Monday, 27 September 2010

Gary Smith on Manoeuvres

No Remorse
Smith on left, Browning second from right
While the facts are hard to come by, given the conspiracy of silence that surrounds the issue, it seems that Gary Smith played bass on the album Songs of the Wolf by Above the Ruins, the band Wakeford formed on leaving Death in June in 1986, and also on the 1987 debut Sol Invictus album, Against the Modern World. One curious connection between the groups, other than personnel (thought to be Smith, Ian Read and the mysterious Liz Grey), is the choice of names and titles: Above the Ruins was named after the book Man Against the Ruins, by Italian traditionalist and 'super-fascist' Julius Evola, while the album Against the Modern World can similarly be assumed to be named for his book Revolt Against the Modern World. Evola was a major influence on the faction of the National Front (NF) Wakeford associated with during his time as an open fascist. In any case, clearly there was a strong ideological continuity between the two groups to parallel the continuity of personnel.

Smith was also a member of No Remorse,  one of the most extreme and explicit of the White Power / Blood and Honour skinhead groups. No Remorse also featured Will 'The Beast' Browning, leader (alongside Charlie Sargent) of the ultra-violent Nazi street-fighting group Combat 18. No Remorse subsequently gained a degree of notoriety for their recording Barbecue in Rostock, which celebrated the 1992 riots and  arson attack on an apartment block housing asylum seekers in that city. Above the Ruins, on the other hand, revealed similar allegiances when they contributed a track to the National Front benefit album No Surrender vol 1 alongside the Nazi groups Skrewdriver and Brutal Attack. Clearly Above the Ruins were part of the same general movement as those Blood and Honour groups even if their music was just as clearly aimed at a different audience (ie. not the usual Nazi boneheads but those who prefer their racist claptrap served up with a drum machine and some moody synthesiser on the side).

The following two images are stills taken from a 1991 Panorama TV report entitled 'Race Hate UK', an expose of the racist British National Party (BNP). A person who appears to be Gary Smith is filmed marching on a BNP demo through through the East End of London chanting 'Rights for Whites' and giving the Nazi salute to bystanders.

Gary Smith with the BNP

Sieg Heil

As the commentator says, the BNP at that time were an openly racist party concerned explicitly not with nationality but race. In the course of the film barking, swivel-eyed BNP spokesman Richard Edmonds calls for "a final solution to the racial problems in this country". Gary Smith is precisely the kind of person Wakeford worked with and befriended when he was an open fascist.

These days Wakeford claims to have broken with the ideas he held at that time, but refuses to say exactly what those ideas were. In particular he refuses to say whether they included notions, taken in part from Evola, about 'metapolitical fascism', in which openly fascist politics are abandoned in favour of cultural / artistic work aimed at expanding the influence of anti-democratic, traditionalist and fascist ideas, preparing the ground for a future fascist resurgence - and these are the sort of ideas associated with the neo-folk scene and groups such as Wakeford's own Sol Invictus. He certainly seems to have been thinking in that direction at the time, saying at one point that "In the end economics, even politics, doesn't matter and only a living culture can guarantee a people's, a nation's future."1 While I am quite prepared to believe that Wakeford has long ago dropped active membership of the NF (forerunner to the BNP as the party of choice for Britain's racists) the cultural themes he learned during his time with them, as aspects of their ideology ('Eurocentrism', Paganism, etc.) remain central to his work as a musician. 

Another member of Above the Ruins and the original Sol Invictus was Ian Read, a Nazi Odinist who continues to be active with his band Fire + Ice, and who we'll no doubt talk about in future. As Stewart Home has already discussed this period of Wakeford's life at some length, I'll say no more for now other than to comment, first and most obviously, that these images and the film they are taken from offer a close-up view of the kind of world Wakeford immersed himself in before going all 'metapolitical' and obtuse on everyone. The other point concerns the dishonest nature of Wakeford's halting and half-hearted repudiation of his own past. First he denied making music as a fascist at all, then details of his involvement in Above the Ruins began to emerge. He has been known to say that the first incarnation of Sol Invictus was after his association with fascism, but then the evidence emerged that the first Sol Invictus line-up was in fact the same line-up as Above the Ruins, who were clearly identified with the NF through the No Surrender release mentioned above. Not only that but, according to the official version of the story, Wakeford was jettisoned from Death in June when he became a hardcore NF activist, yet a photograph we recently unearthed would seem to suggest that he'd been active for some years in both Death in June and the NF simultaneously before the parting of the ways. Other questions remain: was Wakeford working with David Tibet on the Current 93 album Imperium2 at the same time as he was working with Read and Smith? What role, if any, did Mark Sutherland (Skrewdriver drummer) play in these early bands?

The story keeps on changing. No wonder Wakeford says that he no longer wants to talk about that period: every time he's done so in the past it has turned out later either that he'd lied or had left gaping holes in his story to cover up the extent of his (and other people's?) active involvement in fascist politics. It looks very much as though there may be a lot more to be discovered about the history of Tony Wakeford's fascism and his political relations with other players in the neo-folk 'scene'.


1. Tony Wakeford, Scorpion # 9, Spring 1986, p 31
2. whose title, incidentally, is probably taken from Francis Parker Yockey or (more likely in my opinion) Evola again

Flirting With Hitler

Hat-tip to Idiots Crusade for digging up this old Guardian article from 2002.

Gothic is a way of dressing, a taste in music, a style. But in Germany - at the extreme fringes - it has also become the point at which neo-Nazism and Satanism meet

Manuella and Daniel Ruda
"The prosecutor called it "a picture of cruelty and depravity such as I have never, ever seen". He was describing the scene left behind when Daniel and Manuela Ruda fled from their home in the west German town of Witten in July last year after murdering their friend, Frank Hackert. When police broke in three days later, on July 9, they found a poster of hanged women in the bathroom and a collection of human skulls in the living room. There was a coffin in which 23-year-old Manuela sometimes slept. Blood-stained scalpels were scattered around the house. And then there was Hackert's corpse. He had been stabbed 66 times. A scalpel was lodged in his stomach and a pentagram cut into his skin. Nearby was a list of names. Police believe that they were those of the people the couple intended to kill next.

The Rudas' trial in January provided a stream of outlandish and gruesome details. Much of the focus was on Manuela, who shrank from sunlight and had had two of her teeth replaced with animal fangs to look more like a vampire. She said her initiation into the world of Satanism had taken place at a Gothic club in Islington, London, where she claimed to have met real vampires. "We drank the blood of living people," she told police. On January 31, she was sentenced to 13 years in a secure mental facility, while Daniel was sentenced to 15 years.

While public attention tended to dwell on the way in which Manuela had given life to her sinister fantasies, a more chilling aspect of the case went largely unnoticed: the links between the Rudas and the neo-Nazi movement, links that hint at a much broader - and growing - overlap in Germany between the far right and the broad range of occult and esoteric movements that nowadays go by the generic name of "Gothic" or "Dark Wave".

Among the witnesses at the trial was 28-year-old Frank Lewa. He testified that he had first met Daniel Ruda on the local far right/skinhead scene. Daniel's involvement was more than casual. The regional newspaper, the Rheinische Post, discovered that at the 1998 general election campaign in Germany, Daniel had canvassed for the National-Democratic Party of Germany (NPD), a far right party that the government has since tried to outlaw (the matter is currently before the Constitutional Court).

On the witness stand, Lewa said that after the election Daniel drifted out of the skinhead world and into the Gothic scene. He began listening to "black metal" music, a variant of heavy metal, and at one time played in a band called the Bloodsucking Freaks. It was through a black metal fanzine, in fact, that he met Manuela, after placing an ad that read: "Black-haired vampire seeks princess of darkness who despises everything and everybody and has bidden farewell to life."

Daniel, 26, broke contact with Lewa after a row at a party. Lewa told the court that he had received a letter from his erstwhile friend in July, a few days before the Rudas killed Hackert. In it, Daniel called Lewa a Judas and enclosed a photograph of himself, covered in blood and apparently hanging from hooks in the ceiling. He was pointing two gas pistols at the camera.

When the police finally caught up with Daniel and his wife, on July 12 2001, they were in the east German city of Jena, having previously visited two nearby towns, Sonderhausen and Apold.

The significance of these details would be lost on most Germans, and it appears not to have been remarked upon at the trial. Nevertheless, it would have meant a very great deal to anyone who had studied what has become known as "the case of Satan's Children", in which three schoolboys who lived near Jena were convicted in 1994 of the ritual black magic killing of a classmate.

One of the boys, 16-year-old Hendrik Möbus from Sonderhausen, formed a band while in a juvenile detention centre. Among the tracks on a CD they produced was one called Zyklon B, after the gas used in the Auschwitz gas chambers. Not long after Möbus's release on probation in 1998, he began violating the terms of his parole, roaring out "Sieg Heil" from among the audience at a concert, and attempting to justify the murder for which he had been sentenced on political grounds. "I don't know whether, in the Nazi era, one would have been convicted if one had rendered race vermin harmless," he was quoted as saying.

Germany has legislation making both Holocaust denial and the use of symbols from the Third Reich criminal offences. In 1999, faced with the prospect of another spell in jail for contravening these laws (and thereby breaking the terms of his parole), Möbus fled to the US, where he applied unsuccessfully for political asylum. He is now back behind bars in Germany. His brother, who lives in Apold, runs a black metal label, Darker Than Black.

Daniel Ruda
In the days that followed the murder of Frank Hackert, the Rudas embarked on a kind of pilgrimage to places that in their minds linked the far right and the occult - to Jena, Sonderhausen and Apold. It is possible they planned to do more than visit: on the death list police discovered in the Rudas' flat was the name of the mother of the boy whom Hendrik Möbus and his friends had murdered seven years earlier.

Links between Nazism and esoteric and occult movements are nothing new. Hitler, rejecting Christianity, embraced instead the paganism of the early Germanic tribes. Their beliefs, both real and imagined, offered a basis on which any number of sinister concepts could be superimposed. The process reached its apogee at Schloss Wewelsburg, near the town of Paderborn. Though the present-day castle dates from the late 16th century, records suggest that there has been a fortress on the site since the days of the Huns, more than a thousand years earlier. The surrounding landscape is wooded, often misty, and interspersed with giant, weirdly-shaped rocks. The castle and its environs were ideally suited to the purpose for which Heinrich Himmler rented them in 1934 - that of providing the officers of his elite corps, the SS, with an education in the supposed pagan mysteries underpinning National Socialism.

Though it does not make much of an impact at election time, the far right remains a disturbing undercurrent in German life: sufficiently disturbing for the federal government to have launched an all-out drive against the neo-Nazi fringe two years ago (including the attempt to ban the NPD). "The problem with the far right in Germany is not that its members are particularly numerous, but that they are readier than their counterparts elsewhere in Europe to resort to violence," said a senior intelligence officer who asked not to be named. That point was driven home by a string of savage attacks in early 2000, culminating in the beating to death of a Mozambique-born German citizen in Dessau.

The far right is especially pervasive in the formerly communist east where unemployment is high and where, after the war, there was not the same painful reckoning with the past as in the west. Despite - or perhaps because of - the fact that there are fewer immigrants in the former GDR, surveys also show that racist attitudes are more prevalent there than in the cosmopolitan west.

One possible reason why the degree of support for the far right does not show up in election results is that the most extreme rightwingers will have nothing to do with the democratic process and abstain. This is particularly true of those connected with the so-called Kameradschaften which form a network of mutually independent, neo-Nazi secret societies. Each may have no more than 10 or 15 members, but around them is a wider circle of associates and sympathisers. Indeed, the secretive and hierarchical world of the German far right mirrors that of many occult communities.

On several occasions since the fall of the Third Reich, evidence has surfaced of connections between the far right and Satanism. As in the cases of Hendrik Möbus and Daniel Ruda, however, they have been limited to individuals or, at most, small groups. But in the past five years, an entirely new phenomenon has developed: a mass youth culture in which neo-Nazi ideas and symbols have merged with the Gothic scene.

This movement can be traced back to 1993, when Roland Bubik, widely regarded as the leading thinker of the German extreme right, wrote a seminal article for the magazine Junge Freiheit. Entitled 'Culture as a Question of Power', it argued that "new possibilities for influencing people are arising in the area of communications networks. In particular, the entertainment industry... has an immense influence that until now has gone unremarked." Within a couple of years, Bubik's partner, Simone Satzger, was stating as fact, in a collection of essays edited by Bubik, that the far right's strategy was "to open up contemporary cultural and political phenomena to use them for our own purposes".

Since the mid-1990s, Germany's neo-Nazis have attempted to penetrate several youth scenes, including techno, but it is with Goths that they have had their greatest success. The Gothic movement may be on the wane in Britain and many other countries around Europe, but in Germany, where its adherents are known as Gruftis (from the German word for "crypt"), they constitute a vast group. It is particularly strong in the former GDR. East Germans are still reeling from the fall of communism, and the young in particular seem to be searching for new values to fill the gap left by a creed that was as much a religion as an ideology.

"The concentration of Goths in Germany is much higher than in other European countries," says Stephan Tschendal, who edits an online Gothic magazine. He estimates that between 5% and 7% of all young Germans between the ages of 12 and 25 are Goths, an overall population of at least 650,000. Many of them are doing no more than making a fashion statement, or registering a protest against the drabness and conformity of modern adult life. Devil-worshippers exist only on the extremist fringe. But in two specific areas of the Gothic scene - the areas in which the neo-Nazis have had the greatest success in infiltrating their ideas - Germany's intelligence officers believe there is genuine cause for concern. One of these is "neo-folk"; the other is black metal, the dark variant of heavy metal that so appealed to Daniel Ruda.

In a darkened hall in the centre of Leipzig, blue lights play on the smoke billowing out from under a stage where Darkwood, a three-piece neo-folk band, play placid, lilting, slightly weird music. The band's gig forms part of an annual, three-day Gothic festival, which this year attracted some 17,000 people from all over Europe to Leipzig. Churches in the city that had been asked to host concerts refused to do so, citing the risk that Satanists could assemble on consecrated ground.

About half the crowd at the gig are typical Goths, but the rest look as if they have wandered in from a Nuremberg rally. There are men wearing high, heavy boots and black military-style shirts and trousers. There are women, also wearing boots, with calf-length skirts and white shirts with a symbol on the right arm that resembles a badge of rank. Everywhere, there are leather cross-straps, forage caps and 1930s-style shorts.

As its name implies, neo-folk draws on the musical heritage of Bob Dylan, Joan Baez and other protest singers of the 1960s and 1970s. Some German groups dig further back into the past, updating and reworking traditional folk tunes. The acoustic guitar is central to its music, which also features flutes, cellos and violins. Yet neo-folk is anything but folksy. Punk has had an influence on its evolution and much of the music could be described as industrial. Unusually extensive percussion sets are typical of the genre. Another characteristic is that gentle melody-making can all of a sudden give way to something much more visceral: the lead singer of Darkwood seized hold of a pair of heavy drumsticks and beat out an intimidating tattoo on a bass drum. It was like Japanese Kodo drumming, but with the rhythms of a Prussian parade ground. The drumming rose in a crescendo, then ended as abruptly as it had begun, prompting the loudest cheers of the night.

The Leipzig festival was launched in 1991, soon after German reunification, and has helped turn the city into the Gothic capital of Europe. Like neo-Nazis, Goths are drawn to its Volkerschlachtdenkmal, one of the strangest and most intimidating monuments to be found anywhere in Europe. A vast, stepped pyramid towering over a lake on the wooded fringes of the city, it resembles a Mayan temple. The Volkerschlachtdenkmal was inaugurated in 1913 to commemorate the defeat of Napoleon at the battle of Leipzig 100 years earlier. But since German reunification, it has become a favoured rallying point for the far right.

The pivotal figure on Leipzig's neo-folk scene is a 29-year-old DJ who goes by the name of Mortanius. He denies that neo-folk has anything to do with extreme-right politics. "These groups use language and symbols both from the Nazi era and the days of the GDR to provoke people, to get people to think - think about their past," he told me. "People from the far right scene don't feel comfortable in this environment. We never see skinheads at our gigs or in our clubs. On the contrary, we have problems with them. I won't say you don't see people from the extreme right or that they aren't trying to infiltrate. The attempt is certainly there. But it is doomed to fail because people can think for themselves. We have a generally left-leaning audience."

Less than an hour after meeting Mortanius, I found myself in a shabby room with four Goths, three young men and a woman, who had agreed to be interviewed on condition of anonymity. One of the men had a partly shaven head and a pigtail, and was wearing a black shirt, camouflage trousers, military boots and a symbol dangling on his chest that managed to combine a Celtic cross, a human skull, an eagle's wings, two entwined snakes and a pentagram. His girlfriend had a spiked collar around her neck and a dog's lead dangling between her breasts. At one point, we fell to discussing what he called "youth Satanism". "It starts with the moving glass and then they go on to animal sacrifice," he said nonchalantly, and apparently knowledgeably.

When I read out Mortanius's description of the local neo-folk scene and its lack of connection to the far right, all four burst into incredulous laughter.

Solveig Prass, the Leipzig social worker who had set up our meeting, asked me if Mortanius had been wearing any badges when I met him; had I noticed that one of them was the so-called "Black Sun"? A pagan fertility symbol, the Black Sun is known to have been used by the Alemans, a third-century Germanic tribe. Each of its 12 "rays" is the rune meaning "sun". According to Dr Rudiger Sunner, author of a recent book on Nazism and its use of myth, the Black Sun is "definitely a sign of the SS". Himmler fashioned the SS emblem from one of the Black Sun's 12 jagged "rays", and a large Black Sun was set into the floor of the Obergruppenführer's Hall in Schloss Wewelsburg, immediately above the crypt.

Mortanius was in fact wearing three badges, including the pagan Black Sun: he argues that "our symbols... don't really have anything to do with the Third Reich".

How close, really, are the links between Gothic - or, specifically, neo-folk - culture and the German far right? Unquestionably, there is an element of sheer, apolitical mischief: it is not easy for the sons and daughters of the generation of 1968 to find a way of shocking their parents, but dressing up in vaguely neo-Nazi garb should do the trick. "I want to stand out from the crowd of normal Dark Wave folk," Mortanius told me. "I don't want to be an ordinary Goth in the street. I want to provoke people."

The organisation charged with protecting Germany from a Nazi revival is the Verfassungsschutz, a body roughly equivalent to Britain's MI5. Reinhard Boos is its director in Saxony, the state in which Leipzig lies, and so has a special interest in gauging the threat posed by far right penetration of the Gothic scene. When I visit him in his office in a leafy Dresden suburb, he produces a couple of CD covers and lays them on his desk. One is an album by the British band Death In June, which shows four dogs' heads arranged at right angles. Half-close your eyes and they become a swastika. The other CD is by the Austrian band Der Blutharsch. Tip it, and a shiny patch on the inside cover becomes a triangle containing the jagged ray of... what? The SS symbol? Or the sun rune? Is this merely provocation, or evidence of a link between extremist politics and neo-folk music?

"I think the truth is in between," says Boos. "The Gothic scene is not to be confused with rightwing extremism. But there are some groups that use symbols which refer to rightwing extremism and they do it mainly for provocation. Very, very few of them do it to support rightwing groups. On the other hand, the rightwing extremists know that there are people who can be useful to them, so some of them try to win them over for their own aims. It is not a plan by a few [people] that is carried out in a clear, structured way. Those who think it is a good idea do so of their own accord."

"Things are not going well for the far right," argues Wolfgang Hund, an educational scientist and the author of several books on the occult. "They are under pressure from all sides and they are looking for allies... They are looking for foot soldiers in the ranks of disoriented youth - human raw material for any Pied Piper who comes along."

One of the young men I met in Leipzig was about as different from the far right stereotype as could be imagined. His jet-black hair was shaved away on one side of his head and hung lank down the other. He was wearing a black velvet tailcoat, a silver pentagram on a chain around his neck, five rings in one ear, and sunglasses. This apparently typical Goth was in the process of trying to free himself from the neo-Nazi scene.

"My first contact was through a member of the NPD," he said. "It was all very low key at first. We went to some concerts [of neo-Nazi bands] and I liked the music they played. Then I started getting flyers and leaflets. Eventually, I began to help distribute them." He decided to leave after a row over money ended in his being badly beaten.

Such cases notwithstanding, Boos believes that recruitment is not, in fact, the far right's primary aim. The threat posed by the infiltration of the Gothic scene is, he believes, subtler. "We take it seriously because it opens people's heads to extreme rightwing thought."

Solveig Prass and her colleagues in Leipzig, who talk regularly to DJs and others, have been keeping a running estimate of how much of the Goth scene is under the influence of the far right."The link was first noticed in the mid-1990s. At that time, it was estimated that the overlap was about 5%. Two years ago, we put it at 7-8%. Now, our estimate is 9%." Alfred Schobert, a lecturer at the Duisberg Institute of Language and Social Research, took a similar view in his 1998 academic investigation into the infiltration of the Gothic scene by the far right. "It is not about recruiting in the short term. It is about [producing] an overall reversal that picks up on and distorts the prevailing mood."

Through the Gothic scene, the far right can obtain access to the minds of hundreds of thousands of young people throughout Europe. If they can be taught to accept certain beliefs and symbols as normal, then the extreme right will have made significant progress towards achieving what Schobert argues is a key, medium-term goal: "The removal of the taboos that attach to Nazi symbols and racist-nationalist ideology"."

John Hooper
The Guardian, Saturday 16 November 2002
 Additional research by Beate Steinhorst




1. "a Gothic club in Islington", I assume is the Slimelight Club, which has hosted concerts by, among others, Boyd Rice

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Susan Sontag on Fascist Aesthetics

Fascist aesthetics... flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain; they endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude. The relations of domination and enslavement take the form of a characteristic pageantry: the massing of groups of people; the turning of people into things; the multiplication or replication of things; and the grouping of people/things around an all-powerful, hypnotic leader-figure or force. The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets, uniformly garbed and shown in ever swelling numbers. Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, 'virile' posing. Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death.
(...)
What is interesting about the relation between politics and art under National Socialism is not that art was subordinated to political needs... but that politics appropriated the rhetoric of art—art in its late romantic phase.< ... Nazi art is both prurient and idealizing. A utopian aesthetics (physical perfection; identity as a biological given) implies an ideal eroticism: sexuality converted into the magnetism of leaders and the joy of followers. The fascist ideal is to transform sexual energy into a 'spiritual' force, for the benefit of the community. The erotic (that is, women) is always present as a temptation, with the most admirable response being a heroic repression of the sexual impulse... Fascist aesthetics is based on the containment of vital forces; movements are confined, held tight, held in.
(...)
Boyd Rice - the limits
of the sexual imagination
There is a general fantasy about uniforms. They suggest community, order, identity (through ranks, badges, medals, things which declare who the wearer is and what he has done: his worth is recognized), competence, legitimate authority, the legitimate exercise of violence. But... why the SS? Because the SS was the ideal incarnation of fascism's overt assertion of the righteousness of violence, the right to have total power over others and to treat them as absolutely inferior. It was in the SS that this assertion seemed most complete, because they acted it out in a singularly brutal and efficient manner; and because they dramatized it by linking themselves to certain aesthetic standards. The SS was designed as an elite military community that would be not only supremely violent but also supremely beautiful (... The SA, whom the SS replaced, were not known for being any less brutal than their successors, but they have gone down in history as beefy, squat, beerhall types; mere brownshirts.)
(...)
Why has Nazi Germany, which was a sexually repressive society, become erotic? How could a regime which persecuted homosexuals become a gay turn-on?

A clue lies in the predilections of the fascist leaders themselves for sexual metaphors. Like Nietzsche and Wagner, Hitler regarded leadership as sexual mastery of the 'feminine' masses, as rape. (The expression of the crowds in Triumph of the Will is one of ecstasy; the leader makes the crowd come.) Left-wing movements have tended to be unisex, and asexual in their imagery. Right-wing movements, however puritanical and repressive the realities they usher in, have an erotic surface. Certainly Nazism is 'sexier' than communism (which is not to the Nazis' credit, but rather shows something of the nature and limits of the sexual imagination).

Susan Sontag, Fascinating Fascism , New York Review of Books, February 6, 1975. Republished in Under the Sign of Saturn, (New York, 1980), pp. 73-105.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Tony Wakeford on Manoeuvres

Tony Wakeford (Death in June / Sol Invictus) with the National Front in Brick Lane
Tony Wakeford (left) with Ian Anderson (right) and the NF on Brick Lane, London, 29th Aug 1982 
© David Hoffman, Hoffmanphotos
You can read elsewhere about Tony Wakeford (Death in June, Sol Invictus), his membership of the National Front (NF) and his association with Nazi boneheads like Ian Stuart and Nicky Crane. Wakeford likes to boast privately that he was handy with his fists... and his teeth (he's rumored to have once tried to bite off someone's thumb). Along the way he picked up a charge for GBH or ABH, but the details remain obscure because Wakeford, having publicly repudiated his time as an organised Nazi, still refuses to come clean about what he was up to and who he was involved with.

This picture appears to show Wakeford (on the left) at an NF stall in London's Brick Lane in 1982, campaigning for Ian Anderson (right), who went on to lead the party. For many years Brick Lane, in London's East End, has been at the heart of the city's Bangladeshi-Sylheti community, and for a long time in the late 70s and 80s it was a regular haunt of the NF, who pitched up there to intimidate the locals. As a result the area became notorious for racist attacks on local Asians.

In May 1978 a local man, Altab Ali, was murdered in a racially motivated attack - the park at the southern end of the lane is now named after him - and as a result there were demonstrations against the NF and the beginnings of a powerful movement of local opposition and organisation against them. These events also led to the formation of Rock Against Racism and the Anti-Nazi League. As an iconic symbol of the Bangladeshi community's resistance to the fascists Brick Lane was later also one of three sites targeted in 1999 by David Copeland, the 'London Nail Bomber', who had been a member of both the British National Party (BNP) and the National Socialist Movement. Copeland's bombs killed three people, including a pregnant woman, and injured 129, four of whom lost limbs

For a long time in the late 70s and the 80s Brick Lane was the site of pitched battles between fascists and a combination of locals and anti-fascists, who made it a priority to drive the Nazis from the area. In that case, Wakeford was almost certainly there on the day this picture was taken in order to confront the local opposition, and as some kind of bodyguard for Anderson. The significance of the picture is that it shows that Wakeford was much more than a fellow traveller of the NF with a vague interest in 'European traditions', as he likes to put it these days - he was an activist and a fascist street fighter. And as Wakeford did not leave Death in June until 1984 it also shows that Doug Pearce spent a good two years working alongside this fascist activist before ditching him.

If anyone has more information about the goons pictured above, the occasion for the stall being there, or about Wakeford's time in the NF generally, let us know at the address above. Note that it's possible that during his time in the NF Wakeford went by an alias - 'Dave Waters' has been mentioned.

Notes

The character seated at the desk looks as though it could be Ken Walsh, a long-time East End fascist activist who later stood as a BNP candidate, thus creating a rift with then BNP allies Combat 18, who judged that a party of 'morals' perhaps shouldn't be promoting a candidate who spoke so openly and enthusiastically about his sex-tourism in Thailand. Walsh was one of the organisers of a march celebrating the murder of Stephen Lawrence, killed by racist thugs in South London in April 1993.


Thanks to David Hoffman for the use of the photograph

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Peter Webb Investigates

In an earlier post I said of sociologist and Goldsmiths lecturer Peter Webb that "he is either unwilling or unable to do the work required to comprehend his chosen field". I think I owe it to Webb to bear that opinion out by looking more closely at his work. In a section of the book that concerns us, Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures, he discusses the 'apocalyptic folk, postindustrial, folk-noir, neo-folk' scene through the work of the three core members of the group Death in June - Tony Wakeford, Doug Pearce and Patrick Leagas - who, he tells us, have been "central to the developing British underground and postindustrial/post-Punk milieu"1. Webb is well aware of the controversy surrounding these musicians due to their use of fascist imagery and symbols2, and their promotion of arguments associated with various strands of contemporary esoteric fascist and 'conservative revolutionary' thought derived from Ernst Jünger, Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, Otto and Gregor Strasser and others. He knows that Wakeford was a member of the fascist National Front, and he certainly should know of the fascist connections of some of the group's collaborators, such as Boyd Rice, Albin Julius and Michael Moynihan, since they have been widely publicised. Given this, what is staggering is the extent to which he accepts their excuses and evasions at face value and refuses in any way to critically examine the ideas they promote, or place them in a context that would make sense of them. Instead of challenging any of this he chooses to descend into the gutter with his heroes to join them in condemning the 'fascistic censoriousness' and 'McCarthyism' of the left3. The result is a complete whitewashing of the people concerned, and the corresponding destruction of any credibility Webb might have had as a researcher or commentator.

In his chapter on method ('The Theoretical Development of the Milieu'4) Webb says that his concept of 'the milieu' addresses "the networks of interaction, production and influence that music makers and actors in the particular music 'scenes' (are) involved in [and] articulates a set of overlapping levels of meaning, relevance, disposition and understanding"5. He argues that "there are three main levels of theoretical abstraction" that must be addressed in order to understand a milieu6, encompassing three sets of relations; those internal to the milieu itself, those between different milieus and different orders of milieu (specifically in this case, between the musical milieu and the record industry), and a third level of interaction between the milieu and the surrounding "culture, economy and politics"7. Anyone reading the latter might imagine that Webb would therefore want to examine - to pick some minor examples at random - what Patrick Leagas means when he says he has a "sense of being English" despite the fact that "I do not recognise this as England"8, or perhaps Doug Pearce's claim to have been part of a "reawakening of... Eurocentrism" in the milieu9, or any of the many similar statements that litter the interviews here.

Webb repeatedly mentions the group's interest in 'traditionalism'10 without bothering to find out if this might refer not to a vague hankering after Morris Dancers and cricket on the village lawn but rather the traditionalism of René Guénon and the 'super-fascist' Julius Evola11 - who's work, after all, has been edited and published by a key collaborator of the group, Michael Moynihan (of Blood Axis), who is mentioned repeatedly in the book12 and whose connection to Evola is even noted13. Similarly you'd expect that he might be interested to know whether the group's interest in "occult influences in the social and cultural order"14 might possibly be connected with Evola's idea that an occult war is being waged for control of society, in which Jews and Masons work for the "forces of subversion" seeking to overthrow the "forces of order"15. According to Evola this plan was revealed in The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the infamous anti-Semitic tract for which he wrote an introduction when it was published in Italian in 1937, and the veracity of which he continued to defend long after it had been exposed as a forgery16 cooked up by the Czarist secret police. Since Evola's arguments on the matter are taken from a book edited and published by Moynihan there is every chance that this is precisely what was intended, but Webb is in no hurry to find out. Indeed, Webb seems not even to be curious about the politics involved: his bibliography lists none of the relevant texts by or about the fascist ideologues who have inspired so many members of this 'scene'.

Despite the constant use by the group of dog-whistle references to ideas from the radical right17, Webb consistently steers clear of any attempt to find out what the members of Death in June and their friends actually think. In fact, if we are to believe Webb his subjects have few real opinions18. Instead they seem to suffer from an incurable case of chronic ideological indeterminacy which prevents them from concluding anything at all; they are forever 'exploring' and 'investigating', apparently without arriving at any definite convictions. So, his musicians have "a thirst for esoteric knowledge, and an art of self-questioning and soul searching"19; they 'deal with' "the traditions of Europe"20 and 'allude to' "paganism, heathenism, Europe, the West"21; they have "explored and looked at a variety of philosophies and pagan knowledges"22 and "sought out ideas and ways of understanding"23; they are "searching for something else"24; they 'take inspiration' "from a wide variety of sources and (show) "their thirst for knowledge and new ways of interpreting things"25; and the neo-folk milieu as a whole has created a space in which "a variety of ideas can be explored and developed"26. But it is impossible to imagine how any idea could be 'developed' if everyone involved in its development refused to say what they thought of it, how they interpreted it, or whether they believed it to be true. But, again, Webb puts his blind eye up to the glass and refuses to see.

To some small extent this dereliction of duty simply reflects Webb's declared methodology. In an early chapter ('A Journey Through Theories of the Intersection of Music and Culture'27) he offers a potted overview of the history of popular culture studies in which, broadly, the (pseudo-) Marxism of Dick Hebdige and the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) is given a rap on the knuckles for placing undue emphasis on structure above agency, and a string of post-modernists are wheeled out to make a case for privileging instead "the subjective meanings of subculturalists rather than deriving these from a pre-given totalising theory"28. While I have no interest in the minutia of such debates within the sociology department, it's clear from Webb's arguments that he simply wants to justify his preferred approach, in which he can tell his story from an insider's point of view, as a fan of the genre, its cod philosophy, kitsch aesthetics and atavistic politics. To some extent, then, the problem is that Webb, in his enthusiasm to paint himself as the hippest and most edgy sociologist in town29, has simply 'gone native'. His 'phenomenological' approach is solipsistic, allowing him to seal off his favourite musicians from even the possibility of criticism. This is hinted at in the tendentious example he provides of a 'momentary milieu', in which someone from "a Socialist background", on meeting a Nationalist, may "respond with disdain and contempt", in which case their "momentary exposure to this other political milieu is... fenced off by the rigidity of his or her particular political vision"30.

This relativism is mirrored by a corresponding blurring of moral lines. At one point he considers the lyrics to the Death in June track 'C'est un Reve' (It's a Dream):
Ou est Klaus Barbie?
Il est dans le coeur
Il est dans le coeur noir

Liberté
c'est un reve
Webb concludes that Barbie (an SS captain in occupied France known as 'The Butcher of Lyon', who personally tortured his victims and had as many as 4,000 murdered) is to be found "in the heart" of everyone31; a repulsive argument which attempts to capsize the moral distinction to be made between Barbie and his victims32. Webb offers this as an example of "the direction of Death in June's art" which works to "enliven, question, re-examine and provoke a response"33. Certainly  arguments like this are going to 'provoke a response', if only because they are so repellant, but that hardly justifies the art. If it did then we would have to be similarly grateful to Barbie himself for also 'making us think'.

Another gear in Webb's machinery of obfuscation is his idealist concept of art. For Webb the aesthetic is a privileged domain in which no one needs to say what they think or be held responsible for the results. He claims that the racists and fascists who attend neo-folk concerts have "taken the symbols and references... directly and uncomplicatedly", not understanding that the bands are using them "for artistic purposes"34, as if the re-presentation of an idea in the context of a song somehow means we can ignore its meaning or the intentions of the singer. Of course a song can express opinions on behalf of a character other than the singer, but in the case of Death in June the two may often coincide. If we were to rely on Webb we would never know: he might have tried to find out one way or the other, but instead he uses the idea of 'artistic ambiguity' to avoid the question. Similar feelings about the sublimity of art are common among those postindustrial fans who claim they are interested in 'the aesthetics of fascism' but not the politics, ignoring the fact that, as the anti-fascist critic Walter Benjamin argued, fascism crucially involves precisely the admixing of aesthetics and politics, such that the two cannot be so neatly separated35.

Webb relies extensively on his half-baked notion of 'ambiguity' to provide cover for his pop idols. Of course such ambiguity can be central to the artwork, but it can also provide the perfect cover for supporters of the radical right pursuing a strategy of 'right-wing Gramscianism'. This strategy has been developed by Alain de Benoist and other supporters of the Nouvelle Droite / European New Right (ENR), whose ideas chime neatly not only with the 'third way' faction of the NF that Wakeford mixed with but also with the positions defended by him to this day. As Anton Shekhovtsov has explained, the aim of the strategy is;

"to modify the dominant culture and make it more susceptible to a non-democratic mode of politics... the adherents of the ENR believe that one day the allegedly decadent era of egalitarianism and cosmopolitanism will give way to ‘an entirely new culture based on organic, hierarchical, supra-individual, heroic values’. It is important to emphasize, however, that ‘metapolitical fascism’ focuses... on the battle for hearts and minds rather than for immediate political power. Following Evola’s precepts, the ENR tries to distance itself from both historical and contemporary fascist parties and regimes."36
Webb notes that Death in June "deliberately were ambiguous about any political meaning that they might be conveying"37, but fails to register that if someone dresses up on stage as a fascist and sings songs promoting fascist ideas while waving a fascist flag around, but then denies being a fascist, what they are engaged in is not ambiguity but subterfuge. He notes that "this milieu acts as a source of pathways into a set of... ideas"38 but refuses to consider what those ideas might actually be behind the blabber and smoke.

If that were all there were to it this book would be just another example of the vacuity of academic sociology, the impotence of postmodernism and the dangers of letting a fanboy loose in the academy. But Webb's self-imposed myopia becomes a shade more sinister when you consider the gaping aporias he leaves scattered around his text so that his boys can emerge from it unsullied. For instance, in telling the story of the group's origins he omits to mention that their name commemorates the 'Night of the Long Knives', in June 1934, when the Nazi regime executed the leadership of the Sturmabteilung (SA - The Stormtroopers, or Brownshirts), including Gregor Strasser, a major influence on sections of the National Front with which Tony Wakeford has been associated. This event, in which the Nazi leadership dispatched the left-facing wing of their movement, was also known as Operation Hummingbird, which also happens to be the title of an album the group recorded with Albin Julius, whose band, Der Blutharsch have been banned from playing in Israel and elsewhere because of their stance. Such coincidences are certainly going make the audience think; unless, of course, they are sociologists or phenomenologists from Goldsmiths University.

Webb discusses Crisis at some length, since they were the band Wakeford and Pearce belonged to back in the days when they were, respectively, members of the Socialist Wokers Party (SWP) and International Marxist Group (IMG). Strangely, though, he has nothing to say about the group Wakeford formed on leaving Death in June - Above the Ruins - whose members reputedly (Wakeford will neither confirm nor deny) included Gary Smith, previously of the openly Nazi band No Remorse (who were part of Ian Stuart's Blood and Honor organisation and also, co-incidentally, recorded an album that referred to the Brownshirts; The New Stormtroopers) and Nazi activist Ian Read. The band contributed a track to an a album, No Surrender, which was produced as a fundraiser for the British National Front, and which included a track by Skrewdriver, the first and most notorious White Power band, and their name is presumably derived from the title of Evola's book, 'Men Among the Ruins'. None of this gets a mention from Webb. Perhaps Wakeford himself never mentioned the band or its members to him. This is possible, since Wakeford has admitted lying to and misleading interviewers in the past (on preparing for a particular interview he says "I better dig out my bumper book of fibs"39), but then such evasions could be got around by a little independent research. But it seems that Webb has no interest in doing such research, preferring to base his work entirely on the say-so of his subjects - in the name of 'phenomenology'.

Similarly, when Webb discusses Wakeford's involvement in the online fanzine Flux Europa he tells us that the magazine "discussed postmodernism, art, literature, philosophy, film and music", reassuring us that "the content was diverse". He proves this by mentioning the articles it contained "on Camille Paglia, Jack London and Ezra Pound"40. What Webb conspicuously fails to mention is that, as reported by Stewart Home, Flux Europa was an extension of the cultural activities of Transeuropa, which itself emerged from the wreckage of National Front cultural-intellectual group IONA (Islands of the North Atlantic) - both organisations that Wakeford has had some involvement with. And - a tiny detail but one that is highly revealing - while Webb mentions Camille Paglia, Ezra Pound and Jack London as artists about whom Flux Eropa had published articles, what he omits to mention is that they are among a small group of people who are included under the site's 'Personae' section, which is presumably how Webb came to choose them in the first place, and at the time Webb was doing his research that section contained biographies of just two other people; the Vorticist and fascist supporter Wyndham Lewis, and Ernst Jünger, the German Nationalist fanatic who celebrated war, death and pain, and whose Stirnerian concept of the sovereign individual as 'Anarch' has inspired subsequent generations of radical rightists and neo-fascists - including Troy Southgate of the neo-folk band H.E.R.R. In an act of blatant self-censorship, Webb chooses not to mention these names. Of course, if he wanted to exclude all of the fascist supporters on the list then he'd have omitted to mention Ezra Pound too - but that wouldn't have left him with much of a list.

Another curious omission concerns Death in June's album Rose Clouds of Holocaust, which was banned from sale in Germany by the Bundesprüfstelle für jugendgefährdende Medien (Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young People), who found that the title song cast doubt on the occurrence of the Holocaust on account of lyrics that run "Rose clouds of Holocaust/ Rose clouds of lies/ Rose clouds of bitter/ Bitter, bitter lies"41. As we have now come to expect, none of this is mentioned by Webb.

Boyd Rice
Webb applies his now familiar uncritical and tendentious attitude to Wakeford's supposed renunciation of his fascist past, hastily posted to the Sol Invictus website when the heat was beginning to be turned up on him, and which is worded so ambiguously as to convince me that he still holds to at least some of the core ideas he learned as a member of the National Front (NF). He says; "I have no connection with, or sympathy for, or interest in [the ideas of the NF], nor have I had for around 20 years"42, but then that would be true of other ex-members who also moved on to more diverse forms of radical rightist politics since that party's collapse. When Wakeford adds that "none of the artists I work with hold such views either" you know that he is throwing sand in your face given that he has worked with the likes of Boyd Rice, who is quite happy to promote the white power skinhead party, the American Front, appearing in full Nazi uniform alongside its leader, Bob Heick. Webb, on the other hand, accepts the statement as definitive proof that Wakeford has nothing to answer for. Stranger still, he continues to believe Wakeford's reassurances despite having been shown to have been misled by him. As Stewart Home has argued, Wakeford's attempt at rehabilitating himself falls a long way short of what you would expect from someone who had truly broken with their fascist past.

Apart from covering up for this gaggle of neo-fascists Webb has little or nothing of interest to say about the milieu or its art. His analysis of the music on offer would make even the the most lazy and inept music hack blush. Generally all he can muster is the observation that the music is 'melancholic': so Nico made "intense melancholic music"43; Scott Walker's work combines "simple melody... with the melancholy of the words"44; Death in June are attracted to "melancholic poetry"45 and their work is pervaded by "a type of melancholia"; neo-folk has added "melancholia" to industrial music46, and so on. It never occurs to him to ask what the artists are melancholic about. He doesn't bother to speculate about why folk music, which idealises the pre-capitalist past, should be so appealing to his subjects. His attempts at analysing the use of collage in art are laughable: he  manages to compare Death in June's deliberately evasive and dishonest jumble of fascist iconography with John Heartfield's superbly pointed and polemical anti-Nazi collages47, and he thinks that what Death in June do "is like a more structured version of William Burroughs and Brian (sic) Gysin's cut up method" adding "(reference needed here)"48. Indeed, a reference is the very least that would be required to make this argument get off the mortuary table - it's like saying that a car maintenance manual 'is like a more structured version' of an exploding library.

Peter Webb has written a book which deals with a milieu that is riddled with neo-fascists and supporters of the radical right. He claims that he wants to explain the milieu by considering the relationship between it and the wider 'culture, economy and politics', and admits that "there are many questions [concerning] the political and cultural implications of a scene such as this", but he finally concludes that "These questions are outside of the remit of this book"49. To the rest of us this looks like exactly what it is; an attempt to justify an utterly craven and dishonest book that fails to meet even the most minimal academic or intellectual standards.


NB. Peter Webb subsequently replied to these criticisms in a statement that we have also published - Strelnikov, 11/10/10

Evola, Julius. 1953. Men Among the Ruins: Post-War Reflections of a Radical Traditionalist, (2002: tr. Guido Stucco, ed. Michael Moynihan, Inner Traditions, Rochester NY)
Shekhovtsov, Anton. 2009, Apoliteic Music: Neo-Folk, Martial Industrial and “Metapolitical Fascism"’, in Patterns of Prejudice, Volume 43, Issue 5 (December 2009), pp. 431-457. This excellent essay is also available online.
Sykes, Alan. 2005. The Radical Right in Britain, Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Webb, Peter. 2007. Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures, Routledge, Abbingdon.


1. Webb, 2007, p65
2. ibid, pp93f
3. ibid, pp94f. In an extraordinary page-long digression from his thesis, he also claims that these 'fascistic tendencies' are also behind the hounding of former members of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP), who we must assume are his former comrades since I see no other justification for his dragging in them into the argument at this point.
4. ibid, pp29-38
5. ibid, p30
6. ibid, p37
7. ibid, p38
8. ibid, p96
9. ibid, p97
10. ibid, pp 98, 99, 105
11. Evola, Julius. 'Things Put in Their Proper Place and Some Plain Words', in La Torre, issue #5, April 1930, quoted in H.T.Hansen, 'Introduction', Evola, 2002, p42. Here Evola explains that he is an 'anti-fascist', critical of Mussolini and Hitler, only to the extent that he is a 'super-fascist' and wants to go much further.
12. Webb, 2007, pp 66, 67
13. ibid, p92
14. ibid, p97
15. Evola, 2002, p236
16. ibid, p239f
17. My use of the terms 'fascist', 'revolutionary conservative' and 'the radical right' is sometimes fairly loose since with many of the people concerned it is hard to say exactly where they stand in the spectrum of ultra-right thought. But I follow Alan Sykes in seeing the 'radical right' as a term that encompasses fascism. I also include within this the 'traditionalism' of Evola and others, as well as movements that could be described as 'reactionary modernist', 'radical imperialist' or similar. Sykes, 2005, p2.
18. Although in the case of Patrick Leagas this may well be true, since he admits that "coming to a conclusion about anything at all is beyond me!". Webb, 2007, p81
19. Webb, 2007, p66
20. ibid, p68
21. ibid, p68
22. ibid, p81
23. ibid, p85
24. ibid, p85
25. ibid, p89
26. ibid, p105
27. ibid, pp11-28
28. ibid, p21
29. "This book has been inspired by a love of popular music for over three decades", ibid, p7
30. ibid, p30-31 
31. ibid, p79
32. In April 1944 Barbie ordered the deportation to Auschwitz of a group of 44 Jewish children from an orphanage at Izieu. He was also responsible for a massacre in Rehaupal in September 1944. See Wikipedia.
33. Webb, 2007, p79
34. ibid, p92
35. Walter Benjamin, 'Epilogue', 'The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction'
36. Shekhovtsov, 2009. Apoliteic Music
37. Webb, 2007, p76
38. ibid, p105
39. Wakeford, Sol Invictus profile, Facebook, 26 July 2008
40. Webb, 2007, p89
41. Shekhovtsov, 2009. Apoliteic Music, note #6.
42. Wakeford, 'A Message From Tony', tursa.com 14 Feb 2007
43. Webb, 2007, p61
44. ibid, p62
45. ibid, p98
46. ibid, p105
47. ibid, p93
48. ibid, p78
49. ibid, p105

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Just When You Thought You'd Forgotten About the RCP: Peter Webb on Milieu Cultures

Peter Webb is a lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths University and a founder of the ridiculous, posturing Industrialised Culture Research Network blog (ICRN)1. He also wrote the book Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures (2007)2. Stewart Home has already exposed the extent of the intellectual decomposition embodied in this work, in which Webb features as a love-struck fanboy happy to accept anything uttered by his subjects without bringing critical intelligence to bear on it; he is either unwilling or unable to do the work required to comprehend his chosen field. When Webb and/or his ICRN cronies piped up to whine about censorship and persecution - and isn't it peculiar how those with an obvious hard-on for martial values are so easily rattled by the slightest criticism - Home probed further.

No doubt we'll be hearing plenty more about Webb in future, since he not only embodies the kind of generic sycophancy that provides cover for the neo-fascist goons who operate in the milieus he is concerned with, but also perhaps lends those arguments some small authority by virtue of his position. He advances his career simply by having one foot in academia and the other in various 'milieu cultures'. The bands he sucks up to are happy because he lends them academic respectability; he himself gets to write about and meet his heroes; while his college bosses get to imagine (in a predictably dreary post-modernist way) that they are up to speed with stirrings even on the outer fringes of popular culture. His work is not critically informed, if it has any value at all it is only as intelligence for marketing agencies that need to be 'hip' to the latest 'trends' so as to sell into them: one man's niche culture is another's niche market.

Here I want to extend Home's critique in only one small detail, to pick up on how Webb deals with the issue of censorship by dragging the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) into the argument. Back in the 80s the RCP were widely tagged 'the Elephant Men of the left', and were notorious for taking reactionary positions so that they could claim that the rest of the left were 'complacent', differentiating themselves so sharply from everyone else that it was often impossible to tell them apart from their supposed enemies on the right. So, for example, they opposed the call for sanctions against apartheid South Africa; they supported the calls for a national ballot in the Miner's strike, which would inevitably have seen the strike immediately collapse; and they argued that there was "no good evidence that AIDS is likely to spread rapidly among heterosexuals in the West"3, and therefore that the left was succumbing to a reactionary 'moral panic' in taking the matter seriously. Now, you may or may not agree with those particular positions; the point is that there was a definite method at work in which they covered reactionary positions with left wing rhetoric. I am told (but can't confirm) that Webb was at one time a member of the RCP. If so it would at least explain how it is that he so casually reaches for their arguments when he needs to provide left cover for a reactionary position; if he no longer accepts all of the positions they defended he at least shows that he remembers some of their gymnastic techniques.

In the relevant section of his book Webb repeats the (laughably hypocritical) claims by Doug P (of Death in June - again, more about him in future) that the left are censorious because some of them have campaigned against his band and others they consider to be spreading fascist ideologies as part of a strategy of 'right Gramscianism', calling (with occasional success) for their gigs to be shut down. Webb proceeds by explaining that the RCP opposed this 'no platform for fascists' policy, and tops off his concoction by quoting RCP leader Frank Furedi speaking about the "fascism of the left"4. In other words, he uses the arguments of the RCP to argue that the left are 'fascist', and then contrasts this to the open-mindedness of libertarians, and puts his heroes in this latter camp because - surprise, surprise - they don't like to be 'censored'. In short, in this instance he doesn't just provide cover for the fascists out there; he implies that the real problem is those who oppose fascism.

It turns out that those dancing around at gigs in fascist-style uniforms, waving Cetic Cross and Totenkopf symbols on their flags, and singing hymns to fascist ideologues probably aren't fascists, but the people who oppose them tendentially are. So, at the end of all this teenage huffing and puffing, Doug P et al. finally emerge somehow as proto-typical heroes in the struggle against... fascism!

At this point further comment is probably superfluous - but if this is what passes for academic research these days then academia is a busted flush. Certainly it raises the question as to how naive and uncritical schoolyard 'analysis' like this could ever get published.

1. Use Google if you really need to find out
2. Webb, 2007, Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music: Milieu Cultures, Routledge, London.
3. Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan, 1988, The Truth About the AIDS Panic, Junius, London.
4. Webb, 2007, p95.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Adorno: Theses on Occultism

I. The tendency to occultism is a symptom of regression in consciousness. This has lost the power to think the unconditional and to endure the conditional. Instead of defining both, in their unity and difference, by conceptual labour, it mixes them indiscriminately. The unconditional becomes fact, the conditional an immediate essence. Monotheism is decomposing into a second mythology. "I believe in astrology because I do not believe in God", one participant in an American socio-psychological investigation answered. Judicious reason, that had elevated itself to the notion of one God, seems ensnared in his fall. Spirit is dissociated into spirits and thereby forfeits the power to recognize that they do not exist. The veiled tendency of society towards disaster lulls its victims in a false revelation, with a hallucinated phenomenon. In vain they hope in its fragmented blatancy to look their total doom in the eye and withstand it. Panic breaks once again, after millennia of enlightenment, over a humanity whose control of nature as control of men far exceeds in horror anything men ever had to fear from nature.

II. The second mythology is more untrue than the first. The latter was the precipitate of the state of knowledge of successive epochs, each of which showed its consciousness to be some degrees more free of blind subservience to nature than had the previous. The former, deranged and bemused, throws away the hard-won knowledge of itself in the midst of a society which, by the all-encompassing exchange-relationship, eliminates precisely the elemental power the occultists claim to command. The helmsman looking to the Dioscuri, the attribution of animation to tree and spring, in all their deluded bafflement before the unexplained, were historically appropriate to the subject's experience of the objects of his actions. As a rationally exploited reaction to rationalized society, however, in the booths and consulting rooms of seers of all gradations, reborn animism denies the alienation of which it is itself proof and product, and concocts surrogates for non-existent experience. The occultist draws the ultimate conclusion from the fetish-character of commodities: menacingly objectified labour assails him on all sides from demonically grimacing objects. What has been forgotten in a world congealed into products, the fact that it has been produced by men, is split off and misremembered as a being-in-itself added to that of the objects and equivalent to them. Because objects have frozen in the cold light of reason, lost their illusory animation, the social quality that now animates them is given an independent existence both natural and supernatural, a thing among things.

III. By its regression to magic under late capitalism, thought is assimilated to late capitalist forms. The asocial twilight phenomena in the margins of the system, the pathetic attempts to squint through the chinks in its walls, while revealing nothing of what is outside, illuminate all the more clearly the forces of decay within. The bent little fortune-tellers terrorizing their clients with crystal balls are toy models of the great ones who hold the fate of mankind in their hands. Just as hostile and conspiratorial as the obscurantists of psychic research is society itself. The hypnotic power exerted by things occult resembles totalitarian terror: in present-day processes the two are merged. The smiling of auguries is amplified to society's sardonic laughter at itself; gloating over the direct material exploitation of souls. The horoscope corresponds to the official directives to the nations, and number-mysticism is preparation for administrative statistics and cartel prices. Integration itself proves in the end to be an ideology for disintegration into power groups which exterminate each other. He who integrates is lost.

IV. Occultism is a reflex-action to the subjectification of all meaning, the complement of reification. If; to the living, objective reality seems deaf as never before, they try to elicit meaning from it by saying abracadabra. Meaning is attributed indiscriminately to the next worst thing: the rationality of the real, no longer quite convincing, is replaced by hopping tables and rays from heaps of earth. The offal of the phenomenal world becomes, to sick consciousness, the mundus intelligibilis. It might almost be speculative truth, just as Kafka's Odradek might almost be an angel, and yet it is, in a positivity that excludes the medium of thought, only barbaric aberration alienated from itself, subjectivity mistaking itself for its object. The more consummate the inanity of what is fobbed off as "spirit" -- and in anything less spiritless the enlightened subject would at once recognize itself, -- the more the meaning detected there, which in fact is not there at all, becomes an unconscious, compulsive projection of a subject decomposing historically if not clinically. It would like to make the world resemble its own decay: therefore it has dealings with requisites and evil wishes. "The third one reads out of my hand,/ She wants to read my doom!" In occultism the mind groans under its own spell like someone in a nightmare, whose torment grows with the feeling that he is dreaming yet cannot wake up.

V. The power of occultism, as of Fascism, to which it is connected by thought-patterns of the ilk of anti-semitism, is not only pathic. Rather it lies in the fact that in the lesser panaceas, as in superimposed pictures, consciousness famished for truth imagines it is grasping a dimly present knowledge diligently denied to it by official progress in all its forms. It is the knowledge that society, by virtually excluding the possibility of spontaneous change, is gravitating towards total catastrophe. The real absurdity is reproduced in the astrological hocus-pocus, which adduces the impenetrable connections of alienated elements -- nothing more alien than the stars -- as knowledge about the subject. The menace deciphered in the constellations resembles the historical threat that propagates itself precisely through unconsciousness, absence of subjects. That all are prospective victims of a whole made up solely of themselves, they can only make bearable by transferring that whole to something similar but external. In the woeful idiocy they practice, their empty horror, they are able to vent their impracticable woe, their crass fear of death, and yet continue to repress it, as they must if they wish to go on living. The break in the line of life that indicates a lurking cancer is a fraud only in the place where it purports to be found, the individual's hand; where they refrain from diagnosis, in the collective, it would be correct. Occultists rightly feel drawn towards childishly monstrous scientific fantasies. The confusion they sow between their emanations and the isotopes of uranium is ultimate clarity. The mystical rays are modest anticipations of technical ones. Superstition is knowledge, because it sees together the ciphers of destruction scattered on the social surface; it is folly, because in all its death-wish it still clings to illusions: expecting from the transfigured shape of society misplaced in the skies an answer that only a study of real society can give.

VI. Occultism is the metaphysic of dunces. The mediocrity of the mediums is no more accidental than the apocryphal triviality of the revelations. Since the early days of spiritualism the Beyond has communicated nothing more significant than the dead grandmother's greetings and the prophecy of an imminent journey. The excuse that the world of spirits can convey no more to poor human reason than the latter can take in, is equally absurd, an auxiliary hypothesis of the paranoiac system; the lumen naturale has, after all, taken us somewhat further than the journey to grandmother, and if the spirits do not wish to acknowledge this, they are ill-mannered hobgoblins with whom it is better to break off all dealings. The platitudinously natural content of the supernatural message betrays its untruth. In pursuing yonder what they have lost, they encounter only the nothing they have. In order not to lose touch with the everyday dreariness in which, as irremediable realists, they are at home, they adapt the meaning they revel in to the meaninglessness they flee. The worthless magic is nothing other than the worthless existence it lights up. This is what makes the prosaic so cosy. Facts which differ from what is the case only by not being facts are trumped up as a fourth dimension. Their non-being alone is their qualitas occulta. They supply simpletons with a world outlook. With their blunt, drastic answers to every question, the astrologists and spiritualists do not so much solve problems as remove them by crude premisses from all possibility of solution. Their sublime realm, conceived as analogous to space, no more needs to be thought than chairs and flower-vases. It thus reinforces conformism. Nothing better pleases what is there than that being there should, as such, be meaning.

VII. The great religions have either, like Judaism after the ban on graven images, veiled the redemption of the dead in silence, or preached the resurrection of the flesh. They take the inseparability of the spiritual and physical seriously. For them there was no intention, nothing "spiritual", that was not somehow founded in bodily perception and sought bodily fulfilment. To the occultists, who consider the idea of resurrection beneath them, and actually do not want to be saved, this is too coarse. Their metaphysics, which even Huxley can no longer distinguish from metaphysics, rest on the axiom: "The soul can soar to the heights, heigh-ho, / the body stays put on the sofa below." The heartier the spirituality, the more mechanistic: not even Descartes drew the line so cleanly. Division of labour and reification are taken to the extreme: body and soul severed in a kind of perennial vivisection. The soul is to shake the dust off its feet and in brighter regions forthwith resume its fervent activity at the exact point where it was interrupted. In this declaration of independence, however, the soul becomes a cheap imitation of that from which it had achieved a false emancipation. In place of the interaction that even the most rigid philosophy admitted, the astral body is installed, ignominious concession of hypostasized spirit to its opponent. Only in the metaphor of the body can the concept of pure spirit be grasped at all, and is at the same time cancelled. In their reification the spirits are already negated.

VIII. They inveigh against materialism. But they want to weigh the astral body. The objects of their interest are supposed at once to transcend the possibility of experience, and be experienced. Their procedure is to be strictly scientific; the greater the humbug, the more meticulously the experiment is prepared. The self-importance of scientific checks is taken ad absurdum where there is nothing to check. The same rationalistic and empiricist apparatus that threw the spirits out is being used to reimpose them on those who no longer trust their own reason. As if any elemental spirit would not turn tail before the traps that domination of nature sets for such fleeting beings. But even this the occultists turn to advantage. Because the spirits do not like controls, in the midst of all the safety precautions a tiny door must be left open, through which they can make their unimpeded entrance. For the occultists are practical folk. Not driven by vain curiosity, they are looking for tips. From the stars to forward transactions is but a nimble step. Usually the information amounts to no more than that some poor acquaintance has had his dearest hopes dashed.

IX. The cardinal sin of occultism is the contamination of mind and existence, the latter becoming itself an attribute of mind. Mind arose out of existence, as an organ for keeping alive. In reflecting existence, however, it becomes at the same time something else. The existent negates itself as thought upon itself. Such negation is mind's element. To attribute to it positive existence, even of a higher order, would be to deliver it up to what it opposes. Late bourgeois ideology has again made it what it was for pre-animism, a being-in-itself modelled on the social division of labour, on the split between manual and intellectual labour, on the planned domination over the former. In the concept of mind-in-itself consciousness has ontologically justified and perpetuated privilege by making it independent of the social principle by which it is constituted. Such ideology explodes in occultism: it is Idealism come full circle. Just by virtue of the rigid antithesis of being and mind, the latter becomes a department of being. If Idealism demanded solely on behalf of the whole, the Idea, that being be mind and that the latter exist, occultism draws the absurd conclusion that existence is determinate being: "Existence, after it has become, is always being with a non-being, so that this non-being is taken up in simple unity with the being. Non-being taken up in being, the fact that the concrete whole is in the form of being, of immediacy, constitutes determinateness as such."1 The occultists take literally the non-being in "simple unity with being", and their kind of concreteness is a surreptitious short-cut from the whole to the determinate which can defend itself by claiming that the whole, having once been determined, is no longer the whole. They call to metaphysics: Hic Rhodus hic salta: if the philosophic investment of spirit with existence is determinable, then finally, they sense, any scattered piece of existence must be justifiable as a particular spirit. The doctrine of the existence of the Spirit, the ultimate exaltation of bourgeois consciousness, consequently bore teleologically within it the belief in spirits, its ultimate degradation. The shift to existence, always "positive" and justifying the world, implies at the same time the thesis of the positivity of mind, pinning it down, transposing the absolute into appearance. Whether the whole objective world, as "product", is to be spirit, or a particular thing a particular spirit, ceases to matter, and the world-spirit becomes the supreme Spirit, the guardian angel of the established, despiritualized order. On this the occultists live: their mysticism is the enfant terrible of the mystical moment in Hegel. They take speculation to the point of fraudulent bankruptcy. In passing off determinate being as mind, or spirit, they put objectified mind to the test of existence, which must prove negative. No spirit exists.
1 Hegel, Wissenschaft der Logik, Werke 5, p. 116 (Hegel's Science of Logic, London 1969, p. 110).

Source: Minima Moralia by Theodor Adorno, trans. E.F.N. Jephcott (London: Verso, 1978), section 151, pp. 238-244.
The translation of this section has been republished in a collection of Adorno's essays, The Stars down to Earth and Other Essays on the Irrational in Culture, ed. With an introduction by Stephen Cook (London; New York: Routledge, 1994).