Recently, steampunk impressario and all round decent chap Professor Elemental was booed while on stage. It happened because of a comment he made regarding a British Member of Parliament who is in the current right wing government. He wrote about it in an article that he was intending to post on Steampunk Journal, but decided against it. However, he has now posted it on his Patreon page. The trouble was caused by a joke that the Professor made about wanting to shoot said MP with a Blunderbuss. It was clearly a joke based on taking Britain back to Victorian values, so using a Victorian weapon to stop him. It was irony. I personally witnessed the whole thing and I was interested to see how it developed. Especially because the last time that the Professor performed at this particular event, he made a joke about Jeremy Corbyn, essentially belittling the Left Wing party leader. Nobody batted an eyelid. The Prof wasn’t booed and he was invited back. That means this isn’t about politics in general.
It’s difficult to discuss politics in Steampunk for a variety of reasons. Many people use Steampunk as a way to escape the real world and immerse themselves in a make-believe fantasy realm, while others believe it’s politically neutral. In contrast, there are people who deeply integrate politics into their Steampunk alter-egos, thereby narrowing the gap between reality and Steampunk.
However, it’s impossible to ever truly escape politics. Whether you lean to the left, middle, or right, it governs how you lead your life. One thing I like about Steampunk is how it closely echoes the actual punk culture. I’m not talking about the Punk Music era of extreme left anarchists, but the actual punk culture; where the punk in cyberpunk- then consequently steampunk – comes from. As a subculture, Punk has multiple political leanings, and it’s the style and ethos that brings them together.
People from all ideologies come to Steampunk and everyone is welcome. That’s the right thing to do because it provides a safe haven for people who have felt left out or the odd one out their whole lives. But problems arise in any community when extreme political entities enter the arena; from either side of the political spectrum.
The issue that has brought this all up recently is regarding British band The Iron Boot Scrapers. The lead singer has always been vocally right wing. It’s ok that he’s right wing, we live in a democracy and it is his right. I personally fell out with him when he called for the full privatisation of the NHS. A free healthcare system in the UK that many steampunks – and non-steampunks – rely on and would suffer greatly without. That kind of thing would take us back to the Victorian era where less physically able and poorer people had to rely on the kindness of the community or the Church just to survive.
As much as I love the stylings and design of the Victorian era, I don’t want us to go back to it with its massive class divide, pain, misery and suffering.
The reason The Iron Boot Scrapers are being mentioned is due to their recent release of the song Cable Street. It’s an attack on the hard left anti-fascist pressure group Antifa and who the band (or most notably; the Lead Singer) labels as thugs. He suggests that they think they’re trying to emulate the Cable Street Battle heroes. He posits that they’re simply out for a fight while justifying it as quashing fascism. It’s important to note that the band’s official stance is that political violence shouldn’t be allowed at all; on either side of politics. I do agree with the argument that violence for political gain shouldn’t really be an option. However, it’s worth taking a look at history to see if there are mitigating circumstances. Fascism in any form should be quelled and historically, the only way we’ve found to do that is through force. We did it in 1936 on Cable Street and we did it in World War 2. What the song fails to explain is why the British Union of Fascist march, that led to Cable Street, was organised in the first place.
Cable Street Battle
According to cablestreet.co.uk – a website dedicated to the pre-world war fight, the British Union of Fascists (BUF) was created in 1932 from the New Party which had been formed by Sir Oswald Mosley. With the support of the Daily Mail (no surprises there) it became the largest fascist party in the UK. In 1934 they held the Olympia Rally where it was reported that anti-fascists made up of socialists, trade unionists and Communists went to heckle the speakers. Once discovered, the anti-fascists were beaten with knuckle dusters and other weapons before being thrown onto the street. Because of this unnecessary violence, the party and Mosley lost credibility and support. Under more influence and pressure from Hitler, Mosley announced the fourth anniversary of the party would be celebrated with a march straight through the heart of the Jewish community. Because the government refused to prevent the march, the community did something about it and blocked the way. The battle was won by the anti-fascists with many arrests made (although not many were BUF members) and the Police had been brutal with severe injuries being caused. The extreme right really showed their mettle one week later when around 200 antisemitic youths wrecked Mile End Road. After the government passed new legislations regarding marches, the BUF disbanded in 1940. Could it be possible that if the BUF had won Cable Street, Mussolini could have increased his subsidy to Mosley and they could have gained more prominence politically? If so, when Mosley called for us to support Hitler, could we have listened to him and fought for the other side against the Allies?
Thinking about it, the Cable Street battle is possibly one of the most prominent points in our recent history. When large communities came together and resorted to any means necessary to ensure that fascism and extreme right wing politics had no place in Britain. The violence before and after the Cable Street battle, which showed the BUF as thugs, wasn’t mentioned at all in the song.
According to additional text written by the band (following a number of unhappy listeners posting comments on the video), the song is sung from the perspective of the “Antifa thugs”. The problem with that is that he’s not singing it from the perspective of Antifa – thugs or otherwise – he’s singing it from his own perspective of how he views them. It’s arranged to fit his political agenda. The line “so many people, but no real bad guys” is supposed to be Antifa admitting that they don’t really pick upon ‘real’ bad guys, but just do it for the kicks. Their could be some grounding in those words. Antifa in the USA are being regarded more as a joke because they turn up and simply trash everything. However in this case, it’s actually a process thought through in the head of the song writer according to how he wants the story to evolve. Without actually spending time with Antifa and truly understanding them or how they operate, the person who wrote the song is in no position to conclude this opinion of them “admitting” they do it for kicks. The line is based on an assumption of that from a politically opposing point of view and that’s not a basis for an argument. That makes it unfair to the advantage of the right which makes this song less about “across the board” politically motivated violence.
Antifa are fighting against fascists, so how can it possibly be said that there are no real bad guys? Unless the singer has sympathy for fascists. Judging by statements made under the name of the band on their Facebook page, that’s not the case. They regard the Jewish defenders in 1936 as heroes fighting the Black Shirts (BUF) but suggest that modern day Antifa activists are simply there for the violence using Cable Street as justification for their actions. The band – or at least the singer who is also the mouthpiece of Iron Boot Scrapers – compares them to the brainless droogs in A Clockwork Orange. Despite the similarity ending there, the video has a lot of visuals from Kubrik’s film such as the band members dressed in the droog’s recognisable garb, parts of the song are filmed with them in the familiar position they take on the seats in the Korova Milk Bar. Then there’s the use of Nadsat – the futuristic youth language from the book – and the term “ultra violence” used in the bridge. Unusually this is performed by children.
The band’s views aren’t going unnoticed though. Several well known and respected UK bands have called Iron Boot Scrapers out as fascists. That may be a little strong, given the band’s official stance. Though with a strong leaning song and video about fascism that belittles the people that fight it. Remember just after the Cable Street Battle, the Allies in World War 2 fought fascism. Our entire country was part of the biggest Anti-Fascist fight in recent history.
Fighting fascism isn’t wrong. Its entire political views are based on the oppression of the people, dictatorial leaders and a single party state. It’s a violent and aggressive political outlook. World War 2 showed us that there’s only one way to fight fascism. So does that mean that Antifa are correct? That would depend on the circumstances. It’s likely that, as with any group that requires direct action, there are a few infiltrators that enjoy the fight more than the cause.
While The Iron Boot Scrapers have stated that they are trying to make a stand about the mindless aggression of political thugs and people just in it for the fight, they’ve made it very one sided by ignoring the fact that the Right also have mindless thugs. That the Cable Street battle wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for the mindless thuggery of the BUF in the first place. If the song had challenged political violence on both sides then I would have had more truck with it. As it stands, it seems to be a very one-sided story which leans heavily to the Right wing of politics. Add to that the lead singer sharing the video to various right wing hate group pages and it makes me wonder whether their public stance is the real stance they’re taking.
Antifa are a conglomerate of anti-fascist groups who fight far right extremism through direct action. Are they mindless thugs? They have been known to wreck property, threaten, harass and have been accused of starting fights with hard right supporters. They arguably fight for political gain, but is that to reduce the far right extremists such as neo-nazis and white supremacists from the world? And if so, is that wrong? Bear in mind that far right extremists are aggressive and violent in their actions. Everyone knows how the white supremacists have worked in America in the past and with the current rise of far right pressure groups such as Britain First (their name possibly originating from BUF propaganda; see BUF poster above) they’re gaining traction in the UK too. Threats have already been made by Britain First against anyone who speaks badly of Jacob Rees-Mogg – a hard right Member of Parliament in Britain and the subject of Professor Elemental’s scorn. Should we simply accept that groups like Britain First, EDL, BNP, NF and the like can say what they want, march where they want and cause as much trouble as they want? Without any opposition?
The problem with calling out anyone because of their political tendencies is that this can cause the people who have those outlooks to stay away from steampunk. On the surface that may seem like a good thing. Do we really want people we disagree with in steampunk? People who appear to go against everything that steampunk stands for?
Well yes, we do. In Professor Elemental’s article, he said he enjoys being in an echo chamber of like-minded people. And yes, there’s nothing wrong with that. On my own personal social media pages, I share articles that illustrate my own political leanings. I expect people who disagree will disassociate themselves from me and that’s their choice. But if the Left try to obstruct the Right, it would lead to steampunk becoming very one-sided.
The problem I’ve seen with people who have left wing views have a tendency to niggle away at anyone with opposing political views. That kind of constant nibbling has the potential to eventually cause people to move away from steampunk and that’s not what the community is about. Not every right wing supporter is a loud mouth. Some will quietly leave. It’s curious that many left wing steampunks call out on the travesty of the right wing, while simultaneously celebrating one of the most right wing points in British history. Racism was rampant, we were invading and conquering countries, the class divide was huge, poverty was immense, women were oppressed… Yet the left wing gentlemen steampunks who hate all that will walk around at events wearing top hats, pocket watches and have finely-styled moustaches. The ladies will wear bustles, fascinators and corsets. Posture benefits aside, even the ladies who indulge in the steampunk ethos that women can do whatever they want. Wearing outfits such as mechanics or adventurers – traditionally male roles – will still add a corset. For that traditional victorian female shape.
Some people dress as rich people, some poor people. Some dress as African Big Game hunters, some as colonial soldiers. While it’s obvious we aren’t celebrating the death and misery the British armies brought to these countries, is it hypocritical of a left wing steampunk to say they’re against all that while dressing this way? Not that I think we should shy away from what the British did as a nation. I know that in America, some steampunks avoid wearing certain colonial clothes. So that they don’t offend Black, Indian or Native American steampunks. But is it offending anyone? Steampunk India is a shining example of how steampunk can easily mix with styles from countries that were occupied by Victorian era Britain. Given this information, maybe it’s not hypocritical. We all love the design and style of that time in history, which is why we’re all here.
Politics in steampunk?
While people should be allowed to express their political persuasions, there’s no place for hard or extreme politics. On either side. Yes, people should be allowed to be of any political leaning and not worry about expressing that. There must be a point though where people should hold back or risk someone speaking out. Posting hard right political songs isn’t right; neither is making tenuous links between a group that fight hard right aggression to compare them to a hard right group. Preventing popular artists from performing at events because they have different political leanings isn’t right. Neither is calling people fascists because they dared to bare their views. I dream of a day when people of all political agendas can get together and discuss what is right and wrong about their views. Understanding – even if not accepting – what the people on the opposite side are saying. Currently we have Keyboard Warriors, Trolls and those people that before the internet would only be heard by the people in the pub giving their views and getting others angry.
People of all political leanings are, and should be, welcome in steampunk. Steampunk shouldn’t support a band with a lead singer that shares posts from controversial hard right mouth-pieces such as UK’s Katie Hopkins. She once described Polish migrants as cockroaches and suggested that migrant boats should have gunships turned on them.
We can all enjoy steampunk without taking it too far. The world outside our parallel universe of steam powered tea cups and gilded brass saucers is getting more horrible. That will surely put people on edge. There’s less tolerance in the world in general. So people will use steampunk as a retreat. If they see intolerance there, they’ll either leave or get angry. In the interests of politeness and wanting to get along together and have a good time, it would arguably be better to avoid these topics altogether. After all, this is all just a bit of a laugh, isn’t it? Should our political views really get in the way of friendships? Or businesses? Artists not being invited back to events could affect visitor numbers to that event. If someone thinks a band will criticise them for their views, they may not listen to that band. These are all hypothetical and unlikely, but not impossible.
Surely nobody wants that.
Do you have a story or information about hard or extreme political activists using steampunk to further their agenda? Email firstname.lastname@example.org