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To Punch or Not to Punch – The American Left’s Existential Crisis

Photo by jcrakow | CC BY 2.0

This past Monday a video of a man knocking out a swastika-brandishing neo-Nazi went viral on social media.

Prior to his intimate acquaintance with the cold and hard Seattle sidewalk, police received reports the Nazi was instigating fights with passersby, while another account stated he threw a banana at someone, yelled racist propaganda in the street and harassed a black man on a train.

Incidents like this inevitably raise the question – to punch or not to punch a Nazi? What is the correct, wise and moral stance for the left?

Faux morality versus strength and unity

While some leftists support and even celebrate the textbook straight right punch as a victory for the street over oppression, others condemn it as counterproductive and even bemoan the abuse of the Nazi thug.

This latter group of liberals and leftists reason that violence breeds more violence and is thus immoral, that support for those who punch Nazis is akin to forfeiture of the left’s high moral ground, which leads to a loss in the court of public opinion, and that this sort of clash promotes the Nazis’ victimhood narrative.

But in fact, this sort of faux morality serves the exact opposite, i.e. right-wing agenda.

People who adopt this stance are in effect paternalistically chastising fellow citizens for confronting oppression. Thereby, they discount and distance themselves from the very real struggles against racial persecution, street violence and inequality in general, which are perpetuated by both right-wing racists and representatives of the state, most directly police.

The public’s trust in state systems of justice has been negatively affected by the lack of accountability in law enforcement for racially-motivated brutality and the corruption of the judicial system that have significantly contributed to the creation of a new Jim Crow. Furthermore, white supremacists have infiltrated law enforcement, rendering non-whites increasingly susceptible to prejudice and harassment.

Thus, this approach is immoral and strategically unwise as it abandons those masses who need the most protection against right-wing repression in its various expressions, and directly feeds into the fascistic white victimhood narrative by castigating the anti-fascist (in this case the puncher) and sympathizing with the Nazi (the punchee).

In so doing, this group of liberals and leftists undermine the already dwindling strength and fragility of the left.

Street justice

But truth be told – this debate is somewhat irrelevant. Liberals and leftists can preach nonviolence till kingdom come, and even parrot Trump’s villainization of Antifa, yet the American urban reality will continue to exist in a different, less sterile, sphere.

Here, city streets are largely populated by struggling people, many of whom are non-white immigrants and their families who survive at the tail end of a society with the worst inequality in the industrialized world. Together with diminishing public welfare institutions and the aforementioned corruption of law enforcement and the judicial system, the American urban reality produces alternative, street forms of justice.

Within this context, it is immoral, privileged and counterproductive to castigate urbanite citizens for confronting racial violence, whether systemic or independent, for they are on the front lines of a struggle that the left, including privileged liberals and lefties, must wholly embrace.

Nonviolence – but one means to an end

The context of this debate is one in which many liberals and leftists have adopted the notion that nonviolence is an end in and of itself, instead of a means among several that are aimed at achieving the ends of equality and justice.

The idea that nonviolence is the only moral tactic available in the leftist arsenal and that it alone can lead to a just world plays into the hands of those who control the current systems of oppression. Thus, it must be continuously challenged and reassessed if there is any chance of survival for the left and of life on planet Earth, for that matter.

Nonviolence is an important and admirable tactic, but in certain circumstances, its sole implementation does nothing to tackle oppression. The lack of real justice for many communities in America, together with the continued militarization of law enforcement and the adoption of occupation-style policing techniques, create a situation whereby the left, and the ideals it represents, is faced with an existential crisis. In more extreme, yet eerily similar circumstances of occupation, violent resistance is both moral and legal.

So does that mean that violence is promoted or favored over nonviolence in every situation? No, of course not. It means that violence is sometimes a necessity. A nuanced approach is essential here.

Do all leftists need to engage in violent tactics? No. But all leftists should understand that castigating those who employ violence, i.e. defensive aggression, against those who promote bigotry and oppression, is counterproductive and often immoral. In other words, in order for the left to present itself as a true alternative that is supportive of everyday citizens’ struggles and opposed to the continued oppression of the state and its right-wing metastases, it must embrace people’s rights for justice, equality, defense and dignity by any means necessary.

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Yoav Litvin is a Doctor of Psychology/ Behavioral Neuroscience.  

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