by Gainesville Anti-Fascist Committee
What do you mean by “anti-fascism”?
Political opposition to the violent, nationalistic ideology known as fascism. Fascism, which first appeared in Italy during WWI, emerges during times of economic and political crisis within capitalist economies. Fascist ideology and practice concentrates the worst aspects of society: sexism, racism, obedience to authority, worship of leader figures, violent scapegoating of “others” labelled “outside” of the dominant culture or national identity (immigrants, ethnic minorities, queer and trans folks, people with disabilities).
War-making – whether carried out mostly internally, as in Chile under Pinochet and Spain under Franco, or mostly externally, as in Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany – is the ultimate goal of fascist states. As the Nazis demonstrated, the logical end of fascist war-making is genocide.
Historically, grassroots movements have been mobilized by anti-fascist groups to counter the violence inherent in fascist recruitment. Anti-fascist organizing isn’t contingent on the kind of massive fascist movement-building we see in the U.S. right now. In fact, organizing ‘after’ fascism has rapidly gained popular support can leave the opposition less equipped or unable to deal with the increased threat, as proven in 1930s Germany and Italy.
Why are we hearing so much about anti-fascism right now?
Donald Trump’s campaign coincided with an intense upsurge in far right wing organizing. Since his election, this trend continues. The U.S. is not alone in this. Far-right nationalist, xenophobic political parties and movements are gaining popular support and power in many countries. From the so-called “Alt Right” here, to the UKIP party of Britain, to Le Pen’s National Front in France and the Golden Dawn in Greece, a wave of thinly disguised neo-Nazism is rising.
There is also a surge in white supremacist violence. Across the country, ideologically motivated racists are committing violence against people they consider “enemies.” From the bus stop murder of a Black military officer in Maryland(1), to the murder of 2 men in Portland who defended Muslim women from a white supremacist(2), to the automobile attack in Charlottesville, wannabe-Nazis are killing us in the streets. The Tampa neo-Nazi terror cell exposed when one would-be bomber turned on his co-conspirators and murdered two of them shows the depths that some in this new wave of organized fascism have already sunk to.(3)
This is the natural result of allowing a platform for fascists to promote their murderous beliefs. Contrary to the current mode of far-right propaganda in corporate media, organizing for community self-defense against white supremacist violence is not “the same as” murderous fascist attacks.
What is “ANTIFA”?
Some anti-fascist groups use “black bloc” tactics, in which activists wear black clothing and cover their faces to avoid fascist and/or government retaliation. This is due to the historical tendency of law enforcement to allow racist/fascist political violence while suppressing the civil rights of anti-fascists.
These tactics were developed by activists in Europe who fought an earlier wave of fascist mass movements in the 1980s. They were part of a large, loosely-connected anti-fascist movement in a number of European countries that used the name “Anti-fascist Action” and the acronym “ANTIFA” to show solidarity with folks in other nations. The first syllables of “anti-fascist” are shared by several European languages.
Street militants organized under the ANTIFA banner were only one part of the larger grassroots anti-racist movement that pushed back that wave of violent, xenophobic ultra-nationalism. Since then, some anti-fascists in North America have adopted European-style ANTIFA tactics for the same practical reasons, especially when going out to directly confront violent fascists in the street. Many unmasked activists have been harassed or attacked after being identified by fascist groups and/or law enforcement.
The utility of black bloc tactics and the courage of many who don the “uniform” of ANTIFA cannot be denied.
In Charlottesville, militant anti-fascists protected the pacifist clergy who tried to hold the high ground in the park, and escorted them out when white-supremacist thugs attacked. Black-clad ANTIFA militants were the only group acting in defense of activists hiding from fascists in a church.(4)
Many anti-fascists use methods of mutual aid and direct action to curb violence in their communities, rather than trusting state agents to protect marginalized people. In Charlottesville, law enforcement’s choices gave violent fascists opportunities to beat, mace, pepper-spray, and even shoot at people.(5)
Anti-fascists seek de-escalation whenever possible to try to avoid violence. A diversity of tactics are employed by various groups. These include education, networking, mutual aid and protests – aimed at fighting fascism on all fronts.
Nonetheless, thanks to what we see as a P.R. coup by the far right, over the last two years “antifa” has become a catch-all term for all anti-fascist activists, whether they subscribe to stereotypical ANTIFA politics, tactics, and strategy or not. Even “objective” NPR repeats the refrain: “‘antifa,’ or ‘anti-fascists,’” for all who publicly oppose fascism.
Please do not fall for this bait-and-switch: one can be an anti-fascist without identifying as ANTIFA. Resisting fascism is much more than just showing up dressed in black in the street and being prepared to defend oneself.
Trump, the Alt Right and others denounce and lump together all those organizing against fascism. They falsely brand anti-fascists as “terrorists.”
Please stop and think carefully when you hear this nonsense trotted out. Is being willing to fend off murderous Nazi thugs with a stick, if forced to do so, really the same thing as openly calling for genocidal extermination of Jews, Muslims, and other minorities, and acting on that call by stabbing, shooting, bombing, and mowing people down with cars?
Basic critical examination takes this false equivalence apart. Please don’t buy into it. Please question and challenge others who do so.
If you consider yourself on the political left, remember your history: leftists of various stripes were among the very first to be rounded up, tortured, and exterminated in the Nazis’ concentration camps.
The new vogue of fascists, the suit-and-tie Nazis of the Alt Right, have already gotten some of their people into high level positions of state power (Bannon, Gorka, Miller, and Kobach, among others). They think they’re winning. Their organizations are steadily recruiting. Their propaganda is more mainstream with every news cycle.
Despite this, the vast majority of Americans and even the vast majority of enthusiastic Trump supporters find actual neo-Nazism abhorrent. Let’s hold onto that baseline of traditional American anti-fascism and build up from there.
What Can We Do to Stop Fascism?
Organize. Speak out publicly and privately. Write, teach, demonstrate, and prepare for political and physical community self-defense. We see the tragic history of failure to recognize and beat back the fascist movements responsible for WWII as a warning.
We look to positive examples from successful, popular anti-fascist movements, such as the Anti-Nazi League of Britain during the 1970s and 80s, and the ongoing Not In Our Town campaign here in the U.S., as proof that fascism will only be stopped by collective community organizing. We listen to the voices who tell the truth from deep in the trenches: voices such as Life After Hate, ex-Nazis and former fascists who actively work to counter-recruit and deprogram white working class people who’ve been drawn into fascist networks.
The tendencies that add up to fascism are built into our civilization and must always be struggled against. Over the last few years, fascists have crawled out from under their rocks, and thanks to coddling from the Trump administration, they think they’re enjoying their day in the sun.
They are busy working for even more mainstream acceptance, to build a mass movement. They are happy to pontificate about “free speech,” moan about their “rights” being violated, and portray themselves as victims when communities successfully defend themselves from violent fascist agitation by disrupting or preventing events like the failed “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, or the even more pathetic “Free Speech” rally in Boston.
These whines and moans are supremely ironic tactics, given that fascists’ clear, publicly stated goals are to deprive the vast majority of their fellow human beings of basic rights and liberties, if not of life itself.(6)
To stop their rise and drive fascists back under those metaphorical social and political rocks, we need a massive, broad, community-based movement that will confront them and challenge their ideas, narratives, and public manifestations. We must do so politically and ideologically, and also confront them directly.
Our study of history teaches us very clearly that not one actual fascist mass movement was ever defeated by being ignored into submission. Do not fall for self-defeating rhetoric about “not giving them attention” or “not giving them your energy.”
Please learn the actual history of actual fascism: these ideologies are an existential threat to all of us. This struggle is life and death. The least we can do is show up in public and be physically present to confront them, if we are able.
Beyond that, truly beating back the current fascist tide requires challenging the parts of our government and our society that foster their ideas and do the fascists’ work for them, sometimes better than their wildest dreams.
Anti-fascist work encourages communities to examine how fascist elements are embedded within government institutions and practices. Day-to-day oppression and violence such as the police murder and brutalizing of Black people that is protested by Black Lives Matter, or the violent anti-immigrant oppression embodied in the family and community-crushing activities of ICE, too often goes unnoticed and un-challenged except by those directly effected by such oppressive policies and practices.
This oppression is woven into the fabric of our country’s history. It is well-documented that the Nazis studied the United States’ Westward expansion, its ideology of “manifest destiny,” and its tactics and strategies against indigenous nations to build their plan for their own genocidal land-based empire. One way to reckon with our history is by stopping the new growth of fascism in its tracks.
For all of these reasons we say that anti-fascism is for everyone – it requires no special skills or knowledge, and isn’t limited to any one political identity. We think “anti-fascist” should be the default position of every human being who believes in true freedom, liberty, and self-determination for all.
Gainesville Anti-fascists call on all who oppose racism, fascism, and oppression to stand in solidarity on Oct. 19. ¡No pasarán!(7)
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(6) A selection of snake-tongued spewings by Spencer:https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Richard_Bertrand_Spencer
(7) Anti-fascist slogan from Spain in 1936, deployed at the Battle of Cable Street in London the same year, and used by anti-fascists in many contexts ever since: https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/No_Pasaran