Many readers will have heard about the fascist vandalism at Symonds Street Cemetery, a Jewish cemetery in Auckland. Swastikas, 88 signs, and the slogan Fuck Israel were scrawled across the gravestones of people who died before Israel was founded as a state. This was not the first time fascists in this country have vandalised Jewish gravestones; similar attacks occurred in 2004.
The weekend after the Symonds Street vandalism, members of the community gathered in the cemetery to state their opposition to fascism and anti-Semitism. Some associated with the Aotearoa not for Sale campaign played a role in organising this event. Placards bore the slogan, “Nazi-Free Zone.”
The following week, three men were arrested in connection with the crimes. One of the accused, Nathan Symington, spoke to the press denying his guilt, stating “I’ve got all my alibis worked out.” For some, the next shock came when it turned out Symington had slept at Occupy Auckland and marched in the Auckland stretch of the Aotearoa is Not For Sale hikoi.
Symington’s Facebook profile features swastikas, pictures of him performing a Nazi salute, and racist status updates. Whether or not Symington is a vandal, he is a fascist and an anti-Semite. When he attended the Aotearoa is Not For Sale march, he bore a skateboard with swastikas chalked on to it; on Facebook he captioned this, “nationalism is the key.”
Broad campaigns: Room for fascism?
Occupy Auckland and Aotearoa is Not For Sale are not explicitly racist or fascist campaigns, any more than they are explicitly communist. However, they are broad churches containing many currents, and fascists such as Symington apparently felt welcome.
Aotearoa is Not For Sale is a campaign against privatisation of state assets, which has some soft nationalist aspects in opposing foreign capitalist ownership. Although left social-democratic support for state ownership is not the same thing as fascism, the emphasis on foreign (rather than private, capitalist) control does confirm fascist beliefs that “nationalism is the key.” The Workers Party argues that local capitalist ownership is no better than foreign ownership, using the slogan “Aotearoa is not for Sale to local or foreign capitalists” and calling for greater public control over assets. As well as supporting democratic public management – not present under the current SOE scheme – we are internationalists, who see more in common with people in struggle across the globe than capitalists in Aotearoa.
Occupy is grouped around memes such as “the 99%,” calling for a form of social justice that is open to negotiation by the participants. In Aotearoa, Occupy has seen internal struggles over fascism and anti-Semitism. In 2011, an individual at Occupy Wellington wanted to invite members of the National Front (a Neo-Nazi organisation) on Flag Day. Many occupiers were unfamiliar with the National Front, and unaware of the implications. Queer participants, Jewish participants, and communists opposed any place for Neo-Nazis within Occupy. While we won that particular argument at a General Assembly that evening, it opened up a long-running and contentious discussion.
Although most members of Occupy Wellington were far from being fascist sympathisers, many held other notions which support anti-Semitism. Conspiracy theories such as the Rothschild conspiracy, drawing on anti-Semitic narratives about Jewish bankers running the world, were and continue to be popular among those trying to grapple with the problem of capitalism. A Jewish participant ran a workshop against conspiracy theories, which was reprinted on the Workers Party website here: http://tinyurl.com/8nxkjcr.
Many problematic ideas can be addressed through collective discussion, but fascist ideology cannot be allowed any space in this process. Occupiers objected that this meant excluding members of “the 99%,” a slogan which demands closer examination.
Inclusive organising: “We are the 99%”
The slogan “we are the 99%” partly captured the discontent of a protracted economic crisis, the reality that a minority (the 1%) continue to profit from the misery of the majority (the 99%). It also implies common interest, and some use it to highlight the need for inclusiveness.
However, slogans about “the 99%” are only a starting point, and our understanding cannot stop there. While most people would benefit from building a system based on social need, the so-called 99% is hugely stratified and ghettoised.
Some of our diversity must be acknowledged as a necessary, and productive, part of our political work. Women might have insight into the daily experience of sexism, while conversely to overcome sexism it’s necessary to draw men into some anti-sexist work. Academics and meat workers might understand different aspects of capitalism, but meat workers are generally more able to stop production at freezing works. In general we need to involve a wide range of complimentary forces to overcome the problems of our current system, and the concept of the 99% implies that at a very basic level.
However, we don’t all have an interest in overcoming oppression, or realise that interest. The head of a company might not statistically be in the top global 1%, but they still profit from exploitation. A police officer might have a low income, but they still brutalise protestors. Fascists come from many walks of life, but they firmly believe a significant swathe of the 99% – including Jewish, queer and disabled people – should be exterminated at worst, further marginalised at best.
By including some people in a political process, we exclude or marginalise others
We all have a lot to learn. Collective education, discussion and consciousness-raising are important political work. However, sometimes it is necessary to draw a line; if someone openly believes that Jews should be exterminated, they can have no place in a progressive political project.
The fascist movement in this country is relatively weak; this year the National Front mobilised less than 30 people for Flag Day, their annual march on parliament. In Greece, fascist group Golden Dawn have thousands of members and connections in the police force, and openly roam the streets attacking the vulnerable. Vandalising gravestones in the night may be small-scale and cowardly by contrast, but it is no more acceptable than Golden Dawn’s activities.
Aotearoa Not For Sale (Auckland) recently called a Street Party Against Privatisation, and Symington joined the event on Facebook. Someone raised his potential presence as an issue, and their comments were deleted. Subsequent comments on this issue were deleted, and the event was locked to prevent further comments. Organisers stated that they did not support violence, but that they could not restrict someone from a public event.
Immediately after the attacks on Symonds Street Cemetery, protestors bore placards proclaiming a “Nazi-Free Zone.” Many slogans are aspirational, long-term, statements of principle. However this particular slogan could be immediately put into practice, if progressive organisers made it explicit that fascists are not welcome at their events.
 While the conspiracy theory holds that the Rothschilds are a united dynasty running world capitalism, they in fact have very little influence since the post-WWII formation of the International Monetary Fund and do not even rank in the top 100 public firms. A sceptical analysis of the Rothschild conspiracy theory can be found here: http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4311