For the last few years, I’ve been obsessing over World War Two, and more specifically my family’s role in it. Three of my grandparents were directly involved in the British war effort. My grandmother could have died during the Blitz and her first husband was in fact killed flying planes during the Battle of Britain. I know that history is not as clear cut as we like to think, that in many ways they were fighting to preserve British imperialism, that Hitler was applying the same murderous logic of colonialism in an even more extreme form to Europe, using lessons learnt in Africa, Asia, the Americas. I’m still proud that they fought, because if the Axis had won I don’t think human civilization would still exist today.
And I also know that for my one grandfather especially, who was a vice-captain in the Royal Navy, he truly believed that he was not just fighting to destroy Fascism, but that he was fighting for a better world. He was proud to be an educated son of the English working class, and knew that racism and imperialism were evils that demean humanity. And I know that it was difficult for him to come to terms with being back to South Africa, which in a few years would be ruled by a group of depraved Hitler fanboys. A vile pack of half-witted, vicious moral hypocrites who were happy to turn most of the country into a fucking gulag to achieve their nightmare of suburban Lebensraum. And I know that he had to accommodate to this, and find a way to live under an evil system. I’m not trying to throw my grandfather under the bus here. South Africa is a cautionary example of what happens when people like Trump, and the many political abominations now wanting to scratch at the gate of power, do when in charge. Living under a right-wing dictatorship doesn’t have to look like death camps and torch rallies. It can appear sickeningly normal, at least for the people who aren’t targeted by it. Its barbecues and police death squads, summer holidays and political prisoners being thrown out of helicopters, willed blindness.
As long as I have been politically conscious, I’ve had a dim awareness that the world is in a perilous state. But I’ve always felt insulated from it “financial meltdown – how bad for the poor… Fortunately I’m well educated”, “migrants being terrorised – how awful. Fortunately for me I’m a white male…” But now that an actual, legitimate Fascist revival, something I thought was impossible is in full swing, and climate catastrophe is next, I no longer feel that sense of smug security. And that’s probably a good thing. I think now of the concept of solidarity, not charity. It’s not some liberal saviour bullshit, it’s rational self-interest. If you see someone getting fucked with by the cops or the bosses you want to help them because you imagine one day it could be you. That’s the best of humanity, that spirit of refusal that has kept people alive through the darkest times in history. When I see footage of rowdiness on the streets of the US tonight, I see that same Promethean spirit which has animated every revolution, every cultural movement, every small act of personal bravery too. The world doesn’t have to be like that.
People like Trump, or Putin, or Farage, or Milo, or Richard Spencer and their equivalents in other parts of the world draw from something else. They can build nothing. They can only destroy. They worship death, they have corpses in their mouths. They are brave now. They need to need to know fear again.