Anonymous submission to MTL Counter-info
“S— / S— / P-V-M ! Po- / lice / politique!” goes the chant.
I heard this a lot in 2012, when I was a baby anarchist, new to the raucus culture of the Montréal manif. Back then, the chant was often accompanied by a bevy of ironic sig heils directed at the police. It always felt a bit uncomfortable to find oneself in a crowd of largely white people making Nazi salutes, and eventually those ironic sig heils even caused a minor scandal in the anglophone press. The media uproar surely involved a great deal of bad faith, navel-gazing, and quotes from centre-right advocacy organizations, but at the end of the day it’s hard to argue that Nazi salutes (ironic or not) are anything but a bad look.
In the years that followed, the sig heils (thankfully) dissapeared from the protest culture of Montréal’s streets, and for a while it seemed that maybe the SS-PVM chants were gone too. But recently I’ve been hearing them again, not just at big demos full of liberal student-types but at demos organized by anarchists and anti-fascists—the comrades I tend to hope might know better. Even worse, the chant now seems to have been memorialized on a spiffy new bannière de tête.
So what’s up with this chant, and why won’t it die? Essentially it says to the SPVM: “you are the state’s secret police, used to repress social movements and political dissidents, much like—famous example from history—the Schutzstaffel, e.g. the SS.”
For those who skipped history class, the SS was a paramilitary wing of the Nazi state, instrumental in the implementation of the Final Solution. It oversaw the deportation of Jews across Europe, ran the death camps for which the Nazi regime is so well-remembered, and participated in the mass extermination of Jews on the Eastern Front, in what is often called the “Holocaust by bullets”.
Under the command of the SS, the Gestapo was the political police force of Nazi Germany. It investigated, rounded up, and liquidated dissidents and “enemies of the state”: queers, communists, trade unionists, Jews, and Roma. Before the war, the Gestapo was the de facto enforcer of Nazi race laws, and during the war, it orchestrated mass deportations and participated in mass killings. It is the Gestapo, presumablly, that is the “police politique” of our aforementioned demo chant.
So why am I telling you things that you likely already know about Nazis? What does any of this matter? In short, I think it matters how we talk about history, and how we use history in our political discourse in the present. And because I think that comparing the SPVM to the SS is a generally bad and frustrating analogy.
Now let’s be very clear, I’m certainly not here to convince you that, actually, the SPVM are some pretty alright dudes. Nor am I worried, for instance, that by comparing our local cops to the SS, we are being too mean. I am all for bullying cops. Please be very mean to the police.
What’s more, I have no doubt that, like many police forces, the SPVM has more than a handful of neo-fascists in its ranks. And as the armed enforcers of a racist social order, it comes as no suprise that the SPVM has also been responsible for numerous extra-judicial murders of racialized people.
My issue with comparing the SPVM to the SS is not a liberal fear of overstating just how bad the SPVM are. Rather, my concern is that, in comparing the SPVM to the SS, we risk obscuring the nature of the SS itself. Let’s go back to the chant in question: “SSPVM! Police politique.” It seems notable here that we’ve chosen to chant “police politique” rather than, for example, “police raciste” or “police génocidaire“. I think that says something about the subjectivity of the chant, or at least about the analysis of history it implies.
One might imagine a not-so-different chant, in a slightly different context, that uses one of the more visible historic genocides (the Holocaust) to point out police complicity in the genocidal project of settler statecraft. That would be, I think, a pretty different kind of conversation to have. But the “police politique” chant is not a chant about genocide, and that’s probably what makes it so uncomfortable.
The chant points out (correctly) that the SPVM is an instrument of political repression, and then compares it to another historic police body that was also an instrument of political repression… among other things. And the nature of those other things matters quite a lot. Because we would be remiss to remember the SS primarily as the henchman of anti-leftist repression, rather than primarily as the henchman of genocide.
At best, we make it sound like we think that the SS was more or less just like your standard 21st-century, North American, municipal police force: murderous, racist, certainly our enemy, but definitely not responsible for the coordinated extermination of millions of people. And, like other peddlers of ill-conceived Holocaust analogies—think of anti-vaxxers with yellow stars—it starts to sounds like maybe we did skip history class after all. An earlier, snarkier title for this text was: “I came for the annual anti-police riot, and all I got was some softcore Holocaust revisionism.” And while I ultimately revised this title, I think that the orginal still points to something important about the poltics of memory, and about the distortion of history by way of analogy to the present.
In 2023 this also feels like a more dangerous way to distort history than it did back in 2012… It’s 2023 and, only a few months ago, a former U.S. president sat down for dinner with a popular Holocaust denier; neo-Nazis keep showing up to harass people outside drag shows, shuls, and Broadway musicals; #hitlerdidnothingwrong is trending on Twitter again; and armed fascist attacks on mosques, synagogues, and gay bars have started to feel a little too familiar.
In lots of ways the mainstreaming of neo-Nazi ideas relies on overt or implicit Holocaust denial. Sure, there are always some whackjobs that will tell you that those six million Jews totally deserved to get it, but if you want to praise Hitler in the 21st century, it’s probably a lot easier to simply distort the facts of the genocide in the first place. Your 21st-century Holocaust revisionist will throw up their hands and say things like: “Oh sure, some people died in P.O.W. camps from typhus and malnourishment, but that’s just par for the course during a war… Were there really gas chambers? Was there really a genocide?”
Or as the lawyer for local neo-Nazi shitposter, Gabriel Sohier Chaput, recently said in a Montréal courtroom: “According to the dictionary, nazism means National Socialism. It was an ideology. There was no initial plan to exterminate the Jews. Were there really six million victims? I think if people died in concentration camps, it was to save money.”
To be sure, no one at any leftist demo I’ve attended in Montréal has been chanting anything remotely close to “Did / six / mil- / -lion / real- / -ly / die?” or whatever. But I guess it’s still harder to brush off an ill-conceived Holocaust analogy in a moment when Holocaust distortion, outright Holocaust denial, and various flavours of neo-Nazism are enjoying unprecedented mainstream approval.
Now look, I get it. Who doesn’t like to engage in some “everything I hate is literally Hitler” discourse from time to time? But by now, if you’re still unclear on the difference between the SPVM and the SS, then, oh boy, do I have a book (or ten) for you. And assuming that you can tell the difference between tear gas and Zyklon B, shouldn’t you feel at least a little embarrassed to find yourself in a crowd of people who seem kinda hazy on the details of what it was the SS actually did? I know I do…