This piece will more be two separate pieces joined together, both of which I’ve been cooking up the past couple weeks but realised were too intertwined to really present separately. As such, it will deal with two very similar but nevertheless distinct matters. The first being an update on the predictions I made for the direction of the right-wing in New Zealand in the piece I wrote on the 18th of March, immediately after the shootings in Christchurch. This is merely a reflection on the accuracy of those predictions now that around 6-7 weeks have passed, and a revising of those predictions where appropriate. The second is a more broad meditation on the underlying social phenomena which I consider to be the major actors in conspiring to produce the kind of nihilistic, reactionary terror visited upon Christchurch.
The Far Right: Two Months On
My immediate predictions for the far right in New Zealand were broken into three rough categories – the organised fascist underground, the purely conspiratorial scene, and the ‘respectable reactionaries’ who tend to act as the bridge between mainstream bourgeois conservatism and the more radical fringe. These are only very rough categories meant to denote the kinds of organisations and social scenes are at play, realistically the borders essentially don’t exist and there is total free-flow of activity between them. As such, these shouldn’t be considered rigid predictions only pertaining to the categories listed here.
Beginning with the neo-fascist scene, the initial predictions have in essence held. The extreme right remain mostly underground for now. There appears to have been some minimal activity by the Dominion Movement – a few isolated cases where it seems new stickers and posters have gone up have been noted. But for the most part the likes of the Dominion Movement and the National Front remain with their heads down. This especially so for the Dominion Movement (presuming their claim to having dissolved is bogus, as is often the case with these things) as intense media scrutiny remains on them after the massacre, and as Tarrant’s links to the European & Australian far right come to light. Of primary interest here is the fact he seems to have been particularly influenced by the identitarian movement in, donating money to major identitarian orgs in France and Austria. Given the Dominion Movement consider(ed) themselves the NZ franchise for white identitarianism, this has led to the majority of media interest being on them.
Regarding the much more online and much less organised world of conspiracy theory in NZ, I again think my initial predictions have (unfortunately) held. False flag theories about the shootings – either claiming a shadowy ensemble of state intelligence, communists, and Jews orchestrated the attacks; or that they didn’t happen at all – have sprung to life across the ecosystem of reactionary cranks and conspiracy theorists. The explicit reactionaries include the likes of ex-NZ First candidate Kym Koloni’s mostly online group One Nation NZ (which went offline after the shootings but cropped back up recently). While batshit cranks like Vinny Eastwood who have long eked out an existence as fringe ‘alternative media’ outlets trying to make bank off of ostensibly right- and left-wing social movements alike have likewise jumped onboard, a few getting visits from the cops for their efforts. I imagine having such a traumatic and bewildering event which uproots much of the established notions of national identity will prove to be a boomtime for the kind of grifters that leach off these things for some time to come. This will need the consistent attention of the radleft for years, as various right-wing parasites try to position themselves as Kiwi Alex Jones – with the promise of serious social influence and the grounds for a minor commercial empire luring them in.
Lastly there are the kinds of ‘respectable reactionaries’ who act as a bridge between more mainstream bourgeois politics and the above mentioned fringe of NZ conservatism. At this point such ‘respectable reactionaries’ might include the likes of the New Conservative Party, Right Minds NZ (a kind of pan-right forum and media outlet), and the Whale Oil blog – which seems to be drifting into fairly extreme territory as a bankrupt + ailing Cameron Slater finally leaves the picture. For the most part this is an area where I’ve been surprised. At the time I wrote before I presumed these groups would receive ‘considerable blowback’ but held out the caveat that they might duck the scrutiny by dent of being “smaller than the big parliamentary parties but less fringe than the neonazi scene.”
While there has definitely (justifiably) been a lot of anger and criticism directed at the New Conservatives, this hasn’t resulted in much of a discernible political retreat by them of other political forces like them. If anything, the NC and to greater or lesser degrees other orgs & outlets have simply taken the events of the past two months in their stride. More openly embracing ‘cultural marxism,’ ‘Christian persecution in NZ’ and ‘the Islamic takeover’ (in some cases even open support for the notion of white genocide) alongside various strands of Christchurch terror trutherism. This has facilitated, at least in ideological terms, a degree of cohesion between the messaging of these orgs and Destiny Church, which has gone out of its way to place itself in the middle of public attention since the shootings. Between the various less overtly religious orgs taking cues from the American and Australian right, and resurgent conservative Christianity in the public media sphere, the ‘respectable reactionaries’ have built up a number of culture war battle lines they can hold. The primary lines are a trio of ‘defending free speech,’ ‘defending gun rights,’ and scaremongering over illusory threats to Christianity in the West (which often closely mirror more insidious narratives of ‘demographic decline’). All three have allowed this faction of the extra-parliamentary right to get themselves enmeshed in discourse which more conventional forces of the bourgeois parliamentary right can find themselves in agreement with.
As such, going forward, much of the same predictions I made around 6-7 weeks ago remain with some revisions. I expect the neo-fascist and otherwise extreme right circles will remain on the back foot and quasi-underground for the foreseeable future. They will not go away though. Some long-term institutions like the National Front may simply wait a period before reemerging as before, hosting poorly attended marches and pickets or handing out racist leaflets in towns where they have a somewhat stable membership. Others, both old-guard bonehead gangs and the new wave of young fascists, will almost certainly reemerge in the next few months or at most years with new ideological clothing and new orgs. I would be surprised if new forces don’t emerge from the exact same informal networks as before, and we don’t see some familiar faces from the Dominion Movement or Right Wing Resistance cropping back up. For the more kooky, very online conspiracy minded types there will be a considerable boost in their activity for some time to come. Not only more activity within their own circles, but a greater degree of ideological flow via the more ‘respectable’ types into mainstream discourse. Finally, while it is still very possible those ‘respectable’ types will continue to struggle to achieve the level of political centrality they aspire to; it seems likely that we can expect them to gain from the new situation. The three most likely ways I see this happening is a new invigoration in the existing orgs, the appearance of new formations, or a greater deal of inter-org cohesion with larger and more formalised coalitions forming. Or, of course, a mix of the above three.
An Alien World: The Next Atrocity
Primarily, it will be the Marxist conception of alienation that I’ll be working on here (ending every conversation with “Ceterum censeo Capitalismus esse delendam” must wear thin for friends of Marxists). For those interested, the works I’m directly drawing from, thanks to some suggestions from one of the only leftbook groups I pay any attention to, are as follows:
The Fatal Pressure of Competition (2002), by Robert Kurz
The Shade of Swords (2015), by Jean Casseur
Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide (2015), by Franco Berardi
Most of this is material I’m fairly new to, previous engagements on the topic of social alienation and anti-social acts of violence being through the works of Durkheim and Weber, so forgive some clumsiness with the concepts at hand.
In short, the basic notion here is that both the nihilistic rampages of the archetypal ‘school shooter’ and the ideologically motivated but politically aimless acts of fascist terror have their root in a hollow, alien world which provides no reason to live. A quest for meaning to fill the void.
Now, for a start, let’s be clear that I’m referring here to several degrees of abstraction beyond the most direct forms of alienation from ones own labour as is standard in a capitalist mode of production. The mediation of life through market forces in its earliest and most basic permutations concerns sale of labour as a commodity on the market in ever more areas of industry. This creates an ever-escalating tendency toward any given individual labourer having less and less concrete bearing on the product of their labour. This process, however, began centuries ago; there is no need to reiterate the story here.
Suffice to say, the era in which everyone is a brand and a ‘community’ is more often than not an impersonal and vicious competition between feuding one-person-brands with a particular interest is a great degree of abstraction from the ‘original sin’ of alienation. What this invariably develops toward is the creation of hollow people, drained of any semblance of connection to a tangible community and as such evermore divorced from the social bonds which most assume must certainly prevent any desire to commit atrocities. What one might now ask is why, if the problem is ‘just capitalism,’ are these acts of horrendous violence seemingly more common than ever (be said acts aimless reactionary terror, to which must be included ultraconservative religious violence; or the public mass shootings, bombings, etc, which plague certain countries). Surely they should have been substantially more common prior to now, at the least there should be many more instances of the public massacres which especially defy explanation beyond ‘they simply cracked’. Now while such acts of extreme and seemingly random public violence do exist going back a considerable period, it is only within the last 30-40 years that the parallel social organs which bound many communities have also disintegrated. It is within that period that the kind of public mass killer we are familiar with has become a social reality as we know it today.
Prior to the great retreats of the workers movement across a swathe of the advanced capitalist societies which began in the later-1970s, organised labour (from its most conservative to most revolutionary forms) served to fill a vital role as a community all of its own for the working class. It not only organised the workplace, but more often than not had a role in organising the social events and public life of areas where most workers were in unionised industries. These allowed tangible social bonds to be built in spite of the dominant capitalist mode of production, which even if one might doubt whether they were the ‘real thing’ were functional substitute. In the Keynesian era the state took an interest in a greater degree of central planning to foster class harmony than it ever had before, interested as it was in rebuilding after the twin devastation of Depression & Great War. Again, one might be of the opinion that this only served to build a facsimile of the pre-capitalist social bonds which were dissolved over the course of the 18th-early 20th centuries – but that was for the most part enough.
This dissolution of social bonds and communal connection is not, and this is key, restricted to the working class which has borne the immediate brunt of these monumental changes. The abstract regimentation of social life by intangible market forces was facilitated by a crushed working class which lost the capacity to maintain its hard-won parallel community, the dissolution of which allowed the acceleration of market control over social life. This could not possibly have been restricted to a single class within the capitalist political economy as a whole, the general ‘hollowing out’ of social life has continually seeped upward into increasingly panicked and confused professional middle + bourgeois classes. Casseur is helpful here, the following being applicable though contextually it was written regarding foreign volunteers for the Islamic State in Syria:
What these wandering souls hope to find among the ruins and the dead of the Levant is something to believe in, something that saturates each action with a perennial meaning that overshadows the fleeting and the transient, a community worth living and dying for and held together by something other than the rule of gold.
Anti-terror legislation, anti-radicalization campaigns and an even bigger boost to the omnipresent surveillance apparatus are supposed to turn the tide, to stamp out this rot that has infected the very core of paradise. But what they will never understand is that it is this very society that they so desperately seek to protect, with its ritualized work-party-sleep-repeat cycle, its endless sequence of hyped non-events and its almost totalitarian imperative to “enjoy,” which produces its own nightmares.
The same process at play here pushes individuals in otherwise peaceful countries with either advanced or advancing capitalist economies towards an abstract desire for revenge – against what often being somewhat unclear. In the case of the ‘mass shooter’ the quest for a community or even the slightest semblance of one is entirely unsuccessful. Revenge is either targeted at an institution the killer is familiar with (the school, the workplace), at the local area where the killer lives, or it is simply targeted at a large public gathering (as with the 2017 Las Vegas shootings at a country festival which killed 58 and injured over 800).
In decades prior it was relatively common for this process to push individuals towards cults centered on charismatic (and often enigmatic) leaders. They may go on to participate in inwardly (Heaven’s Gate) or outwardly (Aum Shinrikyo) directed acts of violence, or wallow in an escalating spiral of abuse by the cult leadership (or, as often as not, both). This still occurs on a considerable scale, but is not as pronounced as the it was during the springtime of ‘new religions’ during the 1980s-1990s. In this case, and that of the aimless reactionary terrorist, something resembling a community is found – but it only offers a feeling of inclusion at a considerable personal toll. With the far right, the communities established both on and offline take a psychological toll on the members. There is a demand not quite for ideological purity, but for a continual escalation/matching/surpassing of rhetoric and action. The community already comprises of people with a poor self-image and a general lack of direction, meaning, or worth attached to their own lives upon entry.
In such a situation, the escalation required to maintain the community meets one of two responses to which two very similar but different sporadic acts of violence can be produced. On the one hand, if the community has a more formal political direction and structure with organisations that take defined actions then they are met with encouragement toward self-betterment. This is with the crucial caveat that such betterment is explicitly for the benefit of the nation or race, it is designed to operate as a recruiting and training mechanism for cadre building. While personally an individual may feel they are deriving a great benefit in the finding of an inclusive community and improvements to their overall health, all these benefits are designed to enhance the physical prowess and ideological discipline of the fascist cadre. Violence in this case is directed toward directly attacking ideological opponents in the street (as has been seen in the US on numerous occasions over the past 3-4 years). In some instances, the organisation adopts a strategy of coordinated terrorism and goes underground – but a set of political goals are still kept in mind and the terror does not have the incoherent character of the ‘aimless fascism’ prevalent today.
‘Aimless fascism’ instead is the product of the individual finding a decentralised reactionary community (typically but not always online) with little to no formal organisation and a primary orientation around online forums. Coordinated political campaigns are either nonexistent or carried out entirely via shitposting, with little in the way of actual outlet for the desires of violent revenge held by individual converts. The tendency toward escalation and extremity remain; but the sense of community is more contingent and eventually less fulfilling, while self-loathing is enforced instead of a drive toward self-betterment. In this situation, fascist terror arises spasmodically from individuals who decide to both reject the online confines of the community and decide to make the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ for the community. In return, the aimless fascist attains the status of martyr (regardless whether they survive the attack or not) and a permanent position of reverence among the community. The target is chosen without any political strategy beyond attacking the enemies of the community. No goal beyond an abstract act of vengeance, the infliction of violent terror, and the inspiration of future attackers. The aimless fascist achieves in (almost always) his action both belonging in an alien world and a sense of inflated worth as a hero of the community.
Berardi in the introduction of Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide, in analyzing the archetypal ‘mass shooter’, describes the overall phenomena as “the agony of capitalism and the dismantling of social civilization” which has established a “kingdom of nihilism”. He is, in his own words:
…interested in people who are suffering themselves, and who become criminals because this is their way both to express their psychopathic need for publicity and also to find a suicidal exit from their present hell.
In a section in the third chapter on the Columbine attackers Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, he elaborates of their motivations that:
…the young man [Harris] knew very well that he was not going to be a winner in the social game. Instead, he decides that he will be a winner for a moment: I’ll kill and I’ll win; then I’ll die. The murderous action is conceived as revenge for the humiliation that he has suffered in the daily game of competition.
On the desire for abstract revenge on the part of the mass murderer against an alien world that has failed them:
The mass murderer is someone who believes in the right of the fittest and the strongest to win in the social game, but he also knows or senses that he is not the fittest nor the strongest. So he opts for the only possible act of retaliation and self-assertion: to kill and be killed.
These factors apply broadly to the aimless fascist terrorist. In their quest to find some respite from the alien world, from the disintegration of social bonds, they follow a path into the dead end of reaction. They find relief but no solution, there is no way out, and the community they have joined push them ever more toward a violent last resort. Without breaking from the reactionary community, the chances of a new atrocity build until the next killer spasmodically arises. Where, and who, in many cases cannot be determined beforehand – there is no strategy or program being adhered to, only a consistent pattern of escalation. Each massacre creates a new martyr, from whom inspiration is derived for the next atrocity. The alien world ensures that similar communities always form to escape the void by reactionary means, and until the alien world itself is abolished, the next atrocity is inevitable.