The original post that ‘The Falcon’ published on Stormfront on May 28 looked as if it had been inspired by an April 13 article from the anti-fascist website Who makes the Nazis, to which it linked. “I wouldn’t have heard about the gig were it not for the economic migrant lobby [ie, the left],” a surprised forum user crudely commented. Somewhat better informed, a different contributor suggested that it “must be a slow news week over at Love Music, Hate Racism … Slimelight have been putting on gigs for years that could all in some tenuous way be ‘linked’ to fascism”. If the ‘well-known Nazi organisation’, Stormfront, is anything to go by, then London’s far right would have barely registered the concert had it not been for the anti-fascist coverage.
In the end, absolutely nothing happened – and perhaps, nothing was going to. Leaving aside that Islington’s yuppie mile, Upper Street, is hardly a prime target for white racist assault, it is difficult to imagine the goths that pranced towards Slimelight that night chasing anybody down the road – the opposite scenario seems a more plausible proposition. The bands playing at Slimelight were no violent Nazi skinhead combos, but acts from the neofolk milieu. An outgrowth of industrial music and post-punk, neofolk blends traditional European folk influences with experimental arrangements and electronic textures to varying degrees. Because of its fondness for the apocalyptic and the irrational, it is mainly consumed by darkwave and goth audiences.
Slimelight regulars vented their anger at LMHR’s “totalitarian” campaign at None so deaf as those who will not listen, a Facebook discussion group set up by Slimelight owner Mayuan Mak when LMHR continued to delete his comments from its website.2Most posters displayed a convincing political inarticulacy and a conventionally liberal rather than fascist mindset. The extreme left is just as bad as the far right – that was the predictable tenor. The ensuing furore gave Mak the opportunity to present himself as a patron saint of London’s alternative community, and in a readers’ letter to the Islington Gazette he posed as a law-abiding model citizen. Challenging anti-fascists to document any actual incitement to racial hatred promoted by the targeted bands, he demanded that the hate laws which “many people have suffered and died for” be used against those deserving punishment – such as Islamist nut-job Abu Hamza, for example, whose prison sentence Mak was quick to cite as “the way forward”.
In fairness, Love Music, Hate Racism misquoted him as saying that “fascism is an art form as well”. In truth, he said that “art can be fascist too”3 – not at all the same statement. But let us turn our attention to the artists on the bill. The openers were named Joy of Life, though you would not come up with that name if all you had to go on was their dreary 1980s indie rock. What tied them to the other acts – Sol Invictus, Freya Aswynn and 6 Comm – was their linkage to the pioneering neofolk band Death In June, on whose record label they had debuted.
Tony Wakeford, a founding member of Death In June and front man of Sol Invictus, may have been taken aback with nostalgia when well-meaning socialists picketed his concert outside Slimelight. Once upon a time, he was one of them: Wakeford’s status as a card-carrying member of the Socialist Workers Party secured his punk group Crisis numerous performances for Rock Against Racism, the 1970s predecessor of Love Music, Hate Racism. Crisis vocalist Doug Pierce, meanwhile, was a member of Tariq Ali’s Trotskyist outfit, the International Marxist Group – a connection that allowed Crisis to play at IMG events such as Workers Against Racism.
In contrast to the visceral socialism of The Clash, Crisis songs featured immortally literal lines, such as “urban terrorism is no substitute for building the revolutionary working class party”. In theory, the band members’ respective central committees could not have been more thrilled. But, as Pierce remarked in hindsight, “there is no pleasing some people”.4 By 1980, Crisis routinely complained how the leftwing organisations still distrusted the band and their unruly punk fans: “We feel more alienated playing at their events than at normal gigs,” Pierce lamented. Cheques they had been promised never arrived, and funds raised by Crisis through gigs were not donated in the band’s name. According to Wakeford, the group felt thoroughly “used and patronised” – a familiar feeling to anyone who has ever been an obedient foot soldier to an arrogating party leadership.
Some may wonder what revolutionary would attach such importance to being name-checked when making a donation. But even so a range of interviews give the impression that Crisis were as sincerely committed to the party line as their teenage hearts allowed them to be. And just as many apparatchiks, in their heart of hearts, imagine themselves as a future Trotsky or Lenin, Crisis envisioned themselves as official soundtrack composers for the great revolutionary crisis, which is, of course, always just around the corner. To the extent that they are not politically controlled, the self-seeking modes of social interaction that characterise capitalist societies are bound to be carried over into relationships between revolutionaries; Pierce and Wakeford, it appears, used the left to gain exposure no less than the left used Crisis to advance its respective sect interests. The bureaucrats, however, were made of baser wood than the young punks: Crisis became disillusioned and left the building.
The Guilty Have No Shame
That’s when Wakeford and Pierce began to take an ever-increasing interest in the ‘other side’. It would be an understatement to call that interest unhealthy by the time they recorded their 1984 debut album as Death In June. The guilty have no pride, promised the album title, and lines such as “the once proud brownshirt soon betrayed by engineers of blood, faith and race” were put to a rudimentary sub-Joy Division/Bauhaus soundtrack of droning bass lines and martial drums. Those familiar with fascist sub-currents such as Strasserism were not left guessing as to what game was being played here: the ‘left’ factions of the NSDAP – from Röhm’s SA to Strasser’s breakaway Black Front – were whitewashed from racism and idealised as national socialist movements betrayed by Hitler’s supposed counterrevolution. Accordingly, Death In June’s Brown book album (1987) contained the SA anthem ‘Horst-Wessel-Lied’, sung like a funeral dirge.
Death In June’s persistent usage of fascist themes in lyrics and artwork is often seen as mere flirtation with taboo subjects: a desire to shock, a morbid fascination with the dark side of history, or, as some fans suggest, no more than gay men sublimating their fetishistic sexual fantasies into art. But despite his continued evasions and deliberate confusion stirring elsewhere, Pierce was quite unmistakable in a 1995 interview: “In search of a political view for the future we [the early Death In June] came across National Bolshevism, which is closely connected with the SA hierarchy. People like Gregor Strasser and Ernst Röhm, who were later known as ‘second revolutionaries’, caught our attention” (my emphasis). And, broadly speaking, Pierce’s artistic preoccupations have remained in the strange and depressing universe of völkisch mysticism, Germanic runes and the occult.
While his band-mates abstained from organised politics, Tony Wakeford became a fully paid-up member of the Nick Griffin-led, Strasserite ‘political soldier’ faction of the National Front. He was quickly dropped from Death In June when this fact emerged, possibly with a view to the growing goth scene’s first stabs at mainstream chart success (Temple of Love anybody?). Founding band member Patrick Leagas persevered for another two years; after a 1985 concert in Bologna, during which the band performed in Nazi-like uniforms, a woman from the audience walked up to Leagas shouting, “I hope your mother hates you”.5 This was devastating enough for the sensitive Leagas to quit DIJ – but not devastating enough to keep him from forming the electro combo 6 Comm, which delighted the Slimelight audience on June 25 2011 with songs from their retrospective Like Stukas angels fall.
Wakeford’s next project, Above the Ruins, gave us darkwave ‘protest songs’ against race mixing and contributed a track to the National Front benefit album No surrender. This outfit, in turn, was the nucleus of the equally dreadful, but influential Sol Invictus. Like DIJ, Sol Invictus have since subsisted in an obscure rightwing bohemia of neo-pagans, occultists, and ‘radical traditionalists’ of one sort or another. Wakeford became involved with the esoteric fascist ‘think’-tank IONA and, like numerous neofolk artists after him, became deeply infatuated with Julius Evola, the ‘radical traditionalist’ philosopher from Mussolini’s Italy. Evola, author of Revolt Against the Modern World (1934) and The Aryan Teachings of Struggle and Victory (1941), was so contemptuous of the masses even the ‘Reichsführer SS’ Heinrich Himmler considered him a “reactionary”: when working for the SS think-tank Ahnenerbe in the 1940s, Evola was put under observation.
Decline of the West
In contrast to white-power rock of the Skrewdriver variety, which is not known for beating around the bush, the music of bands like Death In June and Sol Invictus thrives on ambiguity and has little agitational value. The acoustic strumming and Burzum-styled ‘mystical’ keyboard lines, interspersed with cinematic samples and assorted atmospherics, are hardly the stuff that sharpens you up for a bit of the old ultra-violence.
Death In June’s introvert, often haunting songs are informed by the gloom and sense of loneliness commonly expressed in darkwave. Fans usually interpret the melancholy as despair at the human condition, the poetic references to war and struggle merely reinforcing this basic premise. A song such as ‘Rose clouds of holocaust’ (“the angels of ignorance fall down from your eyes, rose clouds of holocaust, rose clouds of lies”) in no way flirts with holocaust denial, they say, since Pierce explained in an interview that the word ‘holocaust’ also means ‘burnt offering’ – quite a relief!
Arguably, the melancholy and despair represent neofolk’s aesthetic appropriation of the cultural pessimism that informed the ‘conservative revolutionaries’ of the Weimar republic. One of Death In June’s best known songs is ‘Death of the West’ (1985). Like much later neofolk, it expresses an aversion to materialism and ‘bourgeois decadence’ akin to that which informed authors such as the Freikorps favourite, Ernst Jünger, and the more highbrow Oswald Spengler, whose influential philosophical treatise was not so coincidentally namedThe Decline of the West (1918; revised 1922). The ‘German socialism’ that Spengler envisioned as an antidote to corrupt capitalist democracy was one where orders would be given and obeyed, where everybody would have their strictly allocated place in society, and where classes would collaborate for the common good – not unlike the ideas that fascists such as Doug Pierce’s beloved Ernst Röhm championed, as they opened the gates to unprecedented barbarism.6
What is more, some individuals in the neofolk scene are rather well acquainted with the theories of thenouvelle droite (‘new right’) and particularly those of Alain de Benoist. De Benoist, a French intellectual who fancies himself as the Antonio Gramsci of the right, would in fact be better described as fascism’s answer to the neo-‘Gramscians’ of 1970s left academia: he advocated a ‘war of position’, as outlined in Gramsci’s Prison notebooks, though without the complementary ‘war of manoeuvre’. After World War II and that unfortunate gaffe known as the holocaust, cultural work would be the only way forward. Activists would covertly infiltrate the superstructure and gradually influence certain groups into adopting key concepts of fascist ideology; won over by largely aesthetical means, these would then form a hidden army prepared to strike on the Great Day. Until then, open political work would be futile.
It is easy to see why some underground musicians might find such a concept appealing. To a certain type of artist, the glamour of producing culturally subversive work – let alone in the name of a movement so dangerous it dares not speak its name – is everything they could wish for. It allows someone like Doug Pierce to shroud himself in mystery and keep people guessing: is he ‘really’ a fascist, as the lefties say he is – or merely the misunderstood artist that most of his fans make him out to be?
The perpetual controversy keeps the cash flow going and, although real mainstream success is not on the cards, Pierce has certainly found a niche that pays the rent. A nod and a wink here, a cop-out there – unlike Wakeford, who is known to get nervous when denying his dubious political associations past and present, Pierce positively enjoys sending out contradictory messages and fabricating ambiguous sound bites in interviews. To aggravate anti-fascists is dead easy, after all. And, as far as his fans are concerned, not even Pierce’s solidarity visits to the neo-fascist HOS militia in the midst of the Balkans conflict represent a clear political statement. For Pierce is an artist, and apparently artists are above politics.7
For all those curious to learn about the Death In June ‘family’ and their associates in detail, there are websites such as Who makes the Nazis, which aims to expose “fascist presence in ‘transgressive’ musical subcultures”. Musicians’ political histories and personal links are documented with almost Stasi-like precision – any suspicious information is meticulously collected and catalogued. Who shared a bill with what fascist band in the past? Who appeared alongside whom on what compilation album? What band’s ex-guitarist shared flats with a rightwing skinhead back in the 80s? In contrast to the characteristically crude Love Music, Hate Racism write-up, the good people running Who Makes the Nazis know their subject well. However, the ‘guilt by association’ method they employ has its limitations.8 The same goes for the notion that, once an individual has internalised and puked up enough hackneyed reactionary ideas, the sum of it all equals fascism and is bound to spread like a virus. Likewise, the uncritical acceptance of the new right’s belief that fascism can take over simply by means of cultural infiltration leaves a lot to be desired.
Take, for instance, David Tibet of experimental folk outfit Current 93, a close associate of Death In June and guest contributor to many of their albums. In a 1988 interview9 Tibet expresses his disenchantment with “spiritually and morally corrupt”western culture and society, which he perceives as“tedious” and merely striving for “shallow pleasure”.“When you see people in the street,” he laments,“their shoulders are bowed in defeat. They realise they are living completely meaningless lives and there’s nothing to look forward to.” Tibet’s alienation with the hollowness of late capitalist culture is surely one that he shares with many on the left, but he simply lacks the tools to identify any relationship between culture and its socio-economic base. Culture, to him, is some free-floating, autonomous force that continues to exist in its present form only because those docile sheep in the street don’t possess enough willpower to overcome it.
If you will, it is here that Tibet’s outlook, coupled with millennial angst and an intense interest in mysticist mumbo-jumbo, has points of intersection with fascist thought, and it is not difficult to see why Tibet and Pierce, when introduced, got on like a house on fire. Yearning to create art that stood in contradiction to capitalist mediocrity, they were both looking for authenticity in traditional and pre-modern thought, counterposing the eternal, the mystical and the metaphysical to the mundane, misunderstanding capitalism’s commodity fetishism as ‘materialism’ – much like the traditional elites and disenchanted sections of the middle classes had done, as they turned to völkisch romanticism at the turn of the 19th century.
However, as dandy mindsets go, Tibet’s is not unusual. Snobbish elitism and a complete detachment from the masses had been a hallmark of countercultural pop rebellion ever since the 1960s. “Those people never had any power and they never will have” is how Sir Mick Jagger explained his motivation behind the Rolling Stones tune, ‘Salt of the Earth’ (1968). As France saw the biggest mass strike in modern history, Jagger sneered at the “common foot soldier” and his “back-breaking work” – but one entry in his almost consistently reactionary lyrical oeuvre. Likewise in the 80s, British workers were engaged in an all-out class war against the Thatcher government rather than leading “meaningless lives” and “hanging their shoulders in defeat”, but from David Tibet’s candlelit bohemian hideout, they all just looked like the “faceless crowd” depicted in Jagger’s song.
Neofolk’s spiritual path was paved by artists such as Jim Morrison, the Nietzsche-fixated ‘shaman’ of narcissistic gloom pop. In the 70s, David Bowie, Joy Division and others introduced murky, fascist flirtations into that particular arena, and you might argue that the sum of their cultural pessimisms and aesthetical derailments does not place them a million miles away from Death In June and Current 93. Likewise JJ Burnell of The Stranglers – like Doug Pierce an admirer of the fascist Japanese author, Yukio Mishima, and guilty of Euroman Cometh, a solo album crammed with ‘Eurocentrism’, unreconstructed 19th century nationalism and plenty of unintentional humour. You may even want to file indie-pop luminary Björk in the ‘brown book’. Did she not, after all, join forces with David Tibet for the 1991 song ‘Falling’ – and is Björk’s mythologisation of her ‘mystical’ Icelandic home not somewhat akin to neofolk’s Nordic fantasies? To make matters worse, Steve Ignorant of Crass, the anarcho-punk band par excellence, not only supplied guest vocals to Current 93’s Dog Moon Rising album, but featured on a Current 93 recording alongside Boyd Rice, who is known as a sinister “social Darwinist” to industrial music fans and as an “unemployed, alcoholic fascist” to his ex-wife, Lisa Crystal Carver.10 And in any case, were not Crass hostile to the organised left, whilst adhering to an outright Proudhonist type of anarchism – as racist ‘national anarchists’ do these days?
So where do you draw the line? What if most musicians simply do not screen their collaborators and drug buddies for political beliefs? What if ‘meta-fascism’ blends so easily with the common outlook of declassed bohemia that it simply dissolves in a swamp of amorphous self-indulgence? At Who makes the Nazis, writers are at pains to make out who is “definitely” a fascist and who is just a fellow traveller, eccentric or imposter. But, despite the often intriguing cultural analysis and obsessive evidence-collecting, their attempts to identify a point where quantity becomes quality clearly gives them a bit of a headache. Maybe that is because fascism never really had a coherent ideology – rather, it took any resentments, prejudices and fragments of reactionary thought that happened to cross its path and tossed them into its grubby, populist rag-bag. As Leon Trotsky remarked in reference to German national socialism, its ideological “beggar’s bowl” preserved “whatever had met with approbation” during Hitler’s early speeches. Hitler’s “political thoughts were the fruits of his oratorial acoustics … That is how the programme was consolidated”.11
This is not to claim that fascism has no distinct character that renders it qualitatively different to other types of reactionary politics – it is just that this difference is less clearly defined by what itthinks as by what it does.
National chauvinism and extreme racism were the hallmarks of fascist thought in the 20th century, but were not unique to them. What distinguished the fascist movements was their mass base and the street-fighting divisions they sent out to smash working class organisations. To gain mass appeal, fascism had to radicalise sentiments already held by broad sections of society: the selective anti-capitalism of the middle classes, directed solely at big business and international finance capital; their simultaneous fear of the working class and of Bolshevism; the indignation of the unemployed university graduate; the demobbed German officer’s bitterness over the lost war and the 1918 revolution, mythologised as a ‘stab in the army’s back’; the latent anti-Semitism that permeated all of the above. It is true that the writings of Spengler and Evola had a place in fascist libraries and kept the odd Nazi intellectual busy. But how many exasperated Germans who turned to the NSDAP will have read Decline of the west, when most of them had not even read their copies of Mein Kampf?
Had the Nazis attempted to disseminate haute fascism through cultural brainwashing techniques, they would have waited a long time. But instead of recognising the sub-Gramscian strategy for the dark horse that it is, anti-fascists simply seem to accept the post-fascist ‘aesthetics are everything’ premise, according to which cultural warfare can be an effective substitute for political organisation and mass mobilisation. What is dearly missing from books such as the German-language Ästhetische Mobilmachung,12 which deals with the politics of neofolk in exhilarating detail, is the most critical question of all: does the strategy work? In reality, the moment ‘cultural fascism’ leaves its ivory towers and attempts to influence the mainstream, it becomes indistinguishable from conventional rightwing thought: in his column in Le Figaro, Alain de Benoist polemicised against further immigration, but in support of multiculturalism on the grounds that it preserves the ‘identities’ of immigrants – a view that even the Labour Party right could agree with.
Even in the marginal subcultures in which ‘cultural fascism’ has attempted to gain a foothold, its successes have been humble for the past 20-odd years. Despite the concerted effort of far-right newspapers, such as Germany’s Junge Freiheit and neofolk magazines such as Sleipnir, the European darkwave scene has proved overwhelmingly immune to politicisation. Some newer ‘martial industrial’ bands, such as the insufferable Von Thronstahl, are more explicitly fascist than the likes of Death In June. But, for all their underground popularity, they are consumed in much the same way as any other darkwave band, the listeners’ interest rarely extending beyond the momentary thrill of the forbidden.13 “There are some far-right people who think that neofolk is the thing,” wrote a fan on Mak’s None so deaf … Facebook group, “but they are very few and generally not well received in the neofolk scene”; and furthermore: “I remember seeing a few years back far-right neofolk fans on Stormfront bemoan the fact that neither neofolk fans nor artists are receptive for their ideas.”
What is more, the support of an insular and fundamentally self-absorbed subculture that does its best to segregate itself from the rest of the world would hardly be the beginning of a triumphant march through the institutions – and more likely an act of self-sabotage. To catch on, a fascist movement must resonate with broad sections of society when these are at the point of desolation. In that respect, a formation such as the English Defence League – anti-Muslim, populist and hostile to the left – may just be spot on. The EDL elevates the creeping decline of imperialism and Israeli Zionism into a millennial ‘clash of cultures’, aggressively asserting the ‘liberal values’ of the west against the ‘barbarism’ of Islam. And, perhaps most importantly, the EDL does not shy away from violence. In other words, it is everything that the meta-political ‘new right’ is not: the seed of a fascist movement fit for the 21st century.
Much though esoteric rightists delude themselves that their ideas are ‘eternal’, transhistorical and ‘natural’, they are in reality ideological expressions of a social class in specific historical conditions. The biggest problem of the nouvelle droite has always been fascism’s lack of political substance. Divorced from social realities, devoid of street-fighting squads and lacking a mass base, it really is reduced to little more than obscure, metaphysical drivel. Tales of a Jewish ‘world conspiracy’, neo-paganism, ‘aristocracy of the soul’, and other such candyfloss-brained baloney are unlikely to strike a chord with western societies in the 21st century. The defence of ‘our way of life’ against Islamic extremism, red trade unionists and political correctness, however, might just do the trick.
An acquaintance who was involved in the protests against the Slimelight concert asked me whether such an event would not risk pulling some people rightwards. My reply was: if at all, then immeasurably less so than permanent exposure to the Daily Mail and the Murdoch media, whose insidious messages are disguised as common sense and read by millions every day. Three weeks after our conversation, Norwegian fascist Anders Behring Breivik massacred several dozen leftish teenagers with the calm determination of an SSEinsatzgruppen officer. In his manifesto, he cited the Mail scribe and Londonistan author, Melanie Phillips, the radical Islamophobic Gates of Vienna blog and other such contemporary rightwing texts rather than Evola, Jünger or Spengler. His paranoia of “cultural Marxism”, meanwhile, is common currency with Andrew Breibart, Glenn Beck and other Fox News luminaries.
School of Libertinage
Just a few words about Peter Sotos, whose forthcoming Slimelight appearance LMHR also chose to oppose. Pioneer of a sub-current of industrial music christened ‘power electronics’, Sotos’s declared mission was to record the most extreme music of all time – and he complemented his band Whitehouse’s ultra-invasive noise fest with the most extreme, misanthropic lyrics he could think of. Industrial pioneers Throbbing Gristle, whose leader Genesis P Orridge obsessed over Charles Manson, Hitler, Aleister Crowley and everything else that his teachers might consider shocking, had laid the groundwork. Driven by an extreme version of libertarianism, Sotos went further and celebrated sadistic Nazi death camp wardens and child pornography.
Like Throbbing Gristle, he was tilting at windmills, unaware that the humanist values he so despised were the mere facade of a social system built on exploitation, oppression, violence and war. Barack Obama, the hope-and-change man of liberal America, has inflicted more death and misery upon the world than the likes of Peter Sotos could ever dream of. Boyd Rice, industrial music’s resident misanthrope, looks like a boy scout next to David Cameron and the class that he represents. In their minds, Sotos and Rice might feel quite at home in the 120 Days of Sodom – except that in the real world evil is not the triumph of the libertine’s will, but the inevitable, wholly unglamorous, and barren by-product of class society.
LMHR was possibly a little late in its denunciations. Peter Sotos’s main body of work, including the misanthropy fanzine cited on its website, dates back to the 1980s, making it hard to realise what kind of danger this concert is supposed to pose. “If left unchallenged, the actions of these individuals give confidence to fascist and racists, providing an illusion of mainstream acceptance of their vile views,” is LMHR’s generalisation. Does anyone at the organisation actually believe that Peter Sotos’s graphic explorations of rape, serial murder and paedophilia will endear him to the far right – or give the far right “an illusion of mainstream acceptance”? You would have thought that the precise point of his act, consumed as a curiosity by fans of the bizarre and confrontational, is to evade mainstream acceptability as much as possible.
For the popular frontist LMHR, the language of liberalism is, sadly, too often used in its ‘anti-fascist’ campaigns, holding “our celebrated multicultural society” against the cheerless delusions of Tony Wakeford et al. ‘Proletarian internationalism’, after all, might scare off fellow travellers such as the liberal Emily Thornberry. But all the inaccuracies and half-truths, the deliberate suppression of information and the ensuing atmosphere of hysteria do more harm than good.“These people totally discredit themselves by refusing any discussion,” observed a Slimelight regular correctly – and just like the punk group Crass grew increasingly hostile to the left when Red Action randomly took out skinhead youths at their gigs, the philistine anti-fascism employed by LMHR is bound to alienate the alternative scene from the left rather than cleanse it of reactionary influence.
Anti-fascists could do worse than refocus their energies not just on the growing Defence League movement, but primarily on the system that breeds fascist degenerates. Fascism, after all, is a punishment for our failure to make revolution – and our struggle against capitalism necessitates a struggle against the liberal hogwash with which popular fronts tend to contrast the ‘legitimate democratic forces’ of the bourgeoisie with ‘extremists’ and ‘hate’. Those who are offended by neofolk/post-industrial music and wish to keep it in relative obscurity, meanwhile, would be well-advised to simply ignore it as much as possible. In the end, the dodgy gigs at Slimelight are just the dying breath of a cultural revolution that never was.
9. The interview can be seen here.