interest into romanticizing a sanitized version of war. The state has an interest in creating naive soldiers, but I want to represent struggle as dangerous and horrific at the same time as it is beautiful.
We must represent war if we are to represent society honestly, and certainly if we are to represent revolution honestly. The glorification of struggle is cultural/aesthetic terrain I must, by necessity as a non-pacifist anarchist fiction writer, share with fascists.
A lot of fascists are also into paganism (particularly European paganism, naturally). Paganism is not terrain we should cede to fascists. Some people (antifascist pagans) are not capable of ceding the terrain to fascists, so it behooves the rest of us to not abandon them.
If we decide black metal is fascist, then fascists will recruit black metal fans uncontested. If antifascists decide that some specific subculture, aesthetic ideas, or spiritual practices belong solely to fascists, then we are in essence giving to fascists all the practitioners and appreciators of those ideas. We shouldn’t let nazis have nice things.
Of course there is cultural terrain that is, and should stay, solely in the hands of the right wing. White people with swastika tattoos are not really fighting fascists for cultural terrain — they are either ignorantly or maliciously promoting nazism. Bands that will neither confirm-nor-deny being nazis and make constant use of nazi imagery both for its shock value and because they are advocates of European nationalism, like Death In June, are doing the work of the right wing.
It behooves people who are in contested cultural terrain to, well, contest it. Practitioners of European paganism are working hard to drive nationalists and fascists out of their spaces. Even “nonpolitical” black metal bands can and have taken stands against fascism, and I don’t think it’s too much to ask for someone to say “fuck no” when asked directly if they are national socialists.
It’s possible that we might lose some of these fights. Despite skinhead culture coming out of a multiracial British working class identity, and despite antifascist skins standing at the forefront of antifascist organizing and fighting for decades, the skinhead aesthetic (and name) became practically synonymous with racism.
I don’t spend much of my time talking about “honor” or “glory,” because the first thing I think of when I think of those words isn’t pretty. Maybe we lost the fight for those specific words, I don’t know. The concepts themselves, though, still have resonance for me. I don’t always know how to talk about those values as an anarchist, but I do know that they get at something deep and meaningful to me. I cry every time I visit the graves of the Haymarket martyrs in Chicago, and when I need strength I draw upon my pride at being part of a long tradition of rebels.
I don’t want the fascists to have the concepts themselves, and I will fight for them. Because I like black metal and hate nazis.
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This article was first posted on Margaret Killjoy’s blog Birds Before the Storm on May 11, 2017.