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?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'.
Il est dans le coeur
Il est dans le coeur noir
c'est un reve
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."36Webb 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.
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