The Antifa Straight Edge. A Manifesto
AAP pamphlet no. 3 (2001)
I’m just about to turn 27, and I’ve been straight edge for over a decade. I’ve been feeling alienated from the scene for quite a few years now, mainly due to well-known developments commonly referred to as Hardline and/or Christian Straight Edge (I’m aware of the differences between and within the two, but to get a message across I will admittedly focus on the similarities here which mainly consist of promoting conservative - to say the least - ethics and politics). At first, my reaction pretty much was to retreat. It was kinda like, well, a new generation of kids is taking over, what can I do? But recently, the idiotic and highly irritating militancy of many straight edgers seems to get totally out of control, and I feel that it might be worth to clarify at least a few things about sXe.
Having said that, this is not about a revival of the “original” or “true” meaning of sXe, not about some “old” versus some “new” school, an “alternative” interpretation of straight edge’s ideas, or an attempt to reclaim the scene for people like myself. Terms (and movements signified by them) are never fixed and clearly defined, they’re always dynamic, open to different interpretations, and hence changes. I can’t (and don’t want to) forbid other people to call themselves straight edge, to X-up, wear sXe-shirts, or listen to Youth of Today, as much as I might disagree with their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. There’s no universal criterion for defining what sXe really means, and I’m the last person who’d wanna do such a thing.
So, what is this all about then? Basically, just about a clarification that being straight edge doesn’t necessarily mean you are a violent semi-fascist gay-bashing macho dick, maybe even with an obscure obsession with an oppressive, patriarchal religion. In fact, being straight edge can mean quite the opposite: it can be all about trying to be involved in antifascist politics. So, the Antifa Straight Edge will try to explain how to be straight edge in this sense.
What motivates me to do this if not - as dismissed above - “reclaiming” or “purifying” the term? 1. To remind antifascist straight edgers out there that there are still other like-minded spirits within (or at least at the fringes) of the scene. 2. To remind the militants that there is still disapproval of and resistance against their “war” within straight-edge ranks themselves. 3. To allow non-sXedgers a wider understanding of sXe, so they might not have to disrespect it immediately just because at the moment it experiences unfortunate and disturbingly strong trends of stupidity.
Supporting antifascist politics to me means fighting for anti-authoritarian, self-determined and economically just communities in which a diversity of people can coexist in solidarity, mutual respect, and peace.
Straight edge to me means an attempt to develop certain personal virtues that might prove beneficial in the fight for antifascist communities, namely responsibility, awareness, and independence.
It seems practically impossible to establish, maintain, or defend antifascist communities without the individuals constituting it taking on responsibility, since the whole point behind the idea of such communities appears to be that we don’t need leaders, or people who tell us what to do, because we take on the responsibility to think, decide, and act for ourselves.
Awareness seems like an inevitable quality in this respect. It’s hard to act responsibly in a community if we don’t know shit about what’s going on.
And awareness seems hard to be developed without at least a certain sense of independence, meaning: to be able to find and figure out for ourselves what’s going on and not depend on some big brother’s indoctrination.
Based on these thoughts abstaining from intoxicants (and that’s all sXe originally meant) can make sense to certain individuals: A lot of intoxicants lower your levels of awareness and responsibility pretty much right after consumption. Others may contribute to a rather phlegmatic personality in the long run. And some might cause serious addiction, often leaving individuals completely detached from any community. So, if one values being responsible, aware and independent, it might be understandable to choose sobriety over the consumption of intoxicants.
Another aspect to consider is that the consumption of especially alcohol and cigarettes usually supports big corporations that stand against the idea of economic justice and participate in turning individuals into consumerist slaves (maybe the most widespread form of capitalist control today denying us true individual independence).
Combining these aspects we can see that abstaining from intoxicants has a symbolic significance that goes beyond simply abstaining from intoxicants. It’s a statement for being unwilling to let others control your life: not just drugs, but corporations, politicians, cops, your parents, whatever gets in the way of your self-determined way of doing things. It’s a statement of taking your life into your own hands. It’s a statement for uncompromising DIY-ethics, in the original spirit of DIY-Punk and -Hardcore. And in this sense it might very well be seen as a revolutionary statement, being about consciousness, fighting the system, liberation, determining your own destiny. On this basis all the social movements and activities a lot of straight edgers have participated in over the years could grow strong because they were strongly grounded: homeless-support, minority-support, vegetarianism/veganism, environmentalism, to name but the most obvious few. It is in this sense that I can see straight edge to be part of an antifascist movement, and I know that this is what sXe has always been about to many individuals involved in the scene.
But this also means that sXe is nothing but a lifestyle. It is not an ideology. There are no natural moral laws against drinking wine or lighting a pipe. I happily leave such arguments to totalitarian and oppressive political and/or religious schools of thought. If I didn’t wanna drink for such reasons I’d become a Seventh Day Adventist or something. I don’t abstain from drinking ‘cause god or the universe or whatever tells me not to; not because it’s inherently evil or sinful; not because we’re not meant to drink or alcohol is no natural food source. I don’t drink (or smoke dope, etc.), because I personally don’t want to. It seems to interfere with my abilities to promote antifascism.
Seen this way, being sXe is purely pragmatic. I’m sXe, because I think it helps me being an antifascist and allows me to make an antifascist statement, and because of no other reason. If I felt being sXe wouldn’t support antifascist action, I wouldn’t give a shit about it.
This has, I think, some important implications, especially in the light of ongoing developments within the sXe-scene:
1. It’s a personal decision. I do think that being sXe generally provides a good basis for an antifascist lifestyle, but neither does it automatically make you an antifascist (as, unfortunately, we have to witness today), nor is it the only way to be an antifascist (which seems so obvious I almost feel silly to point it out, but sometimes it seems one has to make the most trivial things explicit). In simple terms: There are lots of great and decent individuals/antifascists who are absolutely not sXe - and who am I to question these people’s personal lifestyles?
2. Straight edge was born out of a mainly white middle-class US-American movement, namely Hardcore; therefore it is the result of a specific time and place and social setting, and therefore its negative reaction to intoxicants is a result of a specific socio-historical condition. In other words: We are not too fond of intoxicants, because our society uses them in a shitty way, and they started to destroy our Punk- and Hardcore-scenes. This, however, does not mean that intoxicants can’t function differently under different cultural circumstances. I’d find it embarrassingly pretentious to disrespect, for example, the use of peyote in many Native American nations, or of ganja in the Rastafarian community. There are different worlds with different rules.
3. Nobody is ever “wrong” or “bad” because of not being sXe. We might not like it, or we might want to confront people who do shitty things under the influence of intoxicants, but the actual consumption itself doesn’t mean shit, and we have no right whatsoever to judge people who like to smoke or drink or shoot up.
Unfortunately, many kids today don’t see sXe this way. They don’t understand it as pragmatic, modest, and tolerant. They understand it as an ideology, a law, a true way of life, a universal moral code. You are sXe, you are good - you are not, you are bad. People are divided into different moral categories depending on whether they drink beer or fruit juice, whether they smoke a joint or chew licorice, whether they eat their muesli with dairy or soy. This is a fascist mentality. Pure and simple. An ideology with its claim to exclusive truth and righteousness is by definition an antifascist’s enemy. Whether it’s Catholicism, capitalism, or straight edge. Straight up: If I get in a situation where some fucked up sXe-kids in Salt Lake City (or anywhere else for that matter) start a fight with some dope-smoking kids for no other reason than them smoking dope, I wouldn’t hesitate a second to join the ranks of the latter, who are, in this case, nothing but innocent victims of a bunch of fascist hooligans.
But it’s not only the scary self-righteousness, intolerance and militancy that sXe as an ideology breeds. It’s also that its ideas become repulsively narrow-minded: instead of understanding the complexities of global food production and distribution, nutrition, ecological balance, and social divisions, they become idiotic vegan fanatics; instead of considering the patriarchal character of our societies, they become anti-abortion; instead of embracing diversity as an intrinsic social value, they become homophobic; instead of seeing the interrelations between environmental destruction and economic injustice, they become eurocentric racists in deep-ecological colors; instead of being committed to antifascism, they hype bands like Vegan Reich; instead of holding up the tradition of innocent early sXe self-defense with shirts like “It’s OK not to drink”, they sport martial “True till the end”-bullshit; instead of generally being socially and politically aware, they reproduce US-American middle-class family values; instead of being progressive, they revive Christianity in its most conservative and frightening forms; and instead of being modest, decent, and peaceful, they become arrogant, intolerant, and violent. It’s a sad affair.
Anyhow, this text probably won’t change any of that. I’m too aware of the little impact my humble self can have. Nevertheless, I want people to know that there’s still a different X out here. One that does not represent ideological (and, by now, physical) terror and sectarianism, but pragmatic antifascist politics.
The Antifa Straight Edge believes in a sXe-lifestyle of abstaining from intoxicants as an actual and symbolic mode of promoting a life of responsibility, awareness, and independence through regaining self-control and shunning dependency on the political, social, and economic powers of a capitalist society. It furthermore supports like-minded social action based on this self-control, mainly in the fields of women and minority rights, social justice, animal rights, and environmentalism.
The Antifa Straight Edge does not, however, believe in a sXe-lifestyle as a necessary basis for antifascism. It does not judge people by their personal habits, but relates to them according to their general moral conduct. It also does not evaluate people’s habits without taking cultural and social circumstances into consideration. In fact, the Antifa Straight Edge respects and even encourages a diversity of lifestyles as an essential aspect of creative antifascist communities.
Furthermore, the Antifa Straight Edge fully and uncompromisingly supports a woman’s right to choose, a person’s right to engage in homosexual practices, and the priority of social issues over animal rights or environmental protection.
Finally, the Antifa Straight Edge does not believe in forcing anybody into, or punishing anybody for a certain lifestyle, especially not by violent means. The Antifa Straight Edge commits itself to modesty, open-mindedness, and tolerance, and considers the use of militant resistance only where antifascist values, such as self-determination or social and economic justice, are under immediate and obvious threat.
Generally, the Antifa Straight Edge acts by example alone. Militant action is a last resort, and its use must follow strict notions of sensitivity, responsibility, and measure.
Fight the Power!