Antifa: Radical Violent Leftists or Freedom Fighters?
I wasn't really what to make of Antifa, or they were really a thing. I thought anyone who fought Nazis and fascists was probably doing a good thing, but this recent interview with Mark Bray, who wrote a book on them, actually made me appreciate and admire them:
MARK BRAY: Right. So, antifa is a pan-left politics of social revolution applied to fighting the far right. It believes in using direct action rather than turning to the state or the police to stop the fascist advance. And it includes anarchists, communists, socialists, across the political spectrum, and really dates back decades. They’re people who are really not going to allow fascists and Nazis any room to organize. One of their main kind of slogans is "No platform for fascism."
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from The New York Times. They wrote, "[O]verall, far-right extremist plots have been far more deadly than far-left plots ... in the past 25 years, according to a breakdown of two terrorism databases by ... an analyst at the libertarian Cato Institute.
"White nationalists; militia movements; anti-Muslim attackers; I.R.S. building and abortion clinic bombers; and other right-wing groups were responsible for 12 times as many fatalities and 36 times as many injuries as communists; socialists; animal rights and environmental activists; anti-white- and Black Lives Matter-inspired attackers; and other left-wing groups," the Times wrote. Mark Bray?
MARK BRAY: Yes. Well, it’s certainly true that, in terms of body counts, in terms of raw violence, the far right, now and in the past, has much more blood on their hands. But I also want to encourage viewers to think not only in terms of numbers of comparing body counts, not only in terms of violence in the abstract, but the values and context of violence. So, you know, when anti-racists defend themselves violently, it’s different from when racists attack people of color, queer and trans people, with violence. So, it’s certainly true that the far right are much more violent, but I don’t think that we can exclusively think of it in terms of numbers.
The other thing that I want to encourage viewers to think about is that the term "terrorism" usually is used in a way that essentially legitimizes state violence and police violence. Historically, the greatest sources of violence have come from states and have come from their armies and police, but is not labeled terrorism. So, I think, instead of thinking in terms of the sort of seemingly neutral concepts of terrorism or violence or body counts, let’s also think in terms of politics and context.(snip)
AMY GOODMAN: Let me read from a new piece in The Atlantic by Peter Beinart. He writes, quote, "But for all of antifa’s supposed anti-authoritarianism, there’s something fundamentally authoritarian about its claim that its activists—who no one elected—can decide whose views are too odious to be publicly expressed. That kind of undemocratic, illegitimate power corrupts. It leads to what happened this April in Portland, Oregon, where antifa activists threatened to disrupt the city’s Rose Festival parade if people wearing 'red maga hats''—you know, the "Make America Great Again" hats—"marched alongside the local Republican Party. Because of antifa, Republican officials in Portland claim they can't even conduct voter registration in the city without being physically threatened or harassed. So, yes, antifa is not a figment of the conservative imagination. It’s a moral problem that liberals need to confront." That’s Peter Beinart, writing for The Atlantic. Mark Bray?
MARK BRAY: Right. So, part of the accusation that’s frequently leveled against antifa is the "slippery slope" argument, understood abstractly. So, the argument goes, antifa get to sort of randomly decide who they don’t like, and shut them down, therefore, authoritarianism. But the historical record shows that antifa groups focus on the far right, focus on neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And when those groups are successfully disrupted, there is a long track record of antifa groups essentially disassembling and focusing on other issues. The notion that it’s authoritarian to shut down authoritarianism would not feel very comfortable if we’re thinking about, for example, opposition to Nazis before they got into power in Germany in the late ’20s. Were the communists and anarchists who were defending themselves against Nazis in 1929 authoritarian because they wanted to stop Nazism? That sounds ridiculous, right?
So, once again, as we discussed in the first part of the interview, it’s an example of a kind of all-or-nothing fascism where, in the absence of an immediate threat of a fascist regime, shutting down someone’s opinions—and, of course, that’s how far-right politics are often understood, as opinions, that could just as easily be interchanged with any others, when anti-fascists start the "no platform," which misses, of course, the politics behind it—that these opinions are the lens that it’s examined at, out of context, out of political focus. So, you know, it really is missing the point historically and analytically, and really missing the ways that a lot—a lot of alt-right people are infiltrating the Republican Party.
The Republican Party is now, to some extent, starting to stand up to the far right but needs to do a lot more. And we need to recognize that the far right will try to hide behind the legitimacy that Trump has given their politics, but that anti-fascists aren’t willing to—to stop it. And, now, if Beinart saw, for example, you know, Nazis in the 1920s or 1930s marching along a mainstream parade with swastikas, would it have been inappropriate, considering that the Nazi Party back then was a mainstream party, to have tried to disrupt that? You know, those are the kinds of comparisons that need to be made in discussing this question.
MARK BRAY: Right. So, the question is: What is the relationship between neo-Nazis and their victims? What is the relationship between fascists and the rest of society? Is the goal to create a set of abstract rights that allow them to coexist, or is the goal to struggle against them and prevent them from being able to organize? That’s a fundamental question. It’s a political question that divides civil libertarians from many leftists and anti-fascists.
The anti-fascist argument is, if you allow neo-Nazis the ability to organize, the ability to mobilize, they become normalized. They attempt to become family-friendly. We can see back a number of months ago—I believe it was in May or April—in Pikeville, Kentucky, the fascist Traditionalist Workers Party attempted to hold a white pride family picnic, because of opposition that wasn’t able to happen. Let’s imagine if, on a regular basis, we don’t confront them, we don’t shut them down. They start to organize family-friendly picnics. White nationalism seems to—becomes another opinion worthy of granting certain legal protections. Where can that lead us? It can lead us, as we’ve seen through historical examples, to somewhere that’s very dark. So, the question is, from the anti-fascist perspective, a political struggle, not a sort of economy of rights. And that’s where the two political tendencies diverge.
To me, after the horrors of slavery, after the horrors of the Holocaust, we need to prioritize defending the vulnerable. And we need to essentially say that fascism and Nazism are not simply ideas to respect. They are enemies to confront and to rid from history.