What is Alt-Right Culture? From Marinetti to 4chan

Umberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers, 1916. Source: Wikimedia CommonsUmberto Boccioni, Charge of the Lancers, 1916. Source: Wikimedia Commons

**Content Warning: Discussion of racism and anti-Semitism as well as some mention of terrorism and Nazism**

The far right in the United Kingdom grew primarily from Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists of the 1930s which was banned during WW2, but its roots stretch back further. [1] It was also present in the earlier ‘radical right’, a movement which ranged from extreme Ulster unionists and Empire defenders to groups like the British Brotherhood League which campaigned against Jewish immigration between 1901 and 1906. After WW1 and the Bolshevik Revolution an ultra-conservative response manifested itself in the formation of ‘Jew Wise’ groups such as the Britons Society, the Nordic League and the Imperial Fascist League. Newspapers such as The Patriot and The Morning Post publicised radical right ideas and were funded by the Duke of Northumberland. The far right is currently rebranding itself as ‘alternative’ in a bid to be the new counterculture, but far right culture is far from new.

Marinetti

Italian artist Filippo Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto was published in 1909 in Le Figaro with many tracing this as the beginning of a fascist artistic ideology. The manifesto is incendiary and exhilarating: “We will glorify war-the only hygiene-militarism, patriotism”. It is a distinct contrast to the confused Vorticist manifesto which is as close to fascism as a British art movement came. In fact Vorticism worked hard to separate itself from Futurism sensing the unpopularity of a war-embracing ideology. Wyndham Lewis and his allies demonstrated in one of Marinetti’s London lectures causing uproar and refusing to let him speak. But Futurism had already been fully absorbed into the cultural mainstream and shaped the progression of modernism. While its dismissal of museums as ‘graveyards’ may be interpreted as anarchist, Marinetti’s choice to support Mussolini confirmed Italian Futurism’s relationship with fascism. The Futurist political party officially united with the Italian fascists in 1919. Marinetti envisioned a cultural revolution and in his semi-joking Futurist Cookbook took a stand against pasta as the national dish, arguing Italian rice would be far better. The rejection of tradition and the past but a preference for an ‘Italian’ rice demonstrate the confusing relationship between fascism and national identity.

Marinetti later struggled to ingratiate himself with the regime especially given Mussolini’s lack of interest in art and the pressure from Germany to reject the avant-garde. Futurist art was increasingly associated with the foreign and hence labelled ‘degenerate art’. Marinetti’s despair that his highly nationalistic art form was somehow other also deepens the paradoxical nature of far right culture. Abstract art in Russia was supported by Lenin but ultimately outlawed under Stalin. During the end of his life Malevich the famous Russian avant-garde artist who founded Suprematism appeared to concede to socialist realism. Yet he signed his portraits with a single black square as a final act of resistance. The censorship of ‘degenerate art’ did not kill the movements but only deepen their impact. Crucially however both fascist and communist regimes had close, if antagonistic, relationships with modernist art and culture.

art

Above: Malevich’s black square. Right: A socialist realist painting by Malevich – the black square can be seen bottom-left.

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The idea of a return to a classical style, such as in the propaganda of the Third Reich, is well documented. And the concept of a cultural homecoming is not a new one. Pre-Raphaelites, often seen as one of Britain’s most avant-garde of movements, were inherently built upon the idealisation of the earlier classical style as well as drawing from medieval art. However the far right’s adoption of this has resulted in a strange cycle of return. The classical and heroic work produced under the Third Reich affirmed traditional values such as the perfect family and binary gender roles. However, it also incorporated pagan elements of nature worship and harmony with the Earth. Similarly, modern British far right culture centres on the idea of a return to a more blissful and traditional ‘before’.

Among Google’s most searched results when you enter English Defence League are ‘EDL Clothing’ ‘Tommy Robinson Twitter’ and, more depressingly ‘when is the next EDL march?’ If we venture briefly into fascist fashion the majority of the clothing available is plastered in St George’s flags. But we also see a contradictory mix of “No Surrender” a Protestant Unionist slogan developed from the Irish conflict next to “In Hoc Signo Vinces” (In this sign you will conquer) the 12th century Knights of Templar motto, the Catholic crusaders, recognised and endorsed by Pope Innocent II. You also might notice red and white roses as well as the general presence of Anglo-Saxon culture within their leaflets and literature. This is a particularly strange demonstration of the ongoing desire for ‘before’ as well as a fabricated connection with an already convoluted identity. Rather than a culture of creation and innovation from the past the British far right has manufactured an identity from a rose-tinted view of history. This is well expressed in old UKIP leader Henry Bolton’s speech expressing his anxiety for the erosion of the “Anglo-Saxon indigenous population”. [2]

However, the concept of the distinct Anglo-Saxon identity was not developed widely until the 16th century with Henry VIII’s own infatuation with the past leading him to build an Arthurian round table at Winchester Castle. The majority of translations such as Beowulf and The Exeter Book were carried out in the 19th century with Victoria and Albert presented as early medieval monarchy in sculpture. Yet we can witness the deliberate exclusion of the Germanic tribes from Anglo-Saxon culture when the royal family changed their name to from Saxe-Coburg-Gotha to Windsor in 1917. Surprisingly the Germanic influence on the Anglo-Saxons is not mentioned much by English far right groups. Anglo-Saxon culture is without a doubt a recognisable period with its own architecture and literature. However, the attempt to turn it into a distinct racial identity is not just a fabrication but a yearning for a single source bloodline which is simply inaccurate.

Modern Alt-right movements often claim they are for the preservation of a threatened culture be it American, Protestant or Anglo-Saxon but primarily build their own identity around a hatred for something else such as Islam or homosexuality. Hence they have a culture of negation: we are against, we resist, and we demand the expulsion of etc. The ultranationalism of the alt-right is therefore based on a paranoia of cultural displacement. One National Front article claims the traditional bacon sandwich, (that bastion of Anglo-Saxon history), is close to being banned due to the influence of the British Muslim community, which has prompted hate crimes such as leaving pig meat outside mosques.

National Action (NA), the Neo-Nazi splinter of National Front, have actively engaged in political violence, and endorsed the murder of Labour MP Jo Cox in 2016. They signify a move away from old, far right groups like the BNP and the EDL that claim an ‘Anglo-Saxon’ heritage, towards further extremism. The first ‘alt’ right group to be banned since WW2, NA have embraced swastikas in an almost gimmicky fashion as if replicating a Hollywood-esque aesthetic of Nazism. More bizarrely their rules are inspired by Fight Club:

“1. You do not talk about National Action. Our biggest problem has always been people that can’t keep their mouths shut and something bad happens.

2. You do not talk about National Action. Seriously, if you do something secretly or   anonymously then don’t tell everyone.” [3]

This strange cinematic aesthetic should not, however, trivialise their threat. NA intend to recruit young, angry, vulnerable men and build a following similar to the American alt-right. The American alt right and online communities such as incel (‘involuntary celibate’) also employ fictional narratives such as The Matrix inspired ‘red pill’ and ‘blue pill’. This development into an online culture fuelled by Reddit, 4chan, 8chan, Gab and so on, highlights a new stage in fascist culture. There’s even ‘Rightpedia’ a Wikipedia parallel eager to explain how Feminism is both a “cultural Marxist trick” and white genocide” while demanding funds to support Tommy Robinson. The merging of British far right politics with American conspiracy theories about the ‘deep state’ such as Qanon, presents a new, fantastical form of right culture. The increasing censorship of hate speech on social media has isolated such communities producing extreme pockets of fantasy and conspiracy on sites such as Voat, the uncensored clone of Reddit. However Voat’s lack of access to funding does make it a lesser evil than the White House endorsed ‘Breitbart News’ and ‘Infowars’. Just as the early fascist movements had their magazines, the alt right have their seemingly crude online presence of memes and Hollywood clichés. But it also signifies a move away from ideas of shared culture and nationality, boiled down to white supremacy and hatred for any form of ‘other’.

Wyndham Lewis put out a pamphlet during WW2 claiming Marinetti was to blame for Mussolini’s regime. He argues: “In the writings of Marinetti you will find the pure fascist doctrine of force…there is no better guide to fascism, its meaning and its methods, than this great verbal diarrhoea, its original inspiration”. [4] Similarly, the internet will fail to contain the Surrealist meme-based fantasy of today. The death threats and rantings of anonymous avatars are already manifesting as real violence and terror attacks. The alt-right masquerades as the oppressed minority, an ‘alternative’ politics. But a look at the fascism of the early 20th century reveals that biased newsletters funded by wealthy racists, anti-Semitic conspiracy and idealisation of earlier periods be it Medieval or Classical is far from new, let alone surprising. Although there is no longer an organised, artistic movement helping it gather momentum, that is the European Far Right’s birthplace. Fascism helped create the mainstream, that’s why it’s so difficult to stamp out.

 

[1] Baker, David The Failure of British Fascism Ed. By Mike Cronin 1996 Macmillan Press LTD, Basingstoke Hampshire.

[2] http://talkradio.co.uk/news/new-ukip-leader-henry-bolton-says-we-mustnt-let-anglo-saxon-british-culture-die-17100419330

[3] https://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/03/06/new-neo-nazi-group-national-action_n_4910260.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer_us=aHR0cHM6Ly9lbi53aWtpcGVkaWEub3JnLw&guce_referrer_cs=2yySPLZjNf3f9C22jDTkdw

[4] Lewis, Wyndham Anglosaxony Ryserson Press, Toronto 1941 p39