Posts Tagged ‘antifascism’

“The interpretation of fascism as an instrument of big business has been classic since Daniel Guerin. But the seriousness of his analysis conceals a central error. Most of the “marxist” studies maintain the idea that, in spite of everything, fascism was avoidable in 1922 or 1933. Fascism is reduced to a weapon used by capitalism at a certain moment. According to these studies capitalism would not have turned to fascism if the workers’ movement had exercised sufficient pressure rather than displaying its sectarianism. Of course we wouldn’t have had a “revolution”, but at least Europe would have been spared Nazism, the camps, etc. Despite some very accurate observations on social classes, the State, and the connection between fascism and big business, this perspective succeeds in missing the point that fascism was the product of a double failure; the defeat of the revolutionaries who were crushed by the social democrats and their liberal allies; followed by the failure of the liberals and social democrats to manage Capital effectively. The nature of fascism and its rise to power remain incomprehensible without studying the class struggles of the preceding period and their limitations.”

– Gilles Dauve, Fascism/Antifascism. Translation of 

« Bilan » Contre-Révolution en Espagne. Edmonton, Black Cat Press: 1982. 

(via forestrebel)

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“In every democratic nation there are fascist political parties. Sometimes, they don’t have a lot of impact for a long time, but they do exist nevertheless. Fascists are people who are politically organised on the common ground that they see their own nation sold out by their own government. Sold out, because that very government allegedly governed their people in a wrong way, meaning they would admit “the wrong” people and would govern “our own” too laxly, which would undermine motivation and decency. Wherever governments strengthen the dependency on other countries by making trade agreements or forming political alliances because they count on a positive outcome for their nation, it’s the fascists who smell a sellout of the homeland.

This standpoint of fascists is kept alive and even strengthened by democratic parties. Every democratic party finds it reasonable to be sceptical about „foreigners“. Even where some might aim for a liberalisation of immigration law or for making naturalisation easier, it would still be stressed that this process should definitely depend on successful “integration” of these foreigners. It is taken for granted that foreigners always lack real patriotism – the one natives know before they are out of diapers. Every democratic party finds a lack of morale in the people, no matter if the occasion is a debate over fiscal evasion or on benefit scroungers. Every democratic party stresses that it only acts for the national common good when it, for example, signs an international treaty. Stressing that also means to hint at the other side of the medal: in any international business one’s own national interests are at risk of being undermined by other nation-states. This is a prime subject of debate in parliamentary democracy: each party blames the others to have failed with regard to furthering the national interest or to even have thrown back the whole country by misgovernment. All those standpoints exist in every democracy. Fascists seize and radicalise them.

The EU and the Eurozone are associations of states each of which wants to advance its own power by joining together. Germany, for example, wanted to expand its already strong power in the world. Other nations, especially those in the south of Europe, wanted to get away from their agrarian economies and turn them into real capitalist ones. Both calculations seemed to have worked – until 2007.

The financial and sovereign debt crisis thwarted all of their plans. The countries in the European South had to subject themselves to a national scrappage programme simply for continued access to credit in Euro and without any perspective for further development. Germany does not want to pay a lot for those nation-states struck hardest by the crisis as they do not contribute to the German project of becoming a world power within and through a successful Europe.

In the public sphere it is the democratic parties which, at first, cast doubt whether everything worked according to plan in the past – in particular when they say: “carry on” regardless of the crisis. In contrast, fascist parties radicalised this doubt to the certainty that the whole EU and the Eurozone are one big sellout of the national interest.

The political elites have arrived at the conclusion that central political strategies have failed so far. This is one foundation of fascist success.

Secondly, for fascists parties to be successful it needs the people. Most people have no idea what the point of the Euro and its financial markets has been and continues to be. For the population it is patriotically obvious that painful cuts are required in the interest of the success of the nation when they think it is plausible that their own restrictions help the nation to achieve the greatness promised by politicians. For the same reason some countries saw mass protests because people do not accept that structural adjustment programmes lead the nation to greatness – as in their view those are merely imposed on them from abroad.

When large parts of the population now find it plausible to vote for fascist parties then this is not because they realised that nationally organised capitalism only means trouble for the satisfaction of needs and desires. But what they consider an inalienable right is the success of the nation itself. If that is threatened then they – as loyal subjects – become demanding and put their trust in parties which promise to stand for ruthless moralistic terror and systematic tightening of the figurative belt – without any concessions to foreign powers.

Antifascist activists remain helpless if they attempt to work with bourgeois parties and if they ignore their “arguments” (e.g. “foreigners and the EU are useful for the nation”) in coalitions – or even support these arguments. This bourgeois “invitation” not to follow the fascists contains the whole breeding ground for exactly these fascists. Instead what is needed is critique of those who judge the world around them – in good and bad times – as to how successful the nation is, instead of asking: what is my place, if others rule over me.”

– “Thesis on the swing to the right in Europe,” Gruppen Gegen Kapital und Nation.

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“I’ve found that perhaps the greatest obstacle to advancing this cause and building greater support for it is the broad popular stigma associated with antifascism in our political day and age. Easing the stubborn grip that this stigma exerts on the thinking of our fellow citizens, helping them see that their everyday struggles are more closely intertwined with the overarching cause of antifascism than they may think—this is a herculean but vital task all its own. It shouldn’t be hard to see that one of the crucial steps in the unconscious national—and international—slide toward more fascist-like politics and sympathies is the widespread vilification of those who are most committed to preventing it.

For the sake of the left’s future, we must work together to reclaim the mantle of antifascism—both at the grassroots level and in the popular mind. We must wrestle it and its reputation from the misconceptions that are heaped upon it, from the radioactive stigma that continues to make it appear more unsavory than ever precisely when we need it most. And perhaps most important, we must also rescue antifascism from the irony-deficient, soul-sucking vacuum behind Madeline Albright’s dumb face.

Sticks and Stones
Where does this stigma come from? To be fair, some of it has genuine roots in the follies and disorganization of antifascist politics today, including antifascists’ failure to counter all the bad press with a “brand” that can connect with and sway more of the public. To be even fairer, though, a great deal of our uphill struggle to dispel the many brands of disinformation targeting antifascist activism has to do with the rise of a veritable cottage industry devoted to smearing antifascism itself—an industry staffed by pundits and politicians running the gamut from the radical right to the far left.

This is not to say, however, that all antifascist-bashing arguments are alike. In fact, trawling through spittle-covered broadside after spittle-covered broadside, one starts to sense that, absurd caricatures and cynical fearmongering aside, the right has a better grasp on the radical core of antifascism than do many on the left. The right recognizes that what we call “antifa” today is simply one arm of a broader movement. This is a movement (or “movement of movements”) comprised of diverse leftist groups whose commitment to antifascism is (or should be) entirely inextricable from their collective drive to upend the existing social forces of inequality, domination, exclusion, and violence that fascists and proto-fascists wish to seize and weaponize for their own ends. At the same time, many on the left are busy distancing themselves from antifascism as such and isolating antifa as an aberrant sect unto itself with little or no connection to the “real” left. (They are, to put it bluntly, throwing antifa—generally taken as shorthand for anarchists—under the bus, leaving comrades like the J20 defendants out to dry.)

We can see before our eyes the popular, intra-left critiques of antifa specifically, and antifascism generally, beginning to harden into unchallenged consensus. Out of this consensus view, three basic criticisms about antifascism today emerge:

  • Antifascism is, in the most literal sense, misguided. The antifa movement, the argument goes, exclusively focuses its energies on sparring with despicable individuals and extremist hate groups as if they are the most pressing, immediate threat to society, no matter how insignificant and marginalized they are. In so doing, antifascist activists ignore the more widespread political and socioeconomic horrors of the present. With eyes fixed on some fantastical evil on the horizon instead of the material realities of today, they fail to acknowledge that a true fascist resurgence is unlikely given that the objective historical conditions of our moment hardly resemble those that produced real fascism in Italy in the wake of World War I, or in Germany and Spain soon after.
  • Antifascism is juvenile. The charge here is that antifascists have no real guiding doctrine—their actions largely consist of disorganized activists living out “macho” fantasies of fighting literal Nazis in the streets and punching their way to justice and glory. (This image usually goes hand in hand with a perception of antifascists as militantly close-minded, not interested in discussion, and trigger-happy to paint anyone who disagrees with them as a “fascist.”) The obsession with direct, even violent, action, which often invokes comparisons to the alt-right, demonstrates antifascism’s immaturity and inability to organize in the long term and on a mass scale.
  • Antifascism is tactically shortsighted. Critics contend that, while the most recognizable tactics for confronting fascist mobilizations—especially Nazi-punching and “no-platforming”—may reap local, immediate gains (if only in the form of personal gratification), such tactics are, at bottom, purely cathartic and anti-political. For them, the self-dramatizing and confrontational excesses of antifascist politics drives home the movement’s own perilous disregard for the power of popular perception and the larger power structures that determine the shape of American life and politics—power structures that will often use antifascists’ tactics as an excuse to crack down on the left itself.

Put simply, antifascist politics is, in this view, easy. It’s purely reactive, not painstakingly organized. It’s emotional, not well thought out. It’s narrowly focused on combating immediate threats with little concern for the optics or long-term effects, limited to directly confronting individuals or small extremist groups without attending to the broader historical conditions of their emergence.

Occam’s Mirror
But these are not the facts of antifascism. The notion that antifascist politics are so simple and narrow is, ironically enough, grounded in a very narrow and simplistic understanding of what antifascism is. Such an understanding is what happens when negative biases, rumors, and mainstream caricatures get repeated into robust existence. It’s what happens when one bad personal experience with people who call themselves antifascist becomes the template for judging antifascist politics writ large. It’s what happens when one’s myopic view of things as they appear (or don’t appear) on the internet is (mis)taken as full coverage of the world at large. As with a movie projector, a certain vision is cast onto life, beaming straight from the computer, through the eyes, and out the big hole in one’s head.  

The real-life picture is quite different. And it says much more about the left today that increasingly large segments are quick to reject antifascism as some cartoonish antithesis to our central aims. Because antifascism is not a competing ideology. It is, at base, a mode of politics—a resolute political posture—with all the aim and will of a popular movement, one that draws on the longstanding, transnational infrastructure of socialist, communist, and anarchist politics in order to stop fascist mobilizations in their tracks while also, as historian Mark Bray writes, “building popular community power and inoculating society to fascism through promoting [a] leftist political vision.” It is a concerted, coalition-based politics that perceives far-right violence and popular authoritarian impulses as both a historical continuity and repeatable probability at the trembling dialectical extremes of capitalism and nationalism.

Antifascism is not premised on fighting some alarmist, future-fearing fantasy of a totalitarian dystopia at the expense of addressing the open sores of the already-dystopian-enough present.

For this reason, antifascists understand that it is dangerously reductive to presume that antifascism is unnecessary given that our historical conditions are not the same as those that produced fascism in the twentieth century. As Geoff Eley, a renowned historian of Nazism, puts it, “it makes no sense to draw direct equivalences between far Right politics now and the politics calling itself fascist then.” The real question is what sort of material conditions, what (inter)national crises, would make a fascist-like politics attractive to people today for whom faith in the standard operations and institutions of democratic governance is, as it did in the past, quickly eroding?

Contrary to what its critics suggest, then, antifascism is not premised on fighting some alarmist, future-fearing fantasy of a totalitarian dystopia at the expense of addressing the open sores of the already-dystopian-enough present. Antifascism, rather, is all the more urgently attentive to the present because it takes a sober, truly materialist view of the inevitable national turns—in the absence of a robust leftist alternative—toward more fascistic solutions to the global crises of the twenty-first century: climate change, ramped-up international wars over natural resources, growing migrant and refugee crises and a consequent anxiety about open borders and national identity, job automation, increasingly stark degrees of wealth inequality and financial precarity, etc.

As these crises continue to develop, it is all-too-probable that the U.S. and other nations will pull harder toward the fascist-like impulses that are increasingly characterizing our century. “Fortress mentalities, idioms of politics organized by anxiety, gatedness as the emergent social paradigm—these increasingly drive the authoritarian and violent tendencies of contemporary governmentality. If we put all of this together,” Eley writes, “then we have the kind of crisis that can enable a politics that looks like fascism to coalesce.” Such sustained crisis conditions have enabled, and will continue to enable, Trumpian-style right-wing politics to thrive. In the face of these conditions, any left politics that isn’t self-consciously antifascist is doomed.

The point, then, isn’t just to give antifascism a fairer shake—the stakes are much higher than that. And there’s no reason for me to rehash a fuller and more sophisticated accounting of the history and practical workings of antifascist politics here when others have been working overtime to do just that (see Natasha Lennard, Mark Bray, Shane Burley, Alexander Reid Ross, etc.). The point is that, in struggling to reclaim antifascism in the name of an ecumenical left that is up to the tasks of our century, we are forced to confront serious ideological and tactical contradictions embedded in the more prominent leftist critiques of antifascist politics today.

Such contradictions—especially when it comes to determining how we should approach the question of power—bear directly on the future of any self-described leftist politics in this country. If left unaddressed, they will not only continue to hinder our collective capacity to fight fascist mobilizations when they appear, but they will also undercut the ultimate task of formulating a leftist politics that addresses the monstrous material conditions out of which fascism emerges and takes hold.

Power Broke
One can’t really begin to talk about antifascist politics—or any politics, for that matter—without first talking about power. How much of it do we currently have? How do we get more? How and where in our respective environments can we effectively leverage it, and to what ends? What constitutes legitimate power in today’s political economy, and how much of what we take for power is really just clutter, commodity, or distraction? What kind of power do our enemies have over us? How does their power shape who we are and how we think? And what means do we have, individually or collectively, to protect ourselves against it?

These most basic questions form the necessary point of entry for any writing or organizing endeavor that counts as “political.” As a writer and an organizer myself, I’m rarely able to come up with satisfactory answers, but I try at least to keep an unobstructed view of the questions as much as I can. Because if I’m not thinking about power, chances are I’m letting power do the thinking for me.

It’s quite simple, really: without a serious, strategic reckoning with the question of power, there is no left politics. And for anyone reading, writing, or organizing in the sphere of left politics today, the need for such a reckoning is particularly acute. With reactionary forces so clearly in control, any failure on our part to soberly appraise our strategic options in the existing power arrangement could easily lead to disastrous consequences.

Indeed, contemporary antifascist politics tends to be a whipping boy for critics who single it out as a pragmatic failure to account for the reality of how power operates today. For a growing contingent of the left, that is, it’s become standard practice to sweep antifascist politics aside by referring—or deferring—to power itself. This is especially the case when it comes to campus-based “antifascism.”

This line runs through many variations of the same argument, which has been made by a number of my fellow left writers, including, for instance, Freddie DeBoer and Angela Nagle. Both DeBoer and Nagle have argued that the left is too focused on things like building personal brands, performing “wokeness,” and preaching to one’s internet choir. They’ve also argued that, along with any discernible form of robust political power, the left is seriously lacking in the ability to grapple with the practical and theoretical foundations of its own convictions about power, instead opting to rely on ill-defined consensus views, which I don’t think is entirely off base.

But the problem, I’d argue, is that power as such is beginning to overtake any particularly leftist theoretical principle in the dismissal of antifascist politics by the likes of Nagle, DeBoer, etc. I’m going to quote DeBoer at length here, and this quote comes from a discussion last summer on the Katie Halper Show, in which he and Nagle shared their views on activists on college campuses employing the antifascist tactic of “no-platforming”:

When we talk about these free-speech debates we’re always operating in this bizarre theoretical universe where [leftists] actually have political power, and we don’t. And we know historically that if anyone’s speech is going to be abridged, it’s not the right, who … are currently dominating American electoral politics, it’s the left. It’s McCarthyism. It’s shutting down Palestinian activism on campus. Which has been a concerted effort—it’s been hugely popular among the conservative administrators at these universities and has been much more effective than other efforts to shut down hate speech… Who do we think is actually going to be hurt by a sweeping new set of abilities to come down and regulate what people can do or say?… If anyone is going to be hurt by the attempt to regulate speech, because of the division of power in this country, it’s people of color, it’s gay and lesbian and transgender people, it’s women. That’s what this country is. And … we have to think, not in terms of this ideal theoretical world where we are the ones who are the censors, but think about how power is distributed in this country and how we’re much more likely to be censored.

Nagle adds that the kind of left politics being described here is also tactically unsound because, as we so often hear, it makes firebrands like Milo Yiannopolous and Richard Spencer appear victimized and sympathetic in the public eye. At the same time, the no-platforming tactic makes it much easier for people watching the news to believe we on the left are exactly the violent and militantly intolerant bunch that the right says we are. And DeBoer ups the ante again by arguing that “the actual existing power structure in the United States” is such that vengeful conservative legislators have the capacity to retaliate, and will retaliate, against these PC censors on campus, citing their protests as justification to further defund public universities.”


Maximillian Alvarez, “Antifascism and the Left’s Fear of Power.” The Baffler, May 16, 2018.

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