In Defense of Defense

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“Zona Antifa” graffiti. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

This week, Chris Hedges quoted an article of mine. He argued that anti-fascist and Black Bloc demonstrators “mirror [the alt-right] not only ideologically but also physically—armed and dressed in black, the color of fascism and the color of death.” Counterposing base-building and antifa, he reduced the latter to “extremists” getting “infected with the dark, adrenaline-driven urge for confrontation that arises among the disenfranchised when a democracy ceases to function.”

Now, Hedges’ article is absurd and offensive, coming only days after neo-Nazis murdered an anti-fascist in Charlottesville. His position does not perceptibly differ from Donald Trump’s (despite hedging that “[t]here is no moral equivalency between antifa and the alt-right” in a piece otherwise dedicated to saying that there is). However, the spuriousness of Hedges’ particular argument doesn’t mean there isn’t a stronger case for his position. The Left must engage with it. Do Black Blocs try to cut off fascism at the stem in a way that makes it harder to pull up the root? Does diverting activist-hours towards fighting openly-proclaimed racism distract us from white supremacy’s more normalized, but more pervasive faces?

Is antifa just toxic, hypermasculine catharsis? Does it hamper actual institution-building?


On Inauguration Day, the University of Washington’s College Republicans booked Milo Yiannopoulos to speak. The thousands-strong counter-inaugural march began in downtown Seattle. Before it reached campus, the anti-Yiannopoulos protesters were severely outnumbered by the combined forces of unsympathetic cops and fedora-wearing rightists. Liberal friends on the scene texted me – people who’d only ever had contempt for “brick-throwers” said how thankful they were for the Black Bloc of a couple dozen. The “masked extremists” had placed themselves between the right-wingers and everyone else, physically shielding them from fascist violence.

That night, a Trump supporter shot an anti-fascist in the stomach. Of those present with whom I’ve spoken, not one has doubted that without the Bloc’s buffer, the alt-right’s violence would have been far worse.


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Antifa demonstrators. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Is antifa destructive? It can be. Activist subcultures are no less self-focused, exclusionary, and elitist than any other middle-class-controlled subculture. Accepting that insularity, not struggling against it, is incompatible with building an independent base of mass power. Leftism is pointless if it just means talking to each other about each other. And developing an autonomous network of working-class institutions, separate from and opposed to capitalism and its government, needs to be our strategy. “Making your voice heard” and “starting a tough but important conversation” are what you do when you’re breaking up with someone, not when you’re cultivating collective power. We should be creating the embryo of socialism within capitalism itself, not bearing passive moral witness.

I’ve seen Black Blocs done horribly: no goals, no focus, no planning, and no connection to any larger community. They let their participants feel cool and accomplished nothing else.

But Hedges and similar antifa critics miss the larger context: literally every tactic, from union drives to mutual aid programs, can be done counter-productively. Singling out antifa just betrays their discomfort with the idea that the oppressed don’t actually need the capitalist state to defend ourselves.


The anti-fascists, and then, crucial, the anarchists … saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that.

Cornel West


I am a pastor in Charlottesville, and antifa saved my life twice on Saturday. Indeed, they saved many lives from psychological and physical violence—I believe the body count could have been much worse, as hard as that is to believe. Thankfully, we had robust community defense standing up to white supremacist violence this past weekend.

Rev. Seth Wispelwey


I live in a city with a large and lively protest scene. The police department’s repressiveness is regionally infamous. At virtually every major protest – Black Lives Matter, May Day, anti-fascist, whatever else – riot police show up spoiling for a fight. Typically, they deploy pepper spray, flashbang grenades, and rubber bullets. Most demonstrations are explicitly advertised as “peaceful.” When violence breaks out, it’s usually one-sided: police hurting protesters. Never once have I seen the violence initiated by anyone besides a fascist or a cop.

Most big protests attract at least a small Black Bloc. They rarely pick fights. Instead, they act as a de facto collective bodyguard: by placing their bodies in front of the police and/or fascists, they take flashbang burns and Proud Boy punches so others don’t have to. Black Bloc, in practice, is usually a defensive tactic. The debate around whether “violently confronting fascism” is effective and/or justified usually elides this. Do anti-fascist protests often get violent? Sure. But the antifa aren’t striking first. Without them, it would be everyone else getting the stuffing kicked out of them – not just those who choose to mask up and accept the risk.

Should antifa use violence to proactively deny fascists’ free speech? How many angels can dance on the head of a pin? On the ground, fascists (and their police enablers) are not restricting themselves to rhetorical violence. Even a counter-protest that scrupulously avoids preventing fascist speech (rather than simply expressing opposition) will find itself on the receiving end of the alt-right’s very literal violence. Blanket denunciations of antifa smell suspiciously like victim-blaming. How can our protests avoid violence when it’s the other side that attacks?

Antifa done right saves lives.

It saved Cornel West and other religious pacifists in Charlottesville. White nationalists have shown us their willingness to kill. Do “progressive” commentators have any business pearl-clutching about the optics?

But there’s still a larger critique. Tactical specifics aside, is directly confronting fascists effective? Does it alienate potential supporters? How does it get us closer to socialism?


Hoping and praying for things to work themselves out for the better won’t work. Efforts at trying to isolate yourself, your family, and your community and shield it from the repression that is coming won’t work. Trump and the reactionary forces that he embodies and represents must be defeated, politically, socially, and economically. Solidarity and joint struggle are our greatest forms of both offensive and defensive resistance. But, the solidarity must be practical, programmatic, and visionary.

To defeat Trump and the neo-Confederates we have to develop a strategic “Build and Fight; Fight and Build” program. This program must address the imperative need to build economic and political power from the ground up – amongst workers, the underemployed, unemployed and structurally unemployable on the community, county, state and national levels.

Both dimensions of our Build and Fight program we believe must have offensive and defensive dimensions to them. What follows are some preliminary thoughts on what we believe must be built and/or strengthened going forward, to not only survive the Trumpocalype, but to build the world we and our children and great grandchildren need.

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The Dual Power revolutionary strategy rests on two pillars: construction and confrontation.* Each contributes to the same larger goal: an infrastructure of participatory-democratic institutions capable of replacing capitalism. Construction can mean mutual aid programs, worker co-ops, collectively-owned democratic housing, or other projects to satisfy the material and social needs of a community. Confrontation, conversely, can involve workplace organizing or tenants unions – or community self-defense. It obstructs, resists, and subverts an oppressor. That self-defense might oppose hate violence (for instance, Seattle’s Q-Patrol). It could focus on police brutality (as with the Black Panthers). And sometimes, it’s against the extreme right.

We must directly confront fascist events. That confrontation should not be done by isolated, subculture-oriented affinity groups looking for catharsis. Instead, Black Bloc tactics and less pugnacious ones can reinforce each other if done within the context of broader coalition work. That’s the model developed by the IWW General Defense Committee. It works.

In 2015, alt-rightists connected to Richard Spencer and Andrew Anglin (of the Daily Stormer blog) organized a doxxing campaign against Jewish residents of Whitefish, Montana. It escalated to a planned “day of action,” for which neo-Nazis would bus into Whitefish. When antifa-oriented leftists and less-militant civic groups collaborated to prepare an on-the-ground response, the entire fascist effort was aborted due to the opposition they knew they’d face. That coalition emerged from years of base-building by anti-fascists within Whitefish. As Shane Burley reported:

The adaptation the community made to the racist threat presents lessons for the ongoing confrontation with the white nationalism. The base building had been done not for months, but years, and the slow process helped to further radicalize a town that could barely pass an anti-hate resolution a couple of years before. Likewise, with two different approaches to the issue, with the softer community organizing from Love Lives Here on the one side and the direct confrontation presented by Antifa on the other, can have a synthesis. Without the long-term community engagement presented by the Montana Human Rights Network, there wouldn’t be a broadly unified community to resist the invasion, and without organizations willing to confront the protest directly, it could have still taken place.


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Bessemer converter used in steel production. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

But how does that fit into the larger socialist strategy of institution-building? After all, the Left wants more than to merely frustrate the far right. We have even bigger enemies and a much bigger goal. Even if antifa constitutes legitimate political confrontation, isn’t positive construction more important?

Construction and confrontation need each other. The tension between them is creative, and in order for the Dual Power strategy to work, each of them has to be shaping and supporting the other. In Marxist lingo, they form a dialectic.

Sure, confrontation without construction ends up with self-isolating, patriarchal, adventuristic catharsis politics. But construction without confrontation gets you apolitical charity that can’t challenge oppression (and doesn’t want to, anyway).

If you have both, though, then construction meets people’s needs and helps them survive. That boosts their capacity to engage in confrontation by freeing up time and energy. Plus, it brings credibility to advocates of confrontation – radical rhetoric is nothing next to learning through practice that revolutionary politics feeds your kids. Confrontation then helps prevent those programs from being destroyed or co-opted. It also removes exclusionary barriers that prevent more extensive construction. Through confrontation, a network of people developed through construction learns to trust and rely on each other. Finally, those united through confrontation can be solidified into a lasting group through construction – pushing past a singular event into a durable institution of collective power. Confrontation and construction each create the conditions for the other to expand.

To make steel, you combine pig iron and oxygen. You can’t build much with either ingredient alone, but when brought together correctly? Something very strong comes out. Construction and confrontation depend on each other the same way. It’s true that if your radicalism begins and ends with confrontation, you’ve missed the point. But when a liberal like Chris Hedges dismisses confrontation out of hand, he isn’t providing a necessary corrective. He’s just claiming you can make steel out of nothing but air.


*Equivalent language includes “build and fight,” “alternative institutions and counter-institutions,” “base-building and mass mobilization,” “constructive program and obstructive program,” and the slogan “fight the power, serve the people.”


Sophia Burns is a communist and devotional polytheist in the US Pacific Northwest. Support her via Patreon.


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Barbarians in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

This is the first part in Wolves in the Interregnum, a two-part series.


“The old world is dying, the new world struggles to be born. Here in the interregnum arises morbid systems.”
–Antonio Gramsci

“Increasingly, people are restless. The engineers group themselves into competing teams, but neither side seems to know what to do, and neither seems much different from the other. Around the world, discontent can be heard. The extremists are grinding their knives and moving in as the machine’s coughing and stuttering exposes the inadequacies of the political oligarchies who claimed to have everything in hand. Old gods are rearing their heads, and old answers: revolution, war, ethnic strife. Politics as we have known it totters, like the machine it was built to sustain. In its place could easily arise something more elemental, with a dark heart.”
–The Dark Mountain Manifesto

The Wolf Trap

In what is now Germany, particularly in the area called Lower Saxony, a certain symbol appeared etched on stones and trees, demarcating forests left wild for hunting. In such old forests, the wolf, that heavily-culled European apex predator, still ran free, threatened only by ritualized royal chases in which an iron hook was used to trap them. The shape of the trap inspired those border symbols, which also bore its name: Wolfsangel (Wolf-Hook).

Wolfsangel_1.svgCenturies later, peasants angry at the increasingly authoritarian rule of princes and their refusal to honor ancient land-use customs revolted, wielding the symbol as their banner. In the early part of the 20th century, its most well-known use began, this time not as as symbol of revolt but of authority and Empire itself. Inspired by the 1910 German novel Der Wehrwolf, the Nazi Party and many military regiments adopted its use, which is how most of us know of it now.

The wolfsangel (also the Elder Futhork rune Eihwaz) perhaps best explains the struggle for mythic and ideological territory that has defined many of the conflicts between political forces since the birth of Liberal Democracy. Symbols, myths, and ideas seem to change hands, disappear from one place and reappear in another. Old gods and politics are re-tooled for new, darker uses, then again stolen back. The swastika appears on the feet of the Buddha, also the flag of the Nazis; Gramsci’s formulation of metapolitical change becomes abandoned by European leftists and picked up by the European New Right.

In a recent essay at Gods&Radicals, Peter Gaffney examines this process through Foucault’s reading of Nietzche:

“This is how Foucault understands Nietzsche’s concept of Entstehung, which he translates as l’émergence – or alternately as les points de surgissement (the moments, stages or positions of arising)–, by which a discourse always appears anew in the hands of historically contingent forces:

“Rules are empty in themselves, violent and unfinalized; they are impersonal and can be bent to any purpose. The successes of history belong to those who are capable of seizing the rules, to replace those who had used them, to disguise themselves so as to pervert them, invert their meaning, and redirect them against those who had initially imposed them; controlling this complex mechanism, they will make it function so as to overcome the rulers through their own rules.”

There is a simpler and more raw way to envision this process, that of wars over land or sacred territory. Pope Boniface advised his priests to build their churches upon ancient pagan sites; old sacred wells where people prayed to Pagan goddesses in Europe are now all dedicated to Catholic saints and the Virgin. The sites remain, the power means something beyond the colonization and struggle. The poor and faithful still visit the sites of Druid mountains and Pagan temples, still utter prayers, but the words are different, serving different sacred orders.

It matters who holds that territory, and the wars of occupation and reclamation are fiercest at times when Empire loses its grip. Each of the three Fascist uprisings in Europe occurred at times when Liberal Democracy began to crumble, the ‘interregnum’ in which Gramsci warned ‘monsters’ (or morbid systems) awoke.

We are in a similar period.

In each previous instance, Communists and Anarchists relentlessly ceded mythic territory to the nationalist forces. Fascists have always better understood the relationship of power and aesthetic, because they have no qualms about using them. Leftists still fail to heed Gramsci’s analysis, and rather than employ their own mythic imaginings to awaken a new world against the dying of the old, they choose now (as they did last century) to side with the Empire, that “Liberal center,” which in all three instances proved not only to be poor allies, but eager assassins when the fascist threat finally manifested.

Liberal Democracy is failing again. Capitalism has entered another crisis stage, desperately seeking new resources to extract from ever-dwindling wells. The altars of Progress and Modernity demand offerings, and the priests who tend them are sharpening blades, ready to begin new sacrifices.

Eilhwaz, the wolfsangel, is a powerful symbol. It symbolizes Yew, the graveyard tree, the acceptance of death’s inevitability that leads to heroic acts of reckless courage. As a boundary marker it warned those outside the wild that past its etched symbol roamed death, while granting permission to all those on the other side of it to use violence against what passed from its boundary into the settled lands.

From experience, I also know it to be a most powerful warding rune. It trips up those who stalk your secret meetings, protects from surprise, guards territory, and acts exactly as its name suggests:  hooking wolves into a struggle to the death. No counter-magic have others found against my uses of it, though those thus trapped can, with a strong enough will, try to use it to tug back (an ensuing struggle much like we might imagine a wolf hooked by a chain held in the hands of a man might have been).

The Wolfsangel was first shown to me in a vision, the last in a series of four glyphs I learned to use during ancestral work. I have used it since, even after I learned a year later that it was symbol co-opted by the Nazis. While the antifascist ‘left’ has shown themselves quite willing to cede territory in order to keep their liberal allies, I have no intention to, anymore than I will give up the use of the wolfsangel.

That stubborness, that refusal to give up what is mine, what is ours by right of ideological and revolutionary ancestors (of blood or otherwise), is the guiding strategy of this essay. It is also the only way to neuter a threat which exists only by our permission.

Empires Crumbling

On the 18th of February this year, several hundred people gathered to hear a man speak, one who’s dedicated years to studying unpopular European philosophers, seeking knowledge from gods of death and war, and cobbling together an analysis of Modernity’s failings and what might be built from its ruins.

Actually, two men spoke on that subject that day, to two different crowds on two different parts of the planet. Both speakers were ‘gay’ men, though reject that identity in favor of self-determination. Both shape their politics of the world around an aesthetic of wild forest, unrestrained humanity, and a refusal to accept Liberal Democracy’s pretensions of peace and progress.

The first man (whose name I will withhold for a short time) presented an hour-long speech on the west coast of the United States. The other presented a 20-minute talk called “Violence is Golden” in a castle beer hall to a group of European Identitarians at the Institut für Staatspolitik. His name was Jack Donovan.

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Jack Donovan. Image use info here.

By now you have probably heard his name. You will read (and I will write) it much more than I or you prefer. So be it, though—to look away is to hide from something we ourselves have birthed and empowered, and something only we can stop.

I will not repeat the clumsy, panicked mistakes in the various recent exposés running through your news feed. The Southern Poverty Law Center’s piece in March was deeply flawed, Slate’s piece just last week was even more a failure. These two articles, as well as many other criticisms, have failed completely to explain his appeal while simultaneously missing the core threat of his ideas. These and many other failures betray a deep and intentional blindness particularly within American anti-fascist and ‘leftist’ thought, the product both of a marriage to Liberal Democratic hegemony and an almost ecstatic abdication of revolutionary territory.

Thus, one cannot accurately criticize Jack Donovan without also criticizing the anti-fascist left who has taken upon themselves the task of (ineptly) opposing him. Likewise, one cannot speak about the dangers the Wolves of Vinland (and Paul Waggener’s “Operation Werewolf”) without also telling long-stifled truths about modern society and the various Pagan, Environmental, and Anarchist movements which the Wolves of Vinland are currently poised to supplant.

This is not a comfortable task, and it is ironic that there is more risk to me in this essay than to its intended targets. That risk is not from the Wolves of Vinland’s brutalist-sculpted ‘warriors’ or their aesthetic of violence. I do not fear the muscles and fight-training of Waggener or Donovan (come at me, bro). Rather, it is from the established orthodoxy of American antifascism and its slavish worship of Liberal Democratic conceits that the vast majority of criticism for this work will likely come.

Already my admission that I am intimately acquainted with the Wolfangel has put me at risk of being considered a crypto-fascist, because many antifascist theorists police their borders not with an eye towards reclaiming lost territory, but with a terror of what lurks beyond the well-lit street lights in the dark forests into which the light of cities can never reach.

Despite the risk, I need to write this essay. Not just because I foresee further territory being abandoned as the American left cuts out its insurrectionary heart and offers it on the altars of progress, praying that the Empire can be saved. Nor do I write this only because the future Jack Donovan and the Wolves of Vinland crave is one I do not want to see in this world. More than anything, I write this essay because, on the same day that Jack Donovan helped provide the intellectual justification for violence to a strengthening European Identitarian movement, I did the same thing for a growing Pagan anti-capitalist movement. I was the other speaker that day, 6000 miles away.

Since noting the dark poetry of such simultaneity, I’ve given extensive time to reading Donovan’s work and regretting that our similarities did not end there. It’s precisely these similarities, however, which both demand that I write this essay while also making such an essay dangerous. We occupy similar territory, outside the urbs of Liberal Democratic empire where barbarians and wolves dwell, past the boundary markers where the reach of the civitas and the polis is declawed.

I know this land, these gods, and these ideas. And I will not give them up.

Barbarians in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Fascism attempts to organize the newly created proletarian masses without affecting the property structure which the masses strive to eliminate. Fascism sees its salvation in giving these masses not their right, but instead a chance to express themselves. The masses have a right to change property relations; Fascism seeks to give them an expression while preserving property. The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. The violation of the masses, whom Fascism, with its Führer cult, forces to their knees, has its counterpart in the violation of an apparatus which is pressed into the production of ritual values.

–Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art In The Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”

“In the absence of an equally compelling counter-narrative, a significant portion of the masses will also embrace fascism, and history will be left to repeat itself.”
–Alley Valkyrie, Propaganda in the Age of Fascism

No discussion of Jack Donovan, the Wolves of Vinland, or Operation Werewolf can truly begin without focusing on their aesthetic. Many have tried, reducing their images to caricature, missing their sublime and intoxicating coherence, dismissing it all as if image had no power. We shall not make the same mistake.

Take a few minutes and scroll through Jack Donovan’s Instagram feed. Linger on the photos. Feel what they convey, let them wash over you. Try to enter the world they narrate. While doing so, note the repeated use of certain filters, the austerity of the backgrounds. Greys, sepias, overuse of ‘Structure’ edits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Donovan wants you to see is that the Modern world is too new, too garish, that there is no place within it for people like him nor for people like you. One imagines he hates the imposed efficiency of florescent lights, prefers the slant of sunlight at the end of day, would use lanterns if his eyesight were better, and is allergic to gaudy colors. His is not the aesthetic of a consumer. The exact polar opposite of his proposed milieu is a Walmart, bright lights glaring off the cellophane-wrapped chemically-colored products which define most American lives. Instead, behind him are unfinished concrete walls in gyms or forests, the decayed urban or the feral wild, an old-world feel clipping out the $6 latte area of Portland, Oregon where he until recently lived.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aesthetic is narrative. Aesthetic tells a story, and Jack Donovan’s story is of anti-modernism. It is not just because he is anti-modern, but he also senses what his increasing fan-base knows and most anti-fascists refuse to admit: the modern is fucking awful. The modern is alienating, full of empty images and promises after which we all chase. Progress brings us a new iPhone each year and more flavors of Doritos, jobs in front of screens and new identities to try on and less and less land in which to play tribe with your friends.

The paradox, of course, is that it is precisely because of the modern that we experience his anti-modern vision, the same convoluted trap in which any critic of Liberal Democratic empire finds themselves. As Walter Benjamin noted, we are never in relationship to the subject of an image, but rather in relationship with a lens and a screen. We only ever interface with the production of images, the machinery of mass-aesthetic.

Donovan’s aesthetic attempts to escape this, but it cannot. What Donovan portrays is crafted just as any other selfie is, posed, selected, filtered and cropped, uploaded into The Feed for us all to see. It is an anti-modern aesthetic made possible only by the modern, a resistance to Empire generated by Empire like Orwell’s Emmanuel Goldstein waiting with Big Brother’s pre-scripted revolt. In this way, though, he is no different from any of us. The Antifa selfie, the anti-capitalist meme: we do the same.

This paradox in which we are all trapped is not limited to the mere reproduction of the anti-modern by modern means. It is an oppositional aesthetic, crafted constantly in response to the modern. What is anti-modern is determined by the modern itself, just as what is anti-oppressive within social justice is determined by the oppressive, what is ‘left’ is determined by what is ‘right.’

Audre Lourde’s statement that “the master’s tools can never dismantle the master’s house,” while originally an attack on the bourgeois goals of white feminists, just as easily describes the perpetual paradox of all resistance to the Modern.

A Body Politic

Key to understanding Donovan’s aesthetic, then, is that he is merely retooling the master’s narrative, determined not by some mastery of the will but an almost adolescent act of opposition. Inverting Lourde’s point, Donovan attempts to look like the master himself, becoming what his chosen enemies fear him to be.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Towards this end, his physique is his primary weapon, one that can command erotic respect from fully hetero-men as well as gays. He wants–needs–you to think he is hot, and even his feminist critics often write slobberingly about his body even as they then attack it.

This is his success: the masculinity he wears is bold, brazen, unapologetic: it draws the sort of followers he desires while offending those socialized to find such displays of virility indicative of ‘toxic masculinity.’

 

 

This aesthetic politics of the body is part of the core ideology not just of Jack Donovan but also of Operation Werewolf, a site run and founded by Paul Waggener. To understand its appeal, the imagery of its manifesto must be approached the same way the visual aesthetic must be: fully felt, with an eye on the backgrounds and filters:

“Operatives can be found in countries across the world, dripping sweat on the floor of their spartan-style garage weight room, leaving blood on the dirt in the backyard boxing ring, or bringing their feral competitive style to powerlifting meets, MMA events, bars, back alleys and the savage streets of crumbling cities. They are not products of their environment- instead they change the landscape and environment around them, forgers of destiny, architects of their own becoming. They make the flesh strong, knowing that it is the only fit conveyance for a strong mind and an iron will- theirs is a mindset that accepts no weakness.

Some are solitary practitioners, performing the rituals of life and death amongst the ruins of modern civilization, lone wolves howling songs of destruction and new growth in the woods that encroach on the edges of the rotting Empire, waiting for the fall. Others have made it their mission to seek each other out, forming militaristic divisions, chapters led by their strongest member, creating a war-band that seeks to carve its own myth, to create its own saga of power and might- men and women challenging each other to strive ever higher.”

Like this manifesto (powerful, until you realize it’s a sloppy pastiche of Dark Mountain’s manifesto and Peter Grey’s Rewilding Witchcraft), the articles on Operation Werewolf exort the reader towards a vision of self-fulfillment on the “edges of the rotting Empire, waiting for the fall.” Again, sweaty gym-forged bodies with wild forest and concrete as backdrop, perfectly selected sepia filters assuring you they aren’t currently huddled over screens masturbating to porn.

Readers for whom the notion of sweat, brawls, and ‘accepting no weakness’ is off-putting should be reminded that it is supposed to repulse you. It is not to you whom they are writing, any more than it is to the civilized urban feminist that Jack Donovan bares his torso.

Resist, however, the inclination to dismiss this as negative: while Operation Werewolf is not the body-positivity of urban social justice, it is nevertheless the positivity of a body stretched, strained, and repeatedly broken to test its limits and ‘forge the will.’

Here, many critics fall back upon accusations of ‘ableism’ or ‘fat-shaming.’ Without doubt there is no place inscribed into their aesthetic for the overweight person, nor for the chronically-ill, yet such critiques (however true within the framework of liberal social justice politics) fall utterly flat. They are not attempting to build an inclusive ideology, but rather one of difference and exclusion. Dismissing them on these grounds, however morally-satisfying, is utterly useless.

Antifascist responses to such rhetoric through the social justice framework not only fail, but expose an ignored and suppressed difference in their own ranks, best seen within the difference between Liberal and Leftist feminism. The former, which is the predominate form within Social Justice, argues that patriarchal violence is the primary cause of bodily oppression. On the other hand, Leftist iterations (Marxist, post-colonialist) locate the cause of such oppression (anti-disabled, anti-fat, etc.) in the Capitalist’s need to turn humans into workers and the State’s need to turn humans into subjects.

From a Liberal feminist (‘bourgeois’ or ‘white’ feminism) view, any politics or ideology which does not treat all bodies as equal is patriarchal, and each oppression (ableism, transphobia, etc.) is an additional variant of patriarchal rule (consider Liberal feminist statements such as “homophobia is rooted in hatred of women”). To undermine the patriarchy and achieve equality within that framework, all bodies must be accorded the same worth and access, since every exclusion is a reproduction of patriarchal oppression.

Marxist and post-colonial feminist frameworks dismiss such utopianism in favor of the abolition of the conditions which equates the worth of bodies to what can be derived from them: that is, Capitalism. A disabled or chronically-ill person is ‘worth less’ (paid less) under capitalism because they can produce less for their bosses (who are usually men, but often also women). They are valued less because their labor cannot be exploited as easily.

To a Liberal feminist, patriarchy is the problem and the problems of capitalism derive from the patriarchy, not from capitalism itself. Within the feminism of Marxists and post-colonialists, Patriarchy is merely the functional aesthetic of the oppression of bodies, while capitalist control of the body is the core problem.

What Operation Werewolf advocates does not directly conflict this latter, insurrectionist feminism. If anything, people of any gender hoping to be physically strong enough to fight the inevitable police and military backlash against revolutionary actions could benefit from such exortations. If you want to learn to fight Nazis, you’ll need first to learn how to fight.

Too often, though, discussions regarding expanding the capacity of the body are dismissed, labeled ‘ableist’ or ‘fat-shaming,’ and even potentially fascist.

A particularly poignant example of this is the reaction to an essay from Peter Grey last year, a writer and publisher who has repeatedly held the line against fascist incursions into esotericism, including pulling his work from use in publications wherein fascist writers appear. Within Pagan, witch, radical, and esoteric communities, his essay Forging the Body of the Witch was held up by some as proof that the (very not-fascist) writer was potentially fascist, or at the very least engaging in ableism and fat-shaming.

Another case in point: Silvia Federici’s essay, In Praise of the Dancing Body, was similarly attacked as ableist because she advocates dancing as a form of bodily resistance and suggests that capitalism has alienated us from our bodies through extensive medicalization.

Anti-civilizationist, autonomous Marxist, anarchist, and other radical writers have similarly come under such friendly-fire attacks so that, as of now, the only people actually putting forward a framework in which the potential capabilities of the body are fully-embraced are men like Jack Donovan and Paul Waggener.

This is the first example of how Leftists have ceded territory in which fascists can thrive. Leftists abandoned a political framework which embraces the body–both in its weaknesses as well as its strengths–in favor of one which disfavors (and even attacks) any celebration of human capacity as inherently oppressive.

In such a world, the muscular bodies of a factory, farm, or construction worker—the very people whom Leftists once saw as a revolutionary force—are to be hidden, minimized, or even derided, lest those who do not have such bodies or cannot get them feel excluded from insurrectionist discourse.

This is why antifascist criticisms of Donovan (etc.) fall flat. There is nothing inherently fascist about the body work he and Operation Werewolf advocate: indeed, it is also something embraced by many suppressed forms of feminism as well. It is only territory they occupy, colonized by a fascist aesthetic. Such territory once belonged to the Left who have become all too long happy to abandon it.

Doing so means that fascists are then allowed to run free through it and claim it as their own.

Ad Hominem

Many essays attacking Jack Donovan particularly center their critique on his aesthetic masculinity, effectively reducing his threat to his maleness. While the Slate piece devotes extensive time to his aesthetic of virility, even to the point of slobbering affection (“A beautifully muscular man of 42 who has perfected a masculine scowl…he functions as beefcake for the neofascist cause,”) the SPLC’s essay reduces his entire appeal to that of his overt maleness, inscribing him into Alex Di Branco’s thesis that it is misogyny itself which is animating new fascist movements.

Both make precisely the same mistake and only strengthen the allure of his raw, uncivilized male aesthetic.

For a constructed masculine aesthetic to be a political aesthetic, it must have a nemesis. Fortunately for him, his critics easily supply that role, reducing him to his masculinity in precisely the same way they accuse men of doing to women. For most of his critics, Donovan is a meat-head, a thug, a dumb man who probably doesn’t use deodorant. Such reductions reproduce the same ‘patriarchal’ modes of dismissal: a woman is just her tits, Donovan is just his muscles.

Like an Antifa protester lobbing a tear gas canister back at the police, Donovan is able swiftly to redeploy these reductions to expand his audience. To understand how, consider the sort of people to whom he appeals: men like him, displaced, uncomfortable in the world, first unsure of and then later angry about the absurd rules of civilization, unable to find meaning except by escape into romantic notions of heroism and courage now that the jobs are all gone overseas.

To such men, seeking something mythic, something to make them feel like they have a place in the world, ridicule of their masculinity only further entrenches their sense of alienation. When a critic ridicules his, Donovan need only hold up their insult before his audience, and suddenly his male tribalism doesn’t even need a sales pitch.

Further, Jack Donovan’s deep intelligence is easily missed by critics who are tricked by his aesthetic. On Instagram he stands shirtless, inked, holding a chainsaw; elsewhere he is wearing hunting gear, or grunting in a gym, drilling wood, wearing a baseball cap. He looks rural, the sort of working-class man urban liberals dismiss immediately as smelly, uneducated, and crass.

Here Donovan is able to leverage an inherent prejudice within what passes for the Left in America: its anti-rural, anti-working class sentiment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Donovan presents as the sort of man who drives large trucks, thinks forests should be clear-cut, drinks Budweiser in front of football games, and would bash the head in of a man at a rest stop who stared at his crotch. As such, he becomes too easily dismissed, his arguments reduced to mere grunts in, as the SPLC article put it, the “chorus of moaning that emanates from the “Manosphere.”

Donovan is no doubt aware of this, and wields these prejudices deftly against his critics. It is a trick I know well myself: I am a 6 foot 1, gruff-voiced, ‘masculine-presenting’ man who talks more like a ‘bro’ than a theorist. The disconnect between my appearance and my intelligence often puts critics and fans alike off-guard. Thus when my critics attempt to reduce my arguments to my male appearance, they will often appear shallow or uninformed in public forums. This same mechanism works in Jack Donovan’s favor.

More so, by targeting his masculine presentation, critics also re-inforce liberal urban elitism and undermine any other critique they offer. To reduce Donovan to his maleness is to reduce him to his perceived identity, alienating those who see misandry as unhelpful (or even dangerous) as well as lower-class men for whom muscles, power-tools, and backyard construction projects are inherent parts of daily life and work, rather than cultivated threats against women.

This is another territory ceded by the Left. The bodies (and the accompanying concerns of the body) of poor and working-class men–unless their maleness can also be shown to intersect with at least one other oppression identity– are all but completely dismissed in American leftist discourse. It should not surprise us, then, that the aesthetic of overt, unapologetic masculinity which Donovan, Waggener, and the Wolves of Vinland celebrate would appeal to those ignored men.

For such men, the aesthetic of brute maleness accompanied by deep thought and independent will shall always be more appealing than what Liberalism has to offer. Marxists and Anarchists once offered them something too, but if they still do, it cannot be found in current American antifascist discourse.

Squatter’s Rights

To see how well Donovan reclaims Leftist territory for his own, consider Donovan’s book on male desire, Androphilia. Written in 2006, it advances a vision of homosexuality not as a genetically-deterministic identity class, but of a variation or subset of male desire. The consequences of such a view are that male-male desire is a manifestation of human choice, rather than the current Liberal dogma that gays are ‘born this way.’

Within the vast majority of gay-rights organizing, the insistence that homosexuality is determined by biology rather than being a choice has become divine law. This ironically leaves only anti-homosexual Christian Evangelicals asserting that gay men actually have any agency in their sexual desire (by insisting it can and should be changed.)

The historical reason why it became Liberal consensus that homosexuality is an innate, essential, and biologically-determined identity has nothing to do with science. As in most cases, scientific theory follows political will, and this position was politically strategic.

In order to counter the moral arguments against homosexual sex, gay-rights activists presented homosexual desire as an immutable, scientifically-determined way of being. In such a framework, since gays had no choice but to engage in homosexual behavior, moral arguments that demanded they change their behavior made no sense.

This strategy certainly helped gays gain legal status within most Liberal Democracies, but it also stole from gays belief in their agency. Thus, I as a man who desires men actually have no say in the matter, because my genes make me desire men. The “Leftist” position now, at least the Social Justice position, depoliticizes will and individual choice, adopting the very same Nazi logic which located social-identity (Homosexual, Jew) in the body and then destroyed the body to destroy the identity.

Donovan’s arguments in Androphilia cunningly leverage this transposition. Arguing that male homosexual desire is just another configuration of male desire is really the more liberatory position. Even more (unfortunately) to his credit, rather than arguing to heterosexual men that they should accept male-male desire on account of Liberal Democratic rights, he argues that heterosexual men should embrace their already-existent desire for males.

 

 

 

 

The territory here that Donovan is able to claim—and the primary reason his ideas have so much resonance—is precisely what was ceded by Leftists who hitched their liberatory politics to the dreams of Liberal Democratic progress. While no doubt forged from a sense of pragmatic urgency (homosexuals were—and are—killed at rather high rates), the political subjectivity and loss of agency such a politics created cannot be easily undone.

Attempts to offer another narrative are often virulently attacked. I have never felt I was ‘born this way,’ yet to write openly about this is to elicit some rather intense rage from social justice activists who see such a position as a sign of my ‘heteronormative privilege,’ that I am not ‘queer enough’ to speak on such matters, or that I must have ‘internalized homophobia.’

In a situation where the leftist position insists sexual selection is innate and pre-determined, it should not surprise anyone that, as according to the Slate article, gays are being attracted to fascism. But contrary to the conclusion of the author, Donovan’s position offers homosexuals back the agency that Liberal Democracy stripped from them in return for protections.

This is not due to anything revolutionary or even original in Donovan’s thinking, but the same abdication of territory (in this case, an abdication of will) that leftists have elsewhere enacted.

Masculinity as Simulacrum

Returning to the matter of Donovan’s particular aesthetic: Donovan presents a vision of a man who is fully in touch with his will, comfortable with his desire for other men, unapologetic about his body, and unconcerned with what anyone thinks of him. In his books we see this aesthetic turn into an entire ethic, a religious redemption of the masculinity which bourgeois feminism sees as the primary cause of oppression.

Here we can re-introduce crucial discussion regarding Donovan’s misogyny, and also see how all these abandoned leftists positions re-animate into something quite morbid. Donovan loathes women. Androphilia blames almost every horrible thing on women; gay men shop because of women, gay men kill themselves because they are trying to be like women, trans women are men who have internalized everything that feminists told them about themselves.

His later books, The Way of Men and Becoming a Barbarian, both repeat this same ressentiment. Men are soft because of women, men stay at home instead of adventure because of them. Men don’t have enough men-only spaces because women expect to be everywhere, etc.. It all starts to sound so absurd that it’s easy to miss that he is parodying the excesses of bourgeois feminism in reverse.

In fact, his entire construct of hypermasculine existence could have been constructed by bourgeois feminism itself. If there is anything truly tragic about Jack Donovan’s vision of maleness—the one which fills the pages of his books and his Instagram feed–it is that it was created by the very same feminism which he so deeply loathes.

Such a reality, however, does not reduce its power.

Jean Baudrillard expanded Walter Benjamin’s work on aesthetics by noting how, now that we only have reproduction of art, we now also only have reproduction of politics. The ‘real’ we imagine is always a copy, a simulation of the real. Those copies and simulations become how we determine what is real, affecting our behaviour and the construction of our identities.

Whereas once the aesthetic was the visual representation of a way of being, the aesthetic is now our only blueprint. We do not know what it is like to be masculine except by the representation of the masculine, anymore than we know what it is to be anti-modern without representations of the anti-modern.

More dangerous, however, is that the negatives of images reproduce themselves as well. The aesthetic of hyper-masculinity from which Donovan and Waggener build their politics is produced from the negative space of liberal feminist critiques which reduce men to enemy, alpha-oppressor, toxic, and dangerous.

But negative space is never truly empty, just as territory no longer claimed is never truly vacant. We should be hardly surprised, then, that Wolves have moved into the places we have abandoned, inhabiting ideological homes which were once ours.

It is not clear, however, that many have the strength or will to kick them out.


Part Two, on ideological abandonment, here


Rhyd Wildermuth

Rhyd is the managing editor and a co-founder of Gods&Radicals. He is a poet, a writer, a theorist, and a pretty decent chef. He can be supported on Patreon, and his other work can be found at Paganarch.

He lives in Rennes, Bretagne.


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