So. Recently, much of T H E D I S C O U R S E has centered around whether it’s okay to punch Nazis.
I would like to raise a concern that perhaps comes from a different angle than that which is commonly being discussed. This is not to say that the usual concerns are insignificant or unimportant – but you’ve probably heard those arguments before, and you maybe haven’t heard this one.
In brief, I want to argue not from a moral standpoint here, but from a strategic one. Punching Nazis, from a left-wing perspective, is wrong – wrong because Nazis are better at violence than the left is!
I want you to look at this picture:
(Von Bundesarchiv, Bild 147-0503 / CC-BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 de, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5338480)
The men in uniforms in the center of this picture are not members of the military. They are members of the SA (Sturmabteilung or “Storm Detachment”, commonly known as the “brownshirts”), an element of the Nazi party that focused on semi-organized street violence and riots against members of other political parties.
During the rise of the Nazis, political events or rallies were often disrupted or physically attacked by members of opposing parties; the brownshirts originated as a group of glorified bouncers that would throw hecklers or agitators out of Nazi meetings, but they quickly became more militaristic and aggressive, and soon began physically assaulting Jews and members of enemy political parties.
This violence often escalated to involve the use of weapons; the man leading the march in this photograph is Horst Wessel, who was shot and killed by Communists as a result of his involvement in these clashes and was later elevated to martyr-like status in Nazi propaganda.
The brownshirts, unfortunately, were much better at this sort of violence than their opponents. Fascist ideology greatly stresses discipline, organization, militarism, and unity – all traits that make a group effective when it comes to physical fighting. Say what you will about anarchism, but it has never been that effective at coordinating people into organized and effective military or paramilitary groups – rather, the history of anarchism has primarily been one of small cells and individual actors.
When it comes to organized violence, unity simply wins out over individualism. Those who have read George Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia may be familiar with the disunity and infighting that plagued the Republican side of the Spanish Civil War. Franco’s fascists had no such problem, and won quite handily.
One might point out that the fascists and Nazis lost World War II, and certainly they did – but it took World War II, a giant military conflict of as yet unprecedented scale, to get people unified enough against fascism to put up a credible response, and there was certainly a lot of ground lost beforehand!
So, yeah. Don’t punch Nazis, even if you think it might be morally justified to do so – if political violence becomes accepted, this will play directly into the hands of the Nazis and fascists of the world.