What is anti-fascism?

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Counter-demonstrators at the “Unite the Right” rally. Charlottesville, Virginia. August 12, 2017

Preface

Explaining what anti-fascism is and isn’t has become an exhausting chore for those who have insight on the matter. (Not like most people who are outraged by anti-fascism really care.) The meaning is quite simply in the name. The catch, however, lies in the self-fulfilling political directions of applying anti-fascism. The hope with this article is that we can understand what anti-fascism entails, what it explicitly does and what it bares no relevance to.

You can be an anti-fascist and not physically confront fascists (punch nazis.) You can be an anti-fascist and not be as radical as most anti-fascists (be a communist or anarchist.) Anyone who thinks that people who mobilize in their communities for white supremacist and authoritarian reasons can act in all sorts of ways.

But anti-fascism is hardly fruitful resistance if it doesn’t seek to tear fascism out from the roots. This is where issues overlap and intersect, pointing to a loose perspective of what is wrong or undesirable and the ways we can change it.

Historically, anti-fascists have changed their tone and practice by the situations they were in. England, Germany, Poland, Greece, Spain, Scandinavia, Canada and the United States, from the second World War to the latest disruption of the American “alt-right”, these places in time had rises in anti-fascist activity according to what recent crises or wars stoked the flames of social and political tension.

Now, this is where most people just use that as another excuse to classify anti-fascists as extremist terrorists. But the idea that anti-fascists as anti-fascists, and not as whatever separate socio-economic model they adhere to, are out to do such things is to claim that any group of friends who show up at protests together should be particularly scrutinized. Hint: This doesn’t make sense.

At worse, individual anti-fascists can be stalked, harassed or murdered by fascists if certain personal information becomes public, or they find themselves in the middle of circumstances they didn’t necessarily ask for. But most times, some tend to get themselves into assault charges and interpersonal disputes, while whatever association they’re with is more like a loose social network of friends than a menacing organization funded by George Soros (people seriously believed this.) Agencies responsible for classifying and watching these people, specifically because they’re anti-fascists, would be sifting through the intelligible data of their public facebook pages and other community activities they’re involved with.

In short: Anti-fascists would be much happier gardening, baking or just being with friends. But they’ll gladly show up and do everything they can to make fascists get out of their town if they need to. While this neglects the intricacies of individual motivations, this is — full stop, the summary of anti-fascism in the present state of social relations.

People in the center, in all their wisdom, can then make the obvious argument that anti-fascists are mostly driven against fascism because of “radical” or “far-left” political views, and these agencies can sooner or later scrutinize them based on that (as if that’s never been the case before.) Anti-fascists find this either inevitable or irrelevant: who are they to assume any personal conviction because someone opposes neo-nazis? There are plenty of other reasons aside from them possibly, but possibly not, being a communist.

It’s either this, or the “one side of the same coin” argument; which implies anti-fascists are also interested in building prisons, having rigid social, racial and moral hierarchies, and pursuing the imprisonment and murder of social groups. All of these arguments are faulty because they lack nuance into the related logical directions of this political strain. It’s about consistency, not simply using force against someone.

“Who is wielding force against who?” No matter how you fill in the blanks, this type of question can’t be sufficiently answered by reason or public conscience. It’s a question you respond to yourself based on lived experience in affinity with others.

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Anti-fascists organize around a very specific idea: to expose, oppose and confront organized racists/xenophobes/fascists wherever they are. That one goal is painstakingly centered as the primary objective. Many anti-fascist groups have come together around basic principles that expressly condemn ideological purity and conformity so long as participants know what they’re doing and doing it however they can. The Anti-Racist Action Network bases themselves on non-sectarian defense of other anti-fascists.

At this time, under late neoliberal capitalism in post-great recession North America, a reactionary political trend born out of online communities, in cooperation with formally organized fascist, neo-nazi and white nationalist groups, is working to circulate hysteria over people of color, LGBTQ+ people, refugees, activists and leftists to mobilize direct attacks on communities as part of a political effort to gain state power and establish a coercive, militaristic white ethno-state.

You can fact-check popular opinion on anti-fascism all you like, but it doesn’t leave a scratch on the drive to confront these dangerous people. Understanding this topic beyond simple empathy for those who’ve had a shitty roll of the dice requires visiting a different perspective into several bold questions: how to solve problems without leaders, authorities or coercion. How to run our world like we run our own homes. How to come together and be self-sufficient in a new sense of desire.

This isn’t about making a case for ourselves that is reducible down to the drivel of mass media spectacle, or the dumpster fire of liberal representative democracy. It’s about coming together, becoming autonomous and resolving issues on our own terms, which we know will come in many different forms.

While anti-fascists are fine with answering questions, it’s nearly a pointless endeavor: If people would simply strive to learn, read the literature we cite and actually care about adapting their outlook instead of just being angry, these things would be self-evident and would need no explaining. But that will probably be the day when most people understand and acknowledge the notion that property is theft.

So in going forward, I ask that new readers about anti-fascism take a few deep breathes and come into this with a tempered heart and a will to learn. We don’t care about convincing you — thats your job. We only care about the record being straight, and being clear about the intentions at play.

Anti-fascism

Anti-fascism, in its most basic sense, means the social and political, organized and individual opposition to fascism. This concept has been applied differently since fascism itself emerged in the mid 19th century. Antifa is sometimes used as a shortening of anti-fascism in its self-organized forms.

From Jewish partisans, American workers’ organizations to insurrectionary anarchists, different people in different places have found it necessary to protect their communities from political formations whose expressed goal is to target and gain control over marginalized groups of people. These include ethnic and religious backgrounds, sexual/gender identities, migrants and people with disabilities.

First, we should understand what fascism is. Fascism is not a nebulous adjective for totalitarianism or force that can be tossed around carelessly. It’s a specific term covering a wide range of ideas and formations specific to capitalist society. In the words of J Clark:

Fascism is a reactionary mass political movement that is hostile to both revolutionary socialism(s) and liberal, bourgeois democracy. Fascist movements are rooted in perceptions of community/national decline and obsessive myths of community/national rebirth and greatness. They therefore seek, through redemptive violence, to purge or “cleanse” the community/nation of “corrupting” or “alien” elements; replace the current ruling elite with their own idealized class; and impose their new brand of “order” on the rest of the populace.

Fascism has a complicated origin out of the first World War and the quarrels between nationalists and communists. It gained popular support in Italy and Spain shortly after the great depression. Spain was host to one of the largest conflicts between fascist armies and combined anti-fascist forces in the 1930s, shortly before Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist party would secure state power and ignite the second World War.

Fascist propaganda has historically made use of economic crises, immigration, paranoia about ethnic groups and racist speculation about elites to adjust working people’s concerns to an outlook of national rebirth and racial supremacy, while branding an insurgent defense of capitalism, so-called “class collaboration” and racist violence with its language and symbolism.

Some historical fascist variants include Strasserism and Falangism while more general ideologies include ultranationalism, neo-nazism, white separatism and neo-confederacy. These ideas normally constitute a variety of political parties and advocacy groups that organize around issues in their region through an authoritarian, racist and/or autocratic political program aimed at winning popular working class support. Some examples in the United States include the Ku Klux Klan, National Socialist Movement, Identity Europa, American Vanguard, Patriot Front, League of the South and Traditionalist Worker Party.

There are groups that are not fascist, but instead reactionary; or far-right and sympathetic to these more explicit groups. In the United States, these include the Three-percenter movement, Oath Keepers (who both guarded fascists in Charlottesville in 2017) Proud Boys and various anti-feminist, anti-communist “pro-west” milieus.

Different offshoots of neo-nazism on social media and image board websites like 4chan and 8chan compose a subculture of North America’s “alt-right” political scene. A mix of white nationalist identities that prides itself as the voice for the disenfranchised through convoluted speculation or outright lies about immigrants, feminism and “the west.”

What ties these different things together is a sense of dejection that is mapped onto an irreconcilable difference with the popular, academic and institutional left, liberal democracy and neo-conservatism. These have recently been consolidated into one distinct, far-right political sphere after the 2016 American presidential election. At which point, anti-fascists have responded accordingly.

Anti-fascism emerged from various socialist, communist, anarchist, syndicalist and agrarian conflicts with early fascist aggression. Most notably, when the Spanish republican government surrendered to Franco’s fascist coup, while union workers and peasants armed and organized themselves against the fascist troops. They took control of regions like Aragon, Catalonia and Valencia and reconstituted the cities, land, tools and supplies under workers’ self-management.

Specifically anti-fascist organizations like the Iron Front and Antifaschistische Aktion were established during and after the conflict in Europe against the Third Reich. Sometime later in England, Anti-Fascist Action would directly confront the National Front and British National party on the streets, incorporating an anti-racist ethos into its punk and skinhead subcultures (Canada and the United States to follow.) Meanwhile, German autonomous anti-capitalists (Autonomen) developed the strategy of the black bloc, wherein a large mass of demonstrators dress in black and conceal their faces before directly confronting an enemy.

This more or less leads us to the present day, the most recent event being the conflicts in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. During the short-lived “Unite the Right” rally, various far-right organizations planned on coming together in Emancipation Park to oppose the removal of the Robert E. Lee statue, only for Virginia State police to declare it an unlawful assembly after facing off with different anti-fascists (IWW General Defense Committee, Redneck Revolt, Anti-Racist Action, TORCH Antifa, non-violent clergy, etc.) Both sides dispersed, crossing paths several times before James Alex Fields drove his car into a crowd of anti-fascists, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

We would have been crushed like cockroaches if it were not for the anarchists and the antifascists… They saved our lives, actually. We would have been completely crushed, and I’ll never forget that.

Dr. Cornel West

Anti-fascists make use of all tactics deemed necessary for the location of an event or confrontation. One of the goals in disrupting fascist gatherings is to draw attention to a credible opposition against the ideas being given a platform, following fascist authoritarians everywhere they show themselves and making their lives miserable however needed to get them to stop assembling. Anti-fascist practice around the world has expanded to include collaboration with groups that distribute free food, clothing, books and housing, as well as social centers, workers’ movements, affinity groups, book clubs, gun clubs, co-cops and collectives.

Anti-fascists are more interested in directly confronting fascist organizing than making a case that can be worked into legalistic avenues for democratic reform. Because anti-fascists are individuals in a long-running conflict between class-oriented ideologies with mutually opposing interests, they view success against the enemy as building local power that can confront and disrupt fascist assembly. The idea is to solve problems ourselves without the input or mediation of authorities.

Anti-fascists are particularly quick to action because they recognize familiar situations, even when mainstream ideas and channels aren’t informed on the relationships at play and the history that informs present actions. For example, anti-fascists don’t confront the far-right simply because we disagree with them, or because we’re offended by them, or we want to take away everyone’s “free speech.” We do so because:

  1. We know that fascists are never out to “win” in any battle of ideas, they aim to popularize and humanize nationalist programs that make use of racist violence, which the media is still doing. Assembling around their loud and clear intentions isn’t essential to “expressing oneself”, and anyone who uses this as an excuse to call antifa “just as bad” is ignoring the fact that fascists gain state power first, and then stomp out dissent by force.
  2. Wherever fascists go, racist violence against community members spikes. When hundreds if not thousands of organized racists and authoritarians meet in a town, anti-fascists always take steps toward disrupting whatever they plan on doing.
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Anti-fascism is self-defense

Fascists don’t need platforms or “free speech” to share their ideas (the latter applying to the state, not anti-fascists.) In our current information age, Twitter accounts, blogging platforms and other services provide everything needed to share the specific details of why someone thinks the way they do (you’re looking at that model right now.) Being able to assemble in a town square and openly advocate for inequality at best — genocide at worst, is predicated on an idea that people should willingly allow hundreds to take up space and loudly encourage the targeting of our friends and loved ones.

It is precisely because fascists have been able to speak their minds so well, then and now, that we know we have to fight them everywhere we can. Anti-fascists have the same expectations of counter-demonstration and violence against us as we dispense against them; that’s what comes with taking a side in this conflict. We simply understand the role of the fascists’ violence versus ours and do everything we can to win.

The outrage against anti-fascists rests in the fact that we use whatever tactics are necessary to remove these people from our communities, coupled with an odd notion that people who advocate slavery, police states and murder have equally valid ideas as people who advocate freedom and equality in their most full and complete forms. This idea suggests that fascism is merely an opinion without real-world consequences as long as it can exist peacefully in an obscure vacuum of peaceful discussion, which it never can.

These are the first people to criticize us with their sad “gotcha” moment: “What if we don’t want to live in communism!? Why do you assault people you just disagree with!?” Such angry questions with no reasonable answer, because they neglect how we as human beings have fared under the current state of things — putting the responsibility on us instead of bigots and authorities.

Only those who have lived a sheltered existence by the media and the police can feel frustration against those who dedicate their free time to ensuring there won’t be another fascist rise to power. Only people who haven’t suffered enough can possibly think there wasn’t at least a hundred vendettas taken up in the immediate aftermath of everything fascism, white supremacy and its support base has done.

We can only ask them in return: What if none of us asked for this? What if we don’t want to live in capitalism? What if we don’t feel safe around racists, the police and a society that defends them over us and our friends? What if we prefer to keep each other safe and accomplish goals together, and why shouldn’t we strive to remake our world along these lines?

But these are also the people who we’re trying to include in this fight. Resisting fascism and white supremacy is not and should not be exclusive to those who participate in black blocs or hold any radical ideal. Helping to protect the targets of organized white supremacy is an act of empathy, solidarity and generosity. One that informs similar action in other aspects of life. Being gravitated toward broader goals is simply a succession to looking at power relations from an anti-fascist perspective. People bring their own reasons into this, but they usually work alongside others who share different stories. This is what creates a flexible ethos of liberation, direct action and self-defense.

We are actively against hiveminds and ideological conformity, but the informed practice of anti-fascism itself takes into account that these issues are deeply connected. The current age of crisis leaves many without exit from economic hardship and the deplorable conditions left by a negligent state, leading to polarization and hostility within the working class over scapegoats and a fictional idea of racial decline. The anti-fascist struggle underlies an insurrectionary drive to permanently end poverty, scarcity and misery by fighting what causes and maintains them.

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Photo by @pepperm4n

Contemporary anti-fascism has an informal link to a global-spanning, revolutionary paradigm against capitalism, the state, patriarchy, colonialism, and other social systems that compliment white supremacy. Armed formations like the YPG [pictured], IRPGF and TQILA in Rojava, various gun clubs in the United States and loose combative groups around the world incorporate anti-fascism into their collective self-defense. These groups understand that self-determination against all forms of coercion is bound up with an active opposition to ideals that enact this through racist myths, ties to existing institutional white supremacy and authoritarian nationalism. This is also why anti-fascists in the Middle East have taken the fight to actual Islamic extremists far, far more than any Islamophobic piece of trash could ever hope to.

Political aims in the vicinity of anti-fascism are sometimes misconstrued as ineffectual or ravaged by aimless violence. This is most likely due to a popular dependence on reformist politics that can’t adequately interact with the politics at play. For this reason, the media exaggerates and misconstrues the acts of anti-fascists as generically “extreme” without proper context or by outright lying.

We don’t want body cameras on cops, we want the institution of policing and the property relations it enforces to be abolished. We don’t want USSR-style Stalinism (what our opponents call “communism”), we want a classless, stateless free association of individuals, being necessary to eradicate the lifeblood of fascism and all social tyranny.

Wherever they go, we go. We intend to win.

Anti-fascism is many things, but perhaps most fundamentally it is an argument about the historical continuity between different eras of far-right violence and the many forms of collective self-defense that is has necessitated across the globe over the past century.

— Mark Bray, Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook

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