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Musical and Political Subculture : A Review of Attempts of Entrism

Par Stéphane François

In the West, some “young” musical subcultures are closely connected with radical and extremist right-wing milieus. Right wing radicals and extremists have attempted to infiltrate those “young” minority cultures in order to control them. In my lecture, I shall concentrate on the relationship between the so-called dark musical scenes (gothic, metal, black metal, industrial music, dark folk…) and the neo-right wing and nationalist-revolutionary milieus. These subcultures may be seen as a junction of a cultural web that is particularly hazy but - quite paradoxically – still easily identifiable. All of them  wish to subvert the rules of the Western society, and to break taboos, particularly political ones.  For this reason, it is difficult for external observers of this complex web to distinguish provocation from ideological commitment.

Targeted subcultures

Considering the sub-genres concerned, ideological entrism works more or less well. The truly gothic milieus as well as the dark wave scene are more intellectual and estheticized and flatly reject politics.  They are less penetrated than the “industrial” sub-genres, dark folk or black metal. The latter are strongly characterized by a Eurocentric paganism, by esoterism in a wider sense, by subjects close to revolutionary-conservative thought (conservative vanguard, European nationalism, questioning of identity, etc.), and by topics frequently used as vehicles for what could be called ”Mysterious History” in the 1970s.

This history intending, in the 1960s and the 1970s, to bring up to date the occult bases of world history and especially of Nazism. In this milieu, various initiatives develop rapidly around this topic. Basically, the groups only use the theses of a literature on the fringe of occultism and of the extreme right wing which popularized this idea with a certain success in occultist-conspiratorial circles in the 1970s. In black metal, on the other hand, the resort to “Nazi occultism” remains very superficial and is usually confined to titles of groups, songs or albums. This milieu often refers to European pagan cults, too, with a general interest in Celtic and Germanic-Scandinavian forms of paganism.

The context of Entrism 

Since the end of the 1970s, radical and extremist right-wing milieus in the West have been interested in “pop” music. The Italian radical and extremist right was the first to understand the relevancy of this culture at the time of the famous Hobbit camps, the name of the creatures in Tolkien’s “Lord of the Rings”. Between 1977 and 1979, young nationalist-revolutionary and neo-right wing young Italians gathered at those camps. They rapidly became fields of ideological exchange and experiments. This experience gave rise to a counter-culture of the extreme right forming the counterpart of the leftist counter-culture. For a long time, though, the various radical and extremist right-wing currents considered the musical subcultures a form of decadence and not of subversion. This is why a music committed to the extreme right became starkly visible for the first time in a different milieu and a little later, independent of these reflections. It was Oi! Music, the music of the skinheads coming from British workers’ milieus. It developed in the punk period, i.e. in the late 1970s. By the way, the leader of Skrewdriver comes from the punk milieu. The line taken by the band developed according to the political involvement of Ian Stuart, especially after his becoming a member of the National Front.

Still, this is a blatant case of musical hijacking with a strategy of entrism clearly reflected and elaborated by the National Front, namely the effort to seduce the British youth of the lower class. It may well be considered a textbook example with its attempt of capture, intimidation, recruitment of musicians, placement of magazines, networks, labels, and finally the organization of concerts and festivals. In the 1980s, Oi! affected all of Europe as well as the United States. Still today, in Eastern Europe, Oi! makes the headlines because of its extreme physical violence. In the 1980s, practically every right-wing extremist movement was more or less closely in contact with the skinhead movement. In those days, the “skinhead culture” dominated the extreme right, especially considering looks and music. However, their extreme violence pinned the skins down in the limelight of the media. From this moment, the entrism of various little radical and extremist groups into the skinhead movement quickly becomes counterproductive.

A favourable historical and cultural context

In fact, the atmosphere was favorable. There were important changes in the West after the rise of the oil prize in 1973/74. The intoxicating ideas of the political and social revolution had spread like wildfire among young leftists and hippies in 1967/68. In times of recession, they made way for a helplessness afflicting the whole Western world. This helplessness will explode in the musical cultures of post-punk, especially in the so-called “cold wave”, due to its extensive use of synthesizers or at least the creation of “cold” aesthetics and atmosphere. The gothic scenes will emerge, dark wave and dark folk. These musical scenes will radicalize the nihilism of the punk scene to the point where some former punk groups will abandon their militant antifascism and embrace an openly fascistic aesthetic which does not necessarily indicate that all the members of those groups are fascists. But it will make the fans more susceptible to the important topics of the extreme right.

Still, some groups have passed the line. In the early 1980s, groups with a clear ideological frame of reference appear in different countries and in different musical subgenres: in “industrial music” especially Non, Death in June, Blood Axis, and Laibach; in “black metal” Burzum and Abruptum; in street rock with Oi! (Skrewdriver, emerged  from the punk movement), etc. The latter are no cases of entrism. Instead, they are examples of the realization of a creative project, of a conviction rooted in a special musical project. By the way, both forms may exist side by side.

Some bands of this “industrial music” sub-genre agree with the milieus of the revolutionary/neo-pagan right on certain themes. This is made all the easier by the scenes’ being the heir to the punk scene’s partiality to provocation. For this reason, it is difficult to judge the situation and define a clear political position. The radical milieus profit from this situation which complicates the evaluation of observers. Sometimes, there is no political discourse but it is still possible to position the group because of its special view of the world.  In concrete terms, the views of these groups are clearly rooted in the currents of the conservative revolution and the various currents of the New Right: They develop similar topics like Nordic neo-paganism, European ethno-centrism, differentialism, and the defence of the native European cultures as well as an often virulent anti-christianism. The fascination with European paganism and history has thus simplified the reconciliation of these two universes.

In fact, groups of these dark cultures are quite often organically linked up to neo-pagan structures, especially to the Odinists, i.e., to the supporters of Germano-Scandinavian religions like the Icelandic Ásatrú, the Rune Gild or the Odinic Rite. But neo-paganism is so protean that it is impossible to position this neo-religion politically. There are left-wing extremist and apolitical as well as right-wing extremist neo-pagans. This lack of clear political positioning is used by extreme right-wing activists to attract young and not quite so young people on their quest for identity and spiritual guidance. The extreme right-wing activists gamble on the ambiguities of neo-pagan history and on the fact that some neo-pagans, even though they belonged to the extreme right, were persecuted by the Nazi regime.

Facts about Entrism 

The radical and extremist milieus realized the strategic interest of entrism into the subcultural milieus. One of their most important goals was the “industrial music” which had come up in the late 1970s/early 1980s. It originated from the radicalization of experimental hippie music as well as of the punk wave. It is an openly nihilist music and typically European.

For the extreme right activists, industrial music offers the undeniable merit of being totally “white”. It is completely free from black influence – instead, its origins are to be found in folk, classical and contemporary European music. Furthermore, it is futuristic and often electronic. It takes advantage of fascist ceremonials, and indeed develops a markedly European-centrist and paganising line. In fact, this scene with its conservative vanguardism was considered the chance to modernize the radical and extremist right in the West. These aesthetics are also well liked by some old neo-fascist fellow travellers. More prosaically, “industrial music” or black metal, even though they have a bad reputation, are much more acceptable to the media than Oi! – the latter having become repulsive because of the violence and the excesses of the skins.

Some fanzines of those days are attempts remotely controlled by small extremist groups. In France, some of them were published by Nouvelle Résistance or Troisième Voie. The intention of those remotely controlled fanzines was “to show that the nationalist/pagan musical culture was also linked with black metal, death metal, industrial music, and hardcore.” This musical subculture has become an integral part of revolutionary nationalist/neo-right wing culture. This experience may be tested surfing the site of the youth forum of GRECE: a considerable part of the exchange of this forum concerns these musical styles, especially dark folk and industrial music.

Another intention of entrism is to create a political consciousness or to influence an already existing one. Since the 1960s and 1970s, music has played an important role in the creation of political awareness of young adults. To reassure oneself, it helps to remember the role and influence of protest singers in the rejection of the Vietnam War. Music can thus be considered a vehicle of identity. This is how it was presented by the omnibus volume Musique et politique. Les répertoires de l’identité. Music can also support the individual (the listener) and/or collective (the bandsmen) commitment to the resistance against cultural or political domination. In the 1980s, the left-wing “alternative rock” appeared on the scene as well as the right music like the Euro-pagan music and the “identity rock”.

Besides this entrism, some important musicians of these scenes have a militant neo-fascist past. For a while, Michael Moynihan had no qualms admitting that he had been a neo-fascist for a certain period; Boyd Rice was a member of the American front, a small right-wing extremist American group, and Tony Wakeford had been a member of the leadership of the “Political Soldier” fraction of the National Front. We could also name Troy Southgate, leader of the group HERR and traditionalist revolutionary theoretician, i.e., more neo-fascist than perennialist, as well as the exponent of Norwegian Black metal, Varg Vikerness, who is imprisoned for murder. Vikerness is a former skinhead and a notorious neo-Nazi activist who supported a small neo-Nazi group called “Einsatzgruppe” which planned assassinations in Norway. In France, the French futurist musician Vivenza was a member of the small group Troisième Voie before he became a monarchist and freemason. He edited a magazine called “Volonté Futurist », the organ of European revolutionary futurism, the FER, promoting the glorification of the will and the technique of the fascist “total man” who creates himself.

Limitations

There are several limitations concerning the research of entrism as well as that of those groups.

1/Concerning the research of entrism:

In the 1980s and 90s, the attempts of entrism could be observed by reading fanzines, publications with a very limited edition, often A3 photocopies stapled together. They developed during the punk phase and were published more or less by small groups (Napalm Rock, Omega, Hammer against Cross, Runen, etc.). Later, one of the difficulties in keeping up with these milieus is the disappearance of those fanzines. They are replaced by blogs and sites. Presently, militants of the extreme right, especially neo-Nazis and nationalist revolutionaries try forms of entrism at forums of certain internet sites devoted to Black Metal if they have not been completely infiltrated yet. This entrism is facilitated by the naïve and apolitical attitude reasserted by the hosts of these sites. In fact, since the year 2000, it has become difficult to follow theses attempts because the music is dematerializing: Sometimes, there are no longer CDs but only downloadable files. The only solution in this case is to check whether the group has a site like “myspace”.

2/Concerning the research of these scenes

For some years, we have witnessed two contradictory but nevertheless complementary movements: the first is a mixture of lack of interest and distrust of groups that are ideologically tainted, and the second is the expansion of these groups within the subcultural dark milieus. This distrust originates from the wider political culture of the actors of these subcultures. My book La musique europaïenne, for example, created quite heated debates on their internet forums defending or condemning my positions.

We have also noticed a decline of the number of new groups and of the renewal of the genre since the beginning of this decade. Furthermore, the weariness of political contents is becoming more and more overt. This is why some radical and extremist activists have a certain success in their attempt to penetrate the extremist milieus of the techno scene. This holds especially true for the sub-genre known as “gabber” or the “Lonsdale”-groups, the brand of clothes preferred by the skins. The line taken there is reduced to its simplest expression and is overtly racist and nationalist.

Even though it is true that concerts of these groups have been cancelled due to the pressure of small anti-fascist groups, we  need not deny that the Euro-pagan scene develops on the fringes of the Europhile extreme right. ‘Right-wing extremist publications like Réfléchir & agir are clearly interested in this scene. The Euro-pagan scene also interests the neo-Nazi milieu as is indicated by the favourable criticism of CDs on the Internet site of the Svensk Front, a small Swedish neo-Nazi group, and on the site of the racist American national library  by well-known negationists.

The right-wing commitment of a part of this scene causes its repression in some European countries, namely in the Germanic ones, i.e., Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Albums have been forbidden, for example the Album Brown Book of Death in June in Germany, and in the beginning of this decade, concerts were cancelled: Death in June in Switzerland, Ostara in Germany and the Netherlands… These annulments resulted from the pressure of anti-Fascist movements, but also from that of city fathers, especially in Switzerland. These groups do not propagate an ideology of the neo-Nazi skinhead variety but still, they are under police surveillance. In interviews. some of them complain about being the objects of police curiosity. The police take these activities very seriously, sometimes with good reason.

Finally, we can conclude saying that the music genres studied here are used by small radical and extremist groups to build an identity with a double intention: 1.) to  reinforce the outlook on the world of the militant audience, and 2.) to influence the audience that does not come from these ideological spheres. However, the main goal is a meta-political one: It is the attempt of activist groups as well as of publications from references that cannot be verified – for finding a good and reliable fanzine in these milieus is impossible – to bring about a certain degree of tolerance of the theses voiced by the extremist right-wing.

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