These thoughts are provoked by a number of recent incidents: the assault on Sofia Papazoglou in Greece, bricks thrown through the windows of anti-racists in Bridgeland, Alberta, threats from Blood and Honour boneheads against Barricade Books in Australia, an autonomist youth center burned down by neo-nazis in Germany, as well as the successful dwarfing of a four-person (!) neo-nazi “rally” in the Twin Cities … the list goes on. i don’t think it’s so much a sign of an upsurge in actual activity – though the combination of a Democrat in the whitest house and the economic crisis has pushed public discourse to the right in the u.s. – as it is a random upsurge in what’s been coming into my email inbox.
Still, worth commenting on.
The main thing that sets antifascist work apart is the question of violence. This question is in the background of all our movements, but in the case of antifascism it is front and center right from the get-go. This automatically brings with it the question of how to relate to the state. The state claims a semi-monopoly on violence, so the antifascist terrain leads to a very quick polarization around this question.
Normally when we act we do so with an idea of how we will be allowed to act, and how our opponents will react, which is conditioned by our awareness of the state’s monopoly on violence. If police overstep their bounds during a protest, then we protest that – and publicizing and exposing police brutality has in fact become a major axis of activism, especially in the era of the cellphone camera. Likewise, there are certain things that we allow ourselves to do in a lax manner, because we know they are “protected” by law – be it “free speech” or “freedom of assembly” or whatnot.
When we act naughty in other struggles, breaking some petty laws, we do so with a certain advantage, in that it is in the state’s interest to not escalate matters at this moment. This may be a sign of our weakness, but in this case (perhaps perversely) weakness has its advantages.
Antifascism is a case apart because we are going up against people who have a plan of their own, and who often are often more willing to put themselves in danger for their beliefs than some of our own allies. Furthermore, many people are attracted to the far right because they feel that it provides a serious challenge to the status quo, and that it’s more “for real” than the radical left.
When we oppose the far right we have to be ready to match its escalation and beat it back. We cannot assume that we can spraypaint or trash their hang-outs but that they will leave ours alone. As we organize against them, they will organize against us. We cannot assume that we will be able to choose the time or place or level of confrontation, or that it will happen on our timetable.
Everything i listed in the preceding paragraph also goes for our conflict with the state, of course. However, the difference is that most of the time the state’s priority is maintaining hegemony, keeping up appearances, and for that reason it is in its interest to tolerate a certain level of dissent. This is not an eternal truth, and of necessity if we do our work right the struggle with the state will eventually become militarized, but in the meantime it is easy to become lazy and take the leeway the state gives (some of) us for granted.
With the fascists, the opposite hold true. Showing themselves to be a force worth reckoning with is necessary for them to win recruits. Whereas the state maintains its hegemony by denying or posing as outside of social conflict, fascists gain credibility amongst their target base by instigating and taking the lead in confrontation.
Today, when fascists are posed in opposition to some aspects of neocolonialism, there are possibilities for them to benefit from both positive and negative engagements with the state. When antifascists ally themselves with the state against the far right, they almost always hand a propaganda victory to all parties involved – except themselves.
Which is why maintaining independence from the state, and autonomy from liberal antifascists, is a priority for radicals engaged on this terrain.