In this article:
- “Nazbol” stands for National Bolshevism, a political movement that combines the ideologies of the far right and far left.
- Weirdly enough, Nazbol first gained traction online as a meme thanks to JrEg, a YouTuber known for his satirical commentary on internet culture and politics.
- Before it became an internet political buzzword, Nazbol existed as a political party in Russia where it was founded by Eduard Limonov, Yegor Letov, and Alexander Dugin. Dugin has been called Russian President Putin’s Rasputin because of his role as the ideological mastermind of Putin’s political stance and decisions.
- Most Nazbols on the internet are just doing it for the lulz, but niche internet forums where extremist roleplay and memeing are the norm could be a breeding ground for unironic alt-right extremists.
Trigger warning: Mentions and depictions of racism against people of African descent.
A few years ago, edgy teens on the internet were making Nazi memes and doing salutes on 9Gag. These days, a new generation of internet jokers are all about economic communism and far-right stances on race, gender, and sexuality.
They call themselves the Nazbol gang and most of them only support the “ideology” ironically.
This small but growing group of political memesters call internet forums such as 4chan and Reddit their home. As with most internet subcultures that joke about extremist ideologies, most of them are young Gen Zers who came to the scene after pretending to be a communist became too mainstream to be countercultural.
What’s weird about Nazbol, though, is that some of them aren’t joking. Especially not the ones who are in Russia.
Nazbol Ideology First Gained (Internet) Traction as a Meme
Nazbol, which stands for “National Bolshevism,” combines the far right with the far left by claiming to advocate for left-wing economics, typically communism, while supporting a right-wing stance on pretty much every other issue.
Nazbol ideology calls for a stronger state, a robust national identity, and, depending on which Nazbol you ask, xenophobia and/or racism.
Beyond that, it’s hard to get a clear picture of what Nazbol — the internet version of it, at least — is due to its ambiguous origins and lack of uniformity. This might strike you as strange since most political movements try to clearly define what they’re about and where they are on the political compass.
In Nazbol’s case, that’s because it wasn’t intended to be a serious political ideology in the first place.
Internet Nazbolism came from 8Chan‘s /leftypol/ . Though no known record of the thread exists, a 2017 Urban Dictionary entry claims that the Nazbol meme originated in /leftypol/ and was later equated with Strasserism by /pol/.
Of course, these aren’t exactly the most credible sources, but that’s internet archeology for you.
Even after it gained a degree of popularity with online political satire forums, Nazbol was still far from being as popular as it is today. That is until JrEg, a YouTuber and satirist, posted a series of videos about Nazbol and “Anarcho-Nazbol” in 2019.
In a video called “coming out as an anarcho-nazbol,” JrEg introduced Nazbol to his 400k subscribers to Nazbol with the same irreverence that most Nazbols at the time treated the subject.
A character in the skit tells his father, “Nazbol stands for ‘National Bolshevik.’ It’s a party that combines the economic system of the communists with the, let’s say, ‘cultural policy’ of the Nazis…Put them together and we can kill 55 million people!”
Notice how JrEg says party instead of ideology? That’s because while Nazbol is a meme, National Bolsheviks exist in meatspace and one of its members is important enough to be in a position to whisper in Russian President Vladimir Putin’s ear.
National Bolshevism Existed Before the Nazbol Meme
National Bolshevism first made its appearance a little before World War I. According to Klemens von Klemper’s Toward’s a Fourth Reich? The History of National Bolshevism in Germany, National Bolshevism was an unholy union of Russian communism and German Nazism as part of a pattern of German-Russian “cooperation.”
Klemper describes it as a “new psychology, a resentment towards the West and an intense love-hate relationship towards the East,” showing that the ideology has always been characterized by some amount of xenophobia.
National Bolshevism later reappeared in Russia in the form of the National Bolshevik Party which emerged in 1994 and is currently the oldest radical youth organization in Russia. Its founders, however, are no longer young men. Among them are:
- Eduard Limonov, a radical writer who’s been arrested on charges of inciting an uprising and is known to have written a book that called for the forced impregnation of women between 25 and 45;
- Yegor Letov, a musician who later distanced himself from politics; and,
- Alexander Dugin, a Russian political analyst who publicly praised Putin’s attack on Georgia in 2008 and has previously been sacked from Moscow State University for seemingly advocating for the genocide of Ukrainians — or, in his words, “Kill, kill, kill.”
The National Bolshevist Party itself has fallen out of favor with the Russian government thanks to protests that involved occupying a Ministry of Health building and breaking into the President’s Administration building.
The party as a whole and most of its members oppose the Russian government, largely on the grounds that Putin’s regime isn’t seen as nationalist or extremist enough.
That is, all except Alexander Dugin, whose book, Foundations of Geopolitics, may have helped inspire Vladimir Putin to launch the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, considering how strangely well-aligned Dugin’s philosophy is with Putin’s recent decisions.
Dugin holds that Russia ought to push North American and Western European influence out of Russia and its neighboring countries and reestablish Russian control over Eurasia. On a similar note, Limonov previously called for the expansion of Russian borders to countries with people of Russian ethnicity.
Having said that, most internet Nazbols aren’t National Bolsheviks in the Russian sense of the word. A meme is a meme, after all. Few, maybe even none, of the internet Nazbols are directly involved with the National Bolshevist Party or its leaders.
As funny as the joke might be for the people involved, not everyone is laughing. By normalizing extremist ideology, internet Nazbol communities become prime targets for radicalization.
Nazbols and the Alt-Right Meme to Extremist Pipeline
A few months after the release of his videos about Nazbol, JrEg posted a video that asked: “Does irresponsible political satire have consequences?”
In it, the YouTuber admits he has been worrying about how his videos on politics affect how others think, specifically whether joking about niche ideologies creates unironic supporters of that ideology.
“If I talk about Nazbols, National Bolshevism, does that mean there’s gonna be people who want fascist dictatorships to seize the means of production?”
Francis de Satge, an Intelligence Associate at Ceravoid with a background in Intelligence and Strategic studies, seems to say “yes.”
He proposed that internet forums where joking about extremism is the norm provide a platform for serious extremists to talk about extremist ideology without being identified (and dismissed) as extremist.
Much like how cults operate, de Satge explains that the modern radicalization process relies on the “sense of belonging” that people find online. This typically comes in the form of memes that spread alt-right ideas in “Chan” websites.
8Chan’s /pol/, one of the forums involved in the birth of internet Nazbol, is now defunct due, in part, to its involvement with a string of alt-right terror attacks. Three of these attackers shared their manifestos with /pol/, which referenced many of the “satirical” memes popular on the site.
The places where Nazbol thrives as a joke allow for political extremist beliefs to thrive by serving as echo chambers, creating a community of people who think it’s okay, exposing users to extremist ideology, and allowing unironic extremists — the true Nazbols — to brush off accusations of extremism and bigotry as a joke.
According to Luke Munn, writer of Alt-right pipeline: Individual journeys to extremism online, several YouTubers and their viewers have stepped forward to share how exposure to alt-right content eventually radicalized them.
It’s comparable to the adage about frogs and hot water: If you put a frog in boiling water, it jumps out immediately; but, if you raise the temperature slowly, the frog won’t jump out.
Faraday Speaks’s video “My Journey Into the Alt-Right Pipeline” talks about how he was radicalized while looking for self-help videos on YouTube that he hoped could help with his depression.
“I got introduced to people like [Steven] Crowder and [Ben] Shapiro” and basic “conservative principles” such as a small government, banning abortion, same-sex marriage, tighter immigration policies, and so on,” Faraday Speaks said. “And from there I got introduced to people like Lauren Southern and Gavin McInnes.”
“By the end of it,” he finishes, “I’m listening to Jared Taylor talking about racial differences.”
Elsewhere on the internet, political extremism presents itself to internet users as a form of counterculture that co-opts gaming memes to call for violence against women and minorities.
“This pattern of memes starting out ironically is a common trend among the more sardonic corners of the internet, but by hiding behind a mask of ‘edgy’ or ‘spicy’ memes, content played out for good fun can hide true messaging,” Rumi Khan wrote.
When the Christchurch shooter killed roughly 50 people in two mosques, he used an assault rifle etched with the words “remove kebab.” It’s a reference to a meme popular with the community around Hearts of Iron IV, a strategy game that lets players participate in a simulation of World War II.
Similarly, “Deus vult,” a Crusades-era phrase meaning “God Wills It,” links For Honor with alt-right racists.
Does this mean that there’s a direct cause and effect between liking ironic memes and video games and being a truly radicalized extremist willing to kill people for the lulz?
Certainly not, but as we’ve seen in previous shootings and how these can expose people to radical ideology, there’s a little more meat to the “big media” panic about how video games and 4chan make school shooters and domestic terrorists than most of us netizens want to acknowledge.
TLDR: There’s an overlap between 4chan users, video game players, history enthusiasts, school shooters, and political extremists that’s a mess to unpack.