In the aftermath of Charlottesville, I’ve lost count of the number of liberals , who have decried the tactics of Antifa. Even some on the left, most notably Noam Chomsky, have complained that Antifa has “handed a propaganda coup the the neo-Nazis”. First, I need to put something to bed right away: Antifa is not an organization or a political party, it’s a position. If you oppose fascism in all its colours, then you are Antifa. Militant anti-fascism is an expression of Antifa that has a long history in Europe but not in the United States, where neo-fascists, neo-Nazis and assorted racists have been permitted to express their ‘right to free speech’ largely unhindered; often aided and abetted by local law enforcement and, more recently, supported by a variety of self-styled ‘libertarian’ organizations, which have questionable objectives. If you don’t believe me, have a look at the Ludwig von Mises Institute website or the confused position of Spiked Online, which seeks to normalize and even excuse neo-Nazis, neo-fascists and assorted racist groups by deflecting attention from them onto militant anti-fascists. Instead, the likes of Brendan O’Neill (himself a nouveau bourgeois) would like you to believe that militant anti-fascism is a creature of the ‘middle class metropolitan elitist left’ or some such nonsense. The truth could hardly be more different: the greatest resistance to fascism and Nazism in Britain has traditionally come from the working class, not from the middle class.
What really annoys me are the muddle-headed claims that “Antifa are the real fascists” and “militant anti-fascists are as bad as the fascists”. Those who utter those statements are most likely to be white, middle class and liberal; the very people who are unlikely to suffer random attacks from roaming gangs of neo-Nazis. Why? Because fascists usually march through working class and immigrant neighbourhoods to stir up hatred and to engage in displays of triumphalism. Militant anti-fascists neither march through working class neighbourhoods nor engage in random attacks on minorities. Middle class neighbourhoods are usually left untouched. For a good example closer to home, why not have a look at the Orange parades that go through Catholic/Nationalist communities in Northern Ireland?
After World War 2, the Jewish men and women of the 43 Group had come home from fighting fascists, only to discover fascists were still marching and organizing in London’s East End. Here’s their story.
The 43 Group didn’t shrink from using their feet and their fists to counter the violence of the fascists. So here’s are a couple of questions for all those white middle class liberals agonizing over Antifa: what would you have done? Allow the fascists to continue to march through your community? If you answered “yes” to the last question, then you’re too comfortable. When I say “comfortable”, you are comfortable because you know these racist thugs aren’t going to stir up hatred where you live and, given your ambivalent attitude, you’re more likely to shrug when they claim that “immigrants are stealing your jobs”. You may even grudgingly agree with them.
Here’s a video about Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) which was set up in 1985 by Red Action and other anti-fascist groups. The documentary is narrated by Mensi Mensforth of the Angelic Upstarts and appeared on BBC2 in the 90s.
If you think ignoring fascists will make them go away, it won’t. If you turn the other cheek to a fascist, don’t be surprised if it’s slashed with a razor. Neo-fascists and neo-Nazis want to divide the working class along the lines of skin colour. If you look at the leaders of any of the far-right parties, you will see that, more often than not, they’re drawn from the middle class and the aristocracy; well-supported by the petite bourgeoisie and propped up by certain sections of the nominally free press. Indeed, when right-wing authoritarian regimes (fascist, military, far-right nationalist) have come to power, the self-styled free world allows them to continue unimpeded, but should a left-wing government come to power, there is an intense disinformation campaign in the media and every possible effort is made to destabilize it.
Neo-Nazis and neo-fascists are capitalism’s shock troops. Whenever there’s a crisis in capitalism, the fascists appear – almost as if by magic. The language of today’s fascists may have altered superficially, but the underlying discourses of white supremacy and ethnic hatred are just below the surface. Listening to them will achieve precisely nothing. In fact, they will take that as a sign of your approval.
I support the activities of militant anti-fascists because I think their use of force is a necessary tactic to counter the violence of the far-right on the streets. If you think allowing neo-fascists a platform to say whatever they like is necessary because you believe everyone has a right to free speech, just imagine what would happen if the far-right ever came to power. The free speech, that you cherish so dearly, would be taken away and you’d be carted off to prison or worse. Now you can accuse me of histrionics if you like, but you’ll have to name a country in which the far-right have gained power and have allowed people to criticize them. I can’t think of one.
Edited to add:
This article from Alternet appeared on the Salon site and is worth a read.
If you’re reading this and you’re a member of the ‘alt-right’ or any of the groups mentioned in this article and wish to leave an abusive comment, then don’t bother because I will delete it.