On 1st May in Borlänge, central Sweden, Tess Asplund walked out into the middle of the road with her fist raised. There were 300 men walking towards her. They were the Nordic Resistance Movement – a group of racist, anti-semitic neo-nazis. “It was an impulse,” Asplund said, “I was so angry, I just went out into the street. I was thinking: hell no, they can’t march here! I had this adrenaline. No Nazi is going to march here, it’s not okay.” The photograph of Asplund has gone viral and she has received a lot of praise for it as well as a lot of hate (full Guardian article here). I find what Asplund did hugely inspirational but it saddens me that she needed to. I just can’t understand why, in the year 2016, the Nazis still exist.
The last time we saw the Nazis rise to power was in 1930s Germany. The Wall Street Crash happened in 1929 and the Great Depression ensued. The Weimar Republic (in Germany) slipped from prosperity into poverty as inflation rose drastically and living conditions plummeted. So fertile ground was created for hostility, anger and rage. Hitler and his party used the worsening economic climate to fuel hatred. They scapegoated Jews and other groups, and blamed them for Germany’s woes. We know the rest of the story. It is violent and tragic. And the legacy lives on. There are still far too many Nazis (and other far-right groups) who feel they can gain identity and meaning through hatred and violence. Following the financial crash of 2008, the ensuing recession, imposed austerity, we see living conditions worsen and the social fabric start to fray. Again, the Nazis are using this as an excuse to scapegoat others whilst purposefully ignoring the wider economic problem.
Capitalism is predicated on growth and speculation. As a market grows (say the housing market) so it gets speculated upon and a bubble grows. During this ‘boom’ time governments can spend more on public services and people have more cash in their pockets. However, markets can’t grow forever and eventually bubbles burst. During the ensuing ‘bust’ period cuts are made, austerity imposed and people’s ready cash starts to vanish. The system is unsustainable and no resilient society can be expected to thrive in the long-term on such shakey foundations. However, politicians and various political groups cynically use these worsening conditions not to critique the larger economic system but to garner more political power. They play on people’s prejudices and pretend that a certain group is the problem. This group, they argue, needs to face hostility and violence and then our problems will go away.
But it’s not true and we all know it, even the neo-nazis. We all crave meaning and purpose and it’s a very mad world in which people find that meaning and purpose in violence. Yet these narratives of hate can be challenged. Not only do these narratives lack economic and political validity they also, clearly, lack compassion. Yet the action of Tess Asplund, whilst full of anger as she says, was also full of compassion and hope – hope for a better world that does not tolerate violence. Hope for a world where democracy does not mean pandering to groups who wish for murder and genocide but empowering groups who call for justice and love. Asplund had no idea the video of her protest would go viral. She acted purely in the spur of the moment and has been hugely surprised at what has happened since. She doesn’t claim to be a hero and wasn’t trying to be, she was just standing up for what she thinks is right. We can all do this. However big or small our actions count. Resisting hate is totally worth it.
I will leave you with an extended quote from the German economist Silvio Gessell. He wrote the below in 1918 after WW1 yet its relevance still applies. “In spite of the holy promise of people to banish war once and for all, in spite of the cry of millions “never again war” in spite of all the hopes for a better future I have this to say: If the present monetary system based on interest and compound interest remains in operation, I dare to predict today that it will take less than twenty-five years until we have a new and even worse war. I can foresee the coming development clearly. The present degree of technological advancement will quickly result in a record performance of industry. The build up of capital will be fast in spite of the enormous losses during the war, and through the oversupply [of money] the interest rate will be lowered [until the money speculators refuse to lower their rates any further]. Money will then be hoarded [causing predictable deflation], economic activities will diminish, and increasing numbers of unemployed persons will roam the streets…within these discontented masses, wild, revolutionary ideas will arise and with it also the poisonous plant called “Super Nationalism” will proliferate. No country will understand the other, and the end can only be war again.”