Anti-Fascism; Theory & Praxis Part 1: Introduction

This is the introduction to a planned project I have for the blog.  In it, I’m going to be looking at the methodology of anti-fascism.  To start with, I’m going to look critically  at several pieces that are in this general area.  Before that however, I’m going to outline the main assumptions that underpin the general project, both for informational purposes and so anybody who wants can critique them.

1.  While anti-fascism is reactive in nature, it is still a specific political ideology in its own right.  And, as has been pointed out more people have rallied to the flag of anti-fascism

far more, incidentally, than either fascism or communism
(From Beating the Fascists: the untold story of Anti-Fascist Action, page 21)
2.  Specifically I am looking at this subject from the physical force anti-fascism perspective, as regular readers will be aware.  While several of the pieces I shall be looking at are not from this tradition, I shall be critiquing them with that stance foremost.
3.  My aim is to provide theory which can help inform praxis.  This is obviously a different approach than a standard academic one.  Equally, my theory is informed by praxis, as opposed to existing in the abstract.
4.  I am not taking a vanguardist approach to this issue, nor am I suggesting I have all the answers.  I am merely putting out my own thoughts in the hope they may be of more general use and welcome disagreement and criticism.
5.  I reserve the right to moderate comments as I see fit and make no promises of non-partisanship while doing so.  This especially applies to two groups.  Firstly, any of the far right stumbling across this blog through Google.  Secondly, state-friendly ‘anti-fascists’, especially if they choose to debate through smears as opposed to argument.
6.  While I hope this will be of interest to those without a history of involvement in anti-fascism, my main audience is those who either have been or are involved.  So I may assume a level of basic knowledge of some of the issues and arguments involved.  Although I am happy to clarify any questions people have.
7.  No sacred cows.
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  1. Am very much looking forward to reading this series

  2. Two quick plugs: One, have you read Fascism/Anti-Fascism by Gilles Dauve? http://libcom.org/library/fascism-anti-fascism-gilles-dauve-jean-barrot The writing style is a bit dry in places, and I certainly wouldn’t uncritically endorse everything it says, but I think it’s a perspective worth reading, even if you only do it to clarify why you disagree with it.
    Two, on a slightly more cheeky self-publicising note, I’ve just done a piece about the use of the BNP as a kind of political scarecrow, which you might find interesting: http://nothingiseverlost.wordpress.com/2011/05/03/the-importance-of-being-nick-griffin/

  3. I have read Fascism/Anti-Fascism but not for years! I’ll check it out again and possibly cover it as part of this.

    On your BNP piece, I hope you don’t mind a comradely critique.

    I think you’re very strong in your skewering of liberal anti-fascism. And it is always worth pointing out that liberal anti-fascism actually has its own agenda, beyond anti-fascism. In many ways, HnH are more honest here. Their campaigning openly focuses on trying to mobilise the ‘mainstream’ against ‘extremists’. Whereas UAF’s “anybody but fascists” tack is objectively pro status quo, they just don’t state it outright like HnH do.

    Where I think you’re a lot weaker is this:

    “but it does mean we need to be aware that the real problem is the ruling-class bastards ruining people’s lives in the present day, not the small groups of fascists dreaming about the day they’ll be able to do it.”

    There’s several significant factors I don’t think that takes into account.

    1. The fact that something is a problem doesn’t mean that something else is any less of a problem. We should be perfectly capable of walking and chewing gum at the same time.

    2. This is less the case than it used to be, at least with the BNP. (We may be seeing early indications of it becoming an issue again from the EDL). Countering fascists, while undoubtably a reactive tactic, is also a matter of physical security. This goes further than the “personal perspective” you outline, though that’s obviously an issue. When the fascists have been allowed to operate unchecked, the confidence gained leads to them smashing up left meetings, attacking paper sellers etc. So, in order for the left (in the broadest sense of the word, including anarchists) to grow, anti-fascism needs to be in place to provide the necessary space.

    3. You’re right to point out that there is no real threat of the BNP (or any other far right party) getting into power currently, nor is there likely to be in the forseeable future. But the threat is more subtle than that. It’s the drift, not the putsch. In other words, the relative success of fascists influences the general political discourse disfavourably. There’s at least circumstantial evidence of that having happened with the BNP. Their growth has coincided with the increasing prominence of anti immigration sentiment in the mainstream.

    4. To paraphrase an old Red Action argument, if we can’t beat the fascists when they’re weak, how can we expect to do so when they’re strong? If we can’t take on the fascists, how can we seriously expect to take on the state?

    5. We need to recognise that militant anti-fascism has managed to mobilise more people over the years than anarchism has ever managed.

    5. This isn’t something you really covered in your post, but I think it’s a bit of an elephant in the room as far as militant antifascists go currently. Antifa is pretty much moribund. And it was never that successful, in comparison to its predecessors like AFA. Why is that? My tentative view is that a large factor was the fact that Antifa never really got out of the anarchist ghetto.

  4. 1. The first sentence is unarguably true, “lesser evilism” is a massive problem with the left. But at the same time, “we should be capable” is not the same thing as “we are capable”. Even though a lot of them have grown a lot recently, most anarchist and left groups are still pretty small. That means we have a limited amount of time and resources and need to think carefully about how we use them.
    2. Yeah, although this cuts both ways. I think it’s also the case that, in order for anti-fascism in order to be able to operate effectively, you need, if not a strong left/anarchist movement as such, then at least a culture of working-class solidarity and action, otherwise you won’t be able to mobilise anyone. I think point #5 is related to this – after going through Thatcher, Major and New Labour, I think class solidarity is a lot weaker than it was when AFA was first founded, and that’s been a real limitation on militant anti-fascism.
    3. Also true. Although, to play devil’s advocate, you could question the cause and effect relationship there: did people become more anti-immigrant because the BNP were growing, or did the BNP grow because those attitudes were there already? Generally, I think that point strengthens my main argument, that we should be very critical of the mainstream as well as the far-right.
    4. I’d turn that around: we can beat them when we’re strong, we have difficulty doing it when we’re weak. That means we need to carefully consider how we move from our current position of weakness to one of strength. That might mean prioritising anti-fascist activity in some circumstances, or might mean concentrating on specific, winnable fights with individual bosses or landlords in other cases. There’s no one fixed strategy that’s correct for all situations.
    5. True, although that logic can be dangerous – the Communist Party historically was much bigger and better at mobilising people than anarchists, and the Labour Party was bigger still. I think timing played a bit of a role in explaining Antifa’s weakness, since they were mainly active at a time when the BNP had little street presence and concentrated almost entirely on electoralism (as well as the broader decline in class solidarity mentioned above). Justifying physical action against the EDL or old-school NF is relatively easy, but if you attack someone who’s just giving out leaflets then you risk looking like the baddies.

    Anyway, I’ll be interested to read your main project.

  5. I don’t think much of Barrot/Dauve at all. Further reading on it:
    Aufheben review http://libcom.org/library/fash-anti-fash-aufheben-1
    ANT: http://antigerman.wordpress.com/category/ultra-left/ (click on titles to see whole posts

  6. Thanks for reminding me to read Tom Bingham’s ‘The Rule of Law’.

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