Thesis: Punching Nazis is good because they are Nazis.
Antithesis: Punching Nazis is bad, because not only will they become even more violent, but the United States (which is basically a fascist empire) will also inflict more damage on already marginalized communities– on Black and Brown people. Instead, pay reparations, so they can have resources to further organize for the protection of those who are the most harmed by the Nazis and by this white supremacist, capitalist system.
Synthesis: Do both.
The problem with punching Nazis, and punching Trump supporters and other white supremacists is not that it’s violent– the problem is that it’s not violent enough. The Black socialist revolutionary and prisoner of war George Jackson wrote, “The power of the people lies in its greater potential violence.” And Chairman Mao Tse-tung famously said, “Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.”
Whenever a white liberal in the U.S. (or even a white socialist who supports Bernie Sanders) hears about such potential violence, they usually insist that, no, we must always remain nonviolent, otherwise we may become as bad as the Nazis. But this is because all whites belong to the oppressor class or colonizing population of the United States: the political identity of whiteness. This is particularly true if we are whites in the middle-class.
Middle-class whites– especially on the left-wing of the colonizing class of the United States– are usually the fastest to say that we oppose violence. We say this because the dominant ideology of the system– upon which we depend for our access to necessary resources– has taught us in all the institutions under its control (media, schools, churches, political campaigns, workplaces, courtrooms) that violence is not the answer. Violence is never the answer, we repeat, just like the teacher in the school, or the preacher in the pulpit, or the white guy behind the desk during the local news telecast.
Meanwhile, this very same system– capitalism– stole everything it has through violence: through violence against Africans, violence against Indigenous peoples, violence against the majority of the global population. Even so, capitalism can keep telling you– or selling you– this ideal of nonviolence, while it is committing extreme violence, because as a white person you depend on this system for your survival and overall well-being. It doesn’t have to be true– it only needs to be backed by the political power that “grows out of the barrel of a gun.” Now we will believe what it tells us to believe– unless this gun is pointed at us. Then the material reality of capitalist violence becomes an unavoidable fact.
The white middle-class is a violently-created segment of the colonizing population in the United States. It was originally created, and it has been maintained, through some of the greatest violence imaginable. The ruling class of the capitalist system– most of whose members are white– requires a buffer between itself, because it is so few in number, and the masses of Black and Brown people here (on occupied Indigenous lands) and around the world. In exchange for the loyalty which the white middle-class gives to the bourgeoisie, we receive a share of the exploited labor, land, resources and culture of the global proletariat, even as this share of imperialism’s riches has been shrinking over the decades. However, in addition to these material benefits of empire, the white middle-class is also empowered to believe in the lofty ideals of “American democracy”– such as “peace,” “justice,” “equality” and “freedom.” The United States rounds up Black and Brown people at “home,” and bombs them “abroad,” and meanwhile the good white liberal can walk on Indigenous land talking about “freedom” and “equality”– protected from the violence of the State (which is yet another benefit of this political category of whiteness).
The white middle-class which was so violently created– through genocide, slavery, and capitalist exploitation– is, in turn, one of the most violent groups in the entire history of the globe. We say that we support ideals like “peace” and “justice,” but we say this while we are enjoying the benefits of the imperialist state power of the United States. What Nazi Germany attempted to do in less than two decades the United States has been doing over more than two centuries. And, if this scale of genocide isn’t wide enough, when we broaden it to include Europe (of which the United States is a settler colony), we will discover that the violence that Belgium’s King Leopold committed in Congo, and England in India and Kenya, and that Europeans have been committing all over the globe for hundreds of years, far exceeds the horrible violence committed by Nazi Germany against white Jews (and also against people of color– a fact that is often left out by white historians). Whites in the middle-class of the United States– in terms of the size of our population– have been the largest benefactors of this genocidal violence, so we continue to support it, making us extremely violent. While we say that we oppose violence, what we really mean is that we want “law and order”– the law and order that has meant chaos and destruction for most of the people in the world, including Black people in this country.
However, this philosophical idealism imposed on us by the colonizing bourgeois power of the United States prevents the white middle-class from understanding the world (and ourselves) in dialectical and materialist terms. By “dialectical” we mean what Chairman Mao said, that political power comes “from the barrel of a gun.” We mean what George Jackson said: “The power of the people lies in its greater potential violence.” Once you have political power, then you can use it to enforce peace– except you do it in the interests of your ruling class. Under the current system, this “peace” is just the “law and order” of the racist, patriarchal and imperialist bourgeoisie. And this “law and order” is based on violence– extreme violence.
When oppressed peoples who are struggling to survive under the weight of this violence organize to move against it– violently if necessary– then the forces who drove them to these acts are also responsible for their violence. If someone is stepping on your foot, and won’t get off your foot after you’ve asked nicely (for years), then you aren’t to blame for shoving that person as hard as you need to get them off your foot. Whites are stepping on the foot– and the throat– of the world. White supremacists whine about “white genocide.” However, in historical terms, the oppressed peoples of the world– Indigenous peoples, Africans, Latinxs, Palestinians– would be entirely justified to wipe us off the face of their land– their part of the earth– if this meant gaining control of their own resources and lives, and gaining power. This is why the communist revolutionary Chairman Mao also said, “We are advocates of the abolition of war, we do not want war; but war can only be abolished through war, and in order to get rid of the gun it is necessary to take up the gun.”
Whites in the middle-class– who both support and are supported by violence on the greatest scale imaginable– don’t think in these historical or dialectical terms, because we don’t have to, not yet. The violent system of European capitalism that gave birth to the identity of whiteness, as well as the “American” identity, insulates us from the material reality of ongoing genocide against Indigenous peoples and Africans. So, right now, white people don’t need to ask ourselves: “What is the most effective way to take up the gun, in order to get rid of the gun?” In fact, a middle-class white person in “America” is far more likely to pick up the gun and move against already oppressed communities, further occupying Indigenous lands in Oregon like the “Bundy Brigade” in 2016. And, on account of the power of whiteness, they’ll probably get away with it too, like that reactionary group did.
Fifty-years ago the Black Panther Party was forced by the oppressor– the racist power structure of the United States– to take up the gun and defend their community from constant attacks by the police. But Huey P. Newton, the co-founder of the Black Panther Party, also used the political theory of dialectical materialism, as it had been demonstrated (not invented) by Karl Marx, V. I. Lenin and Chairman Mao Tse-tung.
Dialectical materialism is a theory that is proved correct only by being put into consistent practice. So Huey P. Newton and co-founder Bobby Seale bought up as many copies of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book” as they could find in the Bay Area. They went to Chinese bookstores and bought all the available copies. And then they sold “The Little Red Book” on college campuses– mainly to middle-class and wealthy white kids– and took the money from these sales and bought guns, in order to defend the Black community who was under attack in the streets by the racist Oakland Police Department. Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale made a profit off the sale of Chairman Mao’s “Little Red Book,” then turned around and used these profits to purchase guns. That’s just one example of putting dialectical materialism into practice, and understanding the contradictory nature of capitalist society.
So, if we’re thinking in dialectical terms today, what we may recognize is: the problem with punching Nazis is, first of all, they are only the tip of the iceberg in comparison to the entire racist power structure of the United States, with its military, its police, its courts, and the wealth of the banks on Wall Street. And, second, punching Nazis isn’t violent enough. They need to be destroyed. And that’s why the Black Liberation Army was correct in its methods of self-defense, methods which this terrorist system of power labeled “terrorism” (of course). However, the idea that you have to win over the support of “decent, hardworking American [white] people” in order to legitimatize your movement is just a way for the violent ruling class to exercise further control over oppressed peoples, and exploit our fears about their methods. Whatever they need to do to get free– that’s all that matters. That’s also why Nat Turner had the right idea, and Gabriel Prosser, and Denmark Vesey. Who cares what racist slaveholders and their supporters think? They’re racist. In fact, once oppressed peoples are free, the racists probably would talk about how much they respected their ability to resist and fight back– because now the oppressed have power.
At the same time, one of the basic things we can learn about guerilla warfare is that it should inflict maximum damage on the enemy while minimizing damage to the people. The advantage always goes to the oppressed people in their war against the oppressor, because the oppressor has been at war against them ever since they stole their power (and land and productive forces). So the oppressor is constantly on guard against any threat, any sign that it could be overthrown. The enemy is only able to be reactionary. It has to pay its mercenaries in the U.S. military and the lazy fools in the police department who are on “stakeout” like in all those TV shows, munching stale doughnuts and spilling coffee on their blue uniforms. What kind of activity is that compared to the principled actions of oppressed people who thirst for freedom, and are armed with the correct political theory?
So the State– while it has the advantage of power– is also at a disadvantage on account of this power, because it must constantly defend it, and it has to control the whole enormous institutional apparatus that it has put in place. Sometimes people fall asleep on the job, or turn into opportunists or “traitors,” or become disillusioned. In fact, the United States is so used to scaring the white middle-class about the threat of “Commies” and “terrorists” and “Black thugs” and “illegal aliens” it has only achieved one aim: we’re terribly scared of everything. The U.S. put a price on the head of a Black woman in her late-sixties who escaped to Cuba many decades ago after she was wrongfully imprisoned for the murder of a pig, and the FBI named Assata Shakur the “Most Wanted” person in the world– that’s why Chairman Mao called the imperialists “paper tigers.” The capitalists are so busy trying to frighten everyone– when they aren’t numbing us with the coping mechanisms for their exploitation– that at some point the violent white middle-class becomes just a gray homogeneous mush of tepid fears and colder comforts.
But each of us has a role to play in the revolutionary struggle against capitalism and imperialism. The anarchists, Antifa and the erroneously-named “alt-left” are playing their role. More power to them. The capitalists may say, “Oh they are only a small percentage of the population who just happen to be very loud.” But all revolutions start out small. The Combahee River Collective probably wasn’t a very large group. The crew on the Granma included only 82 courageous revolutionaries. The Black Panther Party started out small.
And, the fact is, today a lot of the white youth in the United States are becoming disillusioned and they are wondering what their place in this society might be (as if that is any different from previous generations, right?). But it seems that each generation of white people– at least since World War II– has one segment that reacts to the “heroic” exploits of their parents (Dad, that is) and their grandparents (Granddad) and goes out to prove they are just as tough and brave and willing to “die for their country” (never mind kill) as Pa was. Or at least, just as willing to win the championship game for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Whether it’s football or it’s war, they need some way to make the point that they aren’t “sissies” and that they can keep this whole “America” thing going, by hitting the enemy, running through the enemy, shooting the enemy. Whether it’s by throwing a football or throwing a hand grenade, that segment of the white settler population is perpetually attempting to outdo the “Greatest Generation” and prove that patriarchy, imperialism and bourgeois values are alive and well in the U.S.A. (fights back tears, salutes flag).
However, other segments of the white population are looking for guidance, and are feeling increasing disillusionment with ameriKKKa, and maybe they just don’t have the muscle mass to join the football team … or don’t want to go and get their butts shot off in some distant “enemy” country. So, white people– forever violent, at least since 1492– look around, and see that the United States isn’t as attractive as it used to be. I mean, look who’s President right now. The whole act of white-centered toxic masculinity is wearing a bit thin.
And the younger whites try to escape this “oppression” for a while by using the various coping mechanisms of capitalism, but then emerge once more, and look around, and see the “alt-right” and the “alt-left.” It doesn’t matter at this point that the “alt-left” doesn’t actually exist, and that Antifa requires discipline, and that revolutionary activity must be principled– all they know is, they are bored, or disillusioned, and they need something or someone to identify with, a winning team (that’s not the University of Alabama or the U.S. Armed Forces). And then they see all these people dressed in black driving the white supremacists and Nazis out of Berkeley, and they think, “That looks like something I might want to join.”
Never underestimate white people’s capacity for violence, and not just poor whites in the United States who are stereotyped as gun-toting, uneducated, gap-toothed yokels. The violently-created white middle-class is always on the verge of unleashing yet another wave of violence, like their support for the “War on Drugs” and “Reaganomics” and Clinton’s “peace and prosperity” and Bush’s “War on Terror.” The white middle-class typically just votes or hires someone else to carry out our violence for us– including the impoverished white kids who are sent to Iraq as mercenaries of empire.
Even so, white kids today are looking around and they see these volatile conditions, as capitalism is (once again) in crisis. And they look at the alt-right, and think that would give them one identity, and they look at the other side of this false equivalence created by the capitalist media, and they see what the anarchists and “the far left” are doing– and as long as the latter part is winning, even with small victories, this has a massive impact on the white population of the United States. The dialectic can become: use the violence of whiteness to destroy whiteness (and capitalist violence). Exploit these divisions within the violent white identity, and further weaken the colonizing class of whites, so the organized forces of the global proletariat can then strengthen their movements to take back what is rightfully theirs.
Instead of giving a disillusioned white kid an Alabama Crimson Tide uniform, or khaki pants and a bad haircut and literature on the KKK, give this kid “The Little Red Book” by Chairman Mao– or, better yet, sell it to him– then take these profits and pay them to Black women– pay reparations to Black trans women, and turn this money over to Black-led organizations. We can punch all the Nazis we want but– good or bad– only African people can be their own liberators. And if we’re progressive, we should believe that any means that Africans/Black people use to get free are legitimate. After all, Chairman Mao said, “History shows that wars are divided into two kinds, just and unjust. All wars that are progressive are just, and all wars that impede progress are unjust.”