Far right slogans perpetuate harm, while progressive language exposes, responds to systemic violence
How can leftists be against violent slogans from the right like “Blood and Soil” and “Destroy Antifa Scum,” or even the use of “White Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter,” if they use chants and expressions like “All Cops Are Bastards,” “Revolution is the Solution” and “Burn Fascists Not Forests” that are just as aggressive rhetorically? Why can this double standard exist?
As an intersectional Marxist, especially one that has participated in leftist demonstrations in Denver, I have seen firsthand how people rally behind violent slogans. Personally, I use and support slogans such as “No War But Class War.” These experiences caused me to view critiques of leftist rhetoric as surface level and uncompelling.
Comparing violent slogans between the right and left is not done cautiously or thoroughly and usually does not consider the context behind them, or what violence means to each side. It feels disingenuous to the work done by previous generations of activists that were predominantly Black, Indigenous and queer.
“All Cops Are Bastards” and “Eat the Rich” are useful ways to examine this. While it is true that these terms get co-opted by liberals and the far right, I do not believe that to be sufficient to render the phrases hypocritical. It can be considered temporarily distracting at best when slogans are misconstrued, but activism is a marathon rather than a sprint. Even when used as hashtags or buzzwords these expressions can never lose their fundamental meanings, and will always nurture action, expression and community on the left. Both of those slogans have been around for decades, have rich histories behind them and still connect people to this day. Ideology and cause-specific slogans on the left go through phases of reclamation and change.
Think of the way “Black Lives Matter” was appropriated by other minority groups at first. On the left it ended up being a useful mechanism for people to examine how much work the Black community has done in cultivating protest and community-driven ideals. It led to pro-immigration demonstrations only using “No one is illegal” and discouraging chants that included “Immigrant Lives Matter.” It encouraged communities to re-evaluate the rhetoric that they used and reflect on how the left can perpetuate anti-Blackness, even if unintentionally.
On the other hand, violent rhetoric on the right is more reactionary in its conscious echoing of left-wing word choice, specifically with the co-opting of the “Black Lives Matter” slogan into “White or Blue Lives Matter.” There is barely any historical context to sort through when looking at timelines of the alt-right. The Proud Boys, QAnon and other far-right groups known for particularly violent slogans only go as far back as 2016 and 2017, respectively. “All Lives Matter” is less associated with the far right, but is just as reactionary and again purposefully misconstrues the focus of “Black Lives Matter” away from systemic racism and police brutality.
There is virtually no reason for the far right to reflect on what chants and slogans they use and why. They seem to only reflect the violence that the far right has always committed and supported, rather than create a broader commentary on the current political sphere. It is uncomfortable to thoughtfully analyze the eloquence they use from their perspective. And it is made much worse when the left and the right are seen as fundamentally using the same formats of expressions and catchphrases by those who do not know the context behind them. Both sides use expressions to bring people together, but that is where the similarities end.
The key difference between the two sides is the definition of violence. On the left it is through a much broader systemic lens, but on the right it is interpersonal. You cannot convince someone that poverty is violent if they do not care about poverty in the first place, and certainly not if physical force is their only defining characteristic of violence. It makes the two inherently incomparable. Using a violent slogan such as “Eat the Rich”’ not only acknowledges the violent nature of capitalism, classism and poverty, but responds to that violence. It shows the willingness to meet that violence at its own level, play by the rules of its own game. It is nuanced and always has been.
I encourage other leftists and any other individuals that have different political identities to research the slogans their party uses and think critically about what mantras to wear on buttons and T-shirts. It matters not just how violent they appear at first glance, but what kind of violence and history they are derived from. Not all violence is created equal and neither are the phrases meant to incite mobilization.