Following some recent hostile commentary on his work on Neofolk, Peter Webb has asked us to publish the following statement. It is possible that both parties may be somewhat over-stating the ideological/conformist power of the scene - certainly some insidious ideas are being re-circulated, but it's unclear how many political converts such groups win in this way. From (somewhat distant) and anecdotal observations of the scene, we have the impression that listeners are tiring of by-numbers Neofolk accompanied by rightist references and that the movement may have passed its peak. It's also worth remembering that now Neofolk is a codified 'style', some producers probably make such references as an act of aesthetic rather than ideological conformity. Constant banal propaganda can sometimes have the opposite effect to that intended by its creators. Nevertheless, there are important and legitimate questions to be considered here...
Statement on Neo-folk and Post-industrial music in response to Whomakesthenazis.com and a.n.other `commentator’!
I have been alerted to the contents of this blog www.whomakesthenazis.com and one other website and feel that I have to respond to the criticism and confusion that seems to link my work to some kind of support or covert agreement with some of the ideas that are discussed here in the Fascist, Conservative Revolutionary or Traditionalist sphere. I firstly want to make clear that my work in `Exploring the Networked Worlds of Popular Music’ (2007) is partial and a discussion and description of some element of the Neo Folk/post-industrial music scene in amongst chapters on hip-hop, Bristol’s music culture, the Independent music production of Crass and a variety of house music labels and musicians dealing with each other, writing credits and the wider music industry. Therefore it is not exhaustive or comprehensive and does not fulfill the remit of discussing the ideological/political implications of this scene (Webb, p105) in much detail, this is something I had always intended to fulfill in other pieces of work. Sites like whomakesthenazis.com are one set of views on the political implications of this scene and whilst I feel my work and reputation are being crudely represented within them they do have a place in presenting information on this scene. My position politically is one of opposition to many of the political/ideological elements of this scene and below I present some comments on that.
Christopher Browning in his book `Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland’ (1992) describes the events that led to the deaths and deportations of tens of thousands of Jews from Poland in 1942. The focus of the book is on the German order police (Ordnungspolizei), battalions of drafted middle-aged reservists who couldn’t fight on the frontline and who were used to police Polish cities and also to round up and kill Jews en masse. This group who had no particular affiliation with Nazism (but had nationalist ideas) were attached to units led by SS men. The executions were carried out by large groups of officers, mainly by shooting their Jewish victims one by one in the neck after they had been forced to lie down in forest areas used for the killings. Browning tries to examine how this group of men who came from ordinary backgrounds and jobs had been turned into mass executioners able to kill tens of thousand of Jews in cold blood day after day whilst in Poland. His explanation suggests that a combination of Nazi Ideology, peer pressure, the situation of the war (even though these individuals had not experienced any fighting before their part in the killings), conformity and indoctrination were responsible. Only a minority refused to take part in the acts and as they developed they became routine and were even joked about. The point of Browning’s book, if we accept its thesis, is that ordinary men and women can become detached killers and brutal racists through a mixture of ideological leadership (in this case from those who had gone through SS training) and the power of group conformity. The reason I discuss this is that, like Stanley Milgram’s obedience and authority experiments or Phillip Zimbardo’s Prison experiment, Browning alerts us to the importance of group dynamics and conformity or obedience to a dominant set of ideas or norms that are pushed to the foreground in a group (either politically, socially or culturally) and often followed uncritically and obediently by the majority of the social group involved.
Browning’s work is useful here as it gives an insight into how strong ideological elements within a social grouping can heavily influence the way that grouping continues to act and think. Even though there is clearly no direct comparison to the events that Browning describes and a small music scene (Neo Folk/ post industrial), the idea of dominant figures in a social situation gaining people’s obedience and shaping their actions through ideological hegemony is important for this discussion. Both situations, do however, contain ideological positions that foreground elitism and disgust, demonization and contempt for an `other’ group (e.g. Jews, gypsies, the ignorant mass population). The chapter I wrote describes elements of this milieu as accounted for by some of its members and through some of my engagement with it over a number of years; it focused particularly on the three musicians of the band Death In June and their various musical projects since two of them (Tony Wakeford and Patrick Leagas) left and Douglas Pearce continued the project to the present day. The chapter does not delve consistently into the various ideological elements of the scene and I suggested that it was beyond the remit of this particular piece of work as I think it would require a book or series of articles in their own right to really discuss the full extent of the ideologies that are referenced by this milieu. That said however it is an omission that needs rectifying. I wish to state clearly that within the milieu there is a clear timeline that runs from the incarnation of Death In June through to the current output of bands like Von Thronstahl, Alerseelen, Orplid, Blood Axis etc that leads its audience to look at thinkers from the three ideological and philosophical areas previously mentioned i.e. Fascism, Revolutionary Conservatism and Traditionalism. The artists themselves have clearly explored and would subscribe in some cases to elements of the worldview of Julius Evola, Savitri Devi, Ernst Junger, Moeller Van Den Bruck, Armin Mohler, Oswald Spengler, Rene Guenon, Francis Parker Yockey, The Strasser brothers and particularly in the present configuration of the milieu, the European New Right and the work of Alain De Benoist and associated thinkers around him.
Douglas Pearce stated in an interview with Zillo magazine (late 1992) that:
“At the start of the eighties Tony and I were involved in radical left politics and beneath it history students. In search of a political view for the future we came across National Bolshevism, which is closely connected to the SA hierarchy. People like Gregor Strasser and Ernst Rohm who were later known as `second revolutionaries, attracted our attention” (Forbes, p.15)
He has not discussed this topic in great detail again, never wishing to publicly account for his political or ideological position, but it is prophetic and telling in its indication of ideas that are still referenced and linked to by leading artists and fans of these bands and some of the various webzines and magazines that have given space to them (e.g Heathen Harvest, Occidental Congress etc). It also seems clear that these were the ideas that DIJ were engaging with around the period of 1981 – 1984 when Tony Wakeford was a member of the National Front and part of the group who were being referred to as Strasserites and Third Positionists. The milieu of neo-folk is littered with references to these thinkers, to the political project of the New Right and the third positionists that came out of the fracture of the (UK) National Front in the early 1980s. DIJ, in name, referenced the `night of the long knives’ and the culling of the leadership of the SA and also in the dates put on the first two releases: SA 29 6 34 and SA 30 6 34, Tony Wakeford’s post DIJ band Above the Ruins were a direct reference to Evola and contained lyrics that echoed the third positionist direction of the NF, the title of the first Sol Invictus album was `Against the Modern World’ a reference to Evola’s work `Revolt against the Modern World’ (1996), Current 93 referenced Francis Parker Yockey’s `Imperium’ (1969) work on the album of the same name in 1987 and Savitri Devi on the album `Thunder Perfect Mind’ (1992). As the scene develops many bands reference and provide links to this range of thinkers maybe most clearly in the compilations Cavalcare El Tigre (Eis Und Licht, 1998 a reference to Evola’s work of the same name) featuring Von Thronsthal, Alerseelen, Orplid, Blood Axis, Waldteufel, Camerata Mediolanense and Ain Soph amongst others and more recently the Von Thronstahl album `Sacrificare’ which alerts readers of the CD liner notes to look at the work of Moeller Van Den Bruck and Joseph-Marie Comte De Maestre, one of the founders of a European Conservatism that put its trust in emotional allegiance to an unquestioned authority; usually a form of hereditary monarchy.
From Boyd Rice’s continuous references to Ragnar Redbeard’s Social Darwinist `Might is Right’ text and his appearance on Tom Metzger’s Race and Reason Cable TV show (where he discusses White Nationalist/power music mentioning DIJ, C93 and Above the Ruins) to Tesco distribution (neo folk and Marital Industrial distributer selling books such as De Benoist’s `On being a Pagan’, John Michell’s `Confessions of a Radical Traditionalist’ and the Evola inspired `Handbook for Traditional Living’ published by Artkos (who also publish work by Troy Southgate the National Anarchist/3rd Positionist and racial separatist), through to Michael Moynihan’s publishing of `Siege’ (1992), the work of James Mason the American National Socialist Mansonite, there are continuous and clear signposts to writing and work in the fascist, traditionalist and conservative revolutionary tradition. There are many other examples of this tendency within this scene and to clearly outline and discuss these specific elements of this milieu would need a fairly exhaustive work, which, I am sure, will be produced by many different writers and commentators. I am currently finishing a piece that deals with some of these elements but my intention here is to state clearly that I have no political, ideological or philosophical sympathy with any of the ideas of Fascism, traditionalism or conservative revolutionary thought. My interest in this milieu stems from my own immersion and interest in anarchist punk, post-punk, gothic music and various dance music scenes that provided clear links to sets of ideas, artistic practice, political activism and lifestyles – my own politics has come partly out of these types of engagement and could be described as a type of humanism derived from a combination of post Marxism, anarchism and libertarian thought but clearly driven by non-elitist, democratic and egalitarian principles all of which are clearly totally oppositional to the ideas presented by some of the key members of this musical milieu and in fact openly despised by some of them.
The reason for starting this piece with reference to Browning’s work is that although the neo-folk and post-industrial milieu is inhabited by a variety of different political, philosophical, spiritual and lifestyle ideas, practices and supporters there is a clearly significant and dominant use of the ideas of some of the most elitist, racist, conservative and traditionalist thinkers from the 19th, 20th and now 21st centuries, those ideas can lead to and provide a strong conformist group dynamic. Some people will be drawn to these ideas through their engagement with this milieu and some will take these ideas forward to develop a type of political engagement. I would hope that further discussion of these ideas and illumination of their potential social and cultural impact will break many individuals from that engagement and get them to look to develop their own work with a different set of reference points. So even though I think that this blog has taken my work completely out of context in terms of what it suggests should have been the focus of my chapter and contains some fairly crude slurs on my reputation I would suggest that `some’ of the material here is useful. Whether individuals in this milieu are active politically or not, the main point here is that the use of these thinkers in the forefront of the reference points used by the main bands as they have developed over the years leads to the creation of a group dynamic and conformity to this type of thinking amongst a significant section of the audience and new bands that emerge. This element of the milieu is one that I feel is highly problematic and one that needs opposing critically within the scene as well as from outside.
Peter Webb – October 2010
Evola, Julius (1996) Revolt Against the Modern World: Politics, Religion and Social Order in the Kali Yuga. Inner Traditions Bear and Company
Evola, Julius (2002) Men among the ruins: Post-war reflections of a radical traditionalist. Inner Traditions Bear and Company
Spengler, Oswald. (2007) Decline of the West. Open University Press
Silfen, Paul Harrison (1973) The Volkisch ideology and the roots of Nazism; The early writings of Arthur Moeller van den Bruck. Exposition.
De Benoist, Alain. (2004) On Being a Pagan. Ultra Press.
Southgate, Tory. (2010) Tradition & Revolution: Collected Writings of Troy Southgate. Arktos Press.
Devi, Savitri (2000) The Lightning and the Sun. Lulu.com
Goddrick-Clarke, Nicholas (2000) Hitler's Priestess: Savitri Devi, the Hindu-Aryan Myth and Neo-Nazism. New York University Press
Browning, Christopher (1992) Ordinary Men : Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland, New York : HarperCollins
Yockey, Francis Parker (1969) Imperium: The Philosophy of History and Politics. Noontide Press
Forbes, Robert (1995) Death In June: Misery and Purity. Jara Press