Antifa is liberalism, feminism is cancer, and I’m a monkey’s uncle

My first reaction on reading Marianne Garneau’s essay ‘Antifa is liberalism’ (Ritual, April 11, 2018) was: lolwut. The second was to be reminded of Ward Churchill’s essay ‘Pacifism As Pathology’: in particular, his being at pains to distinguish between, on the one hand, examining pacifism as pathology and, on the other, arguing in favour of the notion that pacifism is pathology. [1] On further reflection — and leaving aside the fact that I think the weaknesses in the author’s claims are reasonably apparent and that similar kinds of arguments have been made previously — I thought I may as well write a more considered response. [2]

To begin with, it’s obviously useful to examine the meaning both of antifa and of fascism. While ‘fascism’ is left undefined and largely unexamined, for Garneau ‘antifa’, as well as being a species of liberalism, is also a political strategy: ‘direct physical and verbal confrontation with extreme right groups, in person and online’. [3] This strategy, they argue, has radical pretensions which ‘ironically’ places it at odds with liberalism (the strategy of direct confrontation with extreme right groups violates liberal principles of freedom of speech and assembly). Nonetheless, antifa is liberal(ism) in the sense that it’s founded upon a liberal understanding of society as ‘a collection of individuals’ and — glossing Hobbes, Locke and Rawls — ‘society is simply an amalgamation of the private preferences and behaviors of private citizens’. This liberal conception of society is opposed to one which ‘looks at how society is structured, and to whose benefit’ and takes ‘stock of societal institutions and their functioning, to examine how this deploys relationships of power between different social groups’. This perspective, argues Garneau, is critical to understanding contemporary society, and is absent from the ‘antifa’ worldview. In summary, ‘antifa is liberalism’ because the underlying philosophical and political assumptions which govern its practice are liberal.

Is this an accurate description? Does antifa ‘draw our attention away from systemic problems and towards individual behavior’? Does it individualise racism and fail to understand or to address its systemic nature? Does it devote too much attention to countering the Alt-Right on college campuses and ‘outing’ closeted fascists who occupy public office? Maybe; maybe not: it’s difficult to know given that the author doesn’t examine in any detail any particular anti-fascist group or project, or identify the liberal villain lurking at the heart of their praxis. By my reckoning, however, I don’t think that the argument can be sustained, at least not if the handful of longer-term antifa projects in the US — which list includes NYC Antifa, Rose City Antifa, and The TORCH Network — are the object of scrutiny. In fact, I would argue that the opposite is the case, that the collectives which have assembled around these projects are: armed with a structural analysis of racism, fascism and white supremacy; committed to locating contemporary political developments within their social and historical contexts and, by doing so, relating fascism and the far-right to broader social structures; prepared to acknowledge the limitations of antifa as a revolutionary and liberatory praxis; nevertheless insistent on taking fascism seriously, and acting in order to contains its growth.

I would further suggest that understanding contemporary anti-fascism in the United States, North America and elsewhere requires some understanding of its history. [4] And while the definitive account of this history is yet to be written, there are traces, and these traces tend to undermine Garneau’s argument. Take, for example, the emergence of ‘Anti-Racist Action’ in the late 1980s. In its origins, it involved a small group of young people in Minneapolis deciding to fight back against the attempted infiltration of the punk and skinhead community by neo-Nazi and white supremacist elements. This project eventually expanded to include folks in other cities and from other cultural and political communities. [5] In any event, the ‘existential’ nature of this threat was not abstract but concrete — as is often the case when there’s an increase in fascist political activity. This is an important point which I think is missing from Garneau’s account.

To return to the subject of the relationship between anti-fascism, liberalism and radical politics, on one level I’m not overly-concerned if anti-fascism is understood as being one or the other: the more pressing question is ‘is it effective’? To answer this question requires an understanding of the goals of anti-fascism beyond ‘opposing fascism’. One of the chief complaints ‘Antifa is liberalism’ makes has to do with the inefficacy of antifa. Punching nazis in the face, disrupting speeches by Alt-Right demagogues and exposing neo-Nazi and white supremacist individuals in uniform and in public office, we are informed, do not bring about the destruction of systemic forms of race- and class-based domination and exploitation, transform college campuses into welcoming spaces for trans and/or undocumented students, or counter state policies that impoverish and marginalise the general population. Such claims are not new, and this line of argument is not unique. [6] In this context, these supposed failures could more simply be read as the product of a misunderstanding of the goals of anti-fascism. If so, then a more relevant question for those committed to egalitarian social change would be: to what extent does anti-fascism contribute to or retard the development of such a political project? In which context, I think the following is apt:

To theorize is simply to try to understand what we are doing. We are all theorists whenever we honestly discuss what has happened, distinguish between the significant and the irrelevant, see through fallacious explanations, recognize what worked and what didn’t, consider how something might be done better next time. Radical theorizing is simply talking or writing to more people about more general issues in more abstract (i.e. more widely applicable) terms. Even those who claim to reject theory theorize — they merely do so more unconsciously and capriciously, and thus more inaccurately.

Theory without particulars is empty, but particulars without theory are blind. Practice tests theory, but theory also inspires new practice.

Radical theory has nothing to respect and nothing to lose. It criticizes itself along with everything else. It is not a doctrine to be accepted on faith, but a tentative generalization that people must constantly test and correct for themselves, a practical simplification indispensable for dealing with the complexities of reality.

But hopefully not an oversimplification. Any theory can turn into an ideology, become rigidified into a dogma, be twisted to hierarchical ends. A sophisticated ideology may be relatively accurate in certain respects; what differentiates it from theory is that it lacks a dynamic relation to practice. Theory is when you have ideas; ideology is when ideas have you. “Seek simplicity, and distrust it.”

One final point.

Garneau claims that: ‘In general, antifa treats white supremacy as a matter of inner beliefs rather than of the structure of society that grants arbitrary privilege to white people, ensures the white working class’s compliance with the capitalist system of exploitation, and further represses and disciplines the part of the class that isn’t white.’ I don’t think this is correct. On the one hand, many who involve themselves in anti-fascist organising do so from a left perspective which is critical of the role of racism in dividing workers and derailing class struggle, and whose opposition to fascism and the far right is partly derived from a commitment to furthering this struggle. On the other hand, the understanding of white supremacy and its political function is in general, I would suggest, more along the lines of that advanced by antifa blogs such as Three Way Fight:

Three Way Fight is a blog that promotes revolutionary anti-fascist analysis, strategy, and activism. Unlike liberal anti-fascists, we believe that “defending democracy” is an illusion, as long as that “democracy” is based on a socio-economic order that exploits and oppresses human beings. Global capitalism and the related structures of patriarchy, heterosexism, racial and national oppression represent the main source of violence and human suffering in the world today. Far right supremacism and terrorism grow out of this system and cannot be eradicated as long as it remains in place.

At the same time, unlike many on the revolutionary left, we believe that fascists and other far rightists aren’t simply tools of the ruling class. They can also form an autonomous political force that clashes with the established order in real ways, or even seeks to overthrow global capitalism and replace it with a radically different oppressive system. We believe the greatest threat from fascism in this period is its ability to exploit popular grievances and its potential to rally mass support away from any liberatory anti-capitalist vision.

Perhaps the chief difference in perspectives here is the considered belief that ‘fascism’ is not reducible to the political effect of a social structure; that individuals, properly organised, can in fact assume the status of a ‘vested institutional interest’. As such, fascism poses a threat to the ‘organs of working class power’ that Garneau and other leftists would like to develop, one which is not reducible to and should not be mistaken for the ‘Confederate flag-waving, hate-spewing racists’ that Garneau believes constitutes the limits of antifa understanding, and a threat which requires a more serious and nuanced analysis than on offer in Ritual. In any case, the last word belongs to Mark Bray:

The only long-term solution to the fascist menace is to undermine its pillars of strength in society grounded not only in white supremacy but also in ableism, heteronormativity, patriarchy, nationalism, transphobia, class rule, and many others. This long-term goal points to the tensions that exist in defining anti-fascism, because at a certain point destroying fascism is really about promoting a revolutionary socialist alternative (in my opinion one that is antiauthoritarian and nonhierarchical) to a world of crisis, poverty, famine, and war that breeds fascist reaction …

Undoubtedly street blockades and other forms of confrontational opposition can be very useful against any political opponent, but once far-right formations have manged to broadcast their xenophobic, dystopian platforms, it is incumbent upon us to drown them out with even better alternatives to the austerity and incompetence of the governing parties of the Right and Left.

On its own, militant anti-fascism is necessary but not sufficient to build a new world in the shell of the old.

[1] See also : This Nonviolent Stuff′ll Get You Killed: How Guns Made the Civil Rights Movement Possible, Charles E. Cobb, Duke University Press, 2015; The Failure of Nonviolence, Peter Gelderloos, Left Bank Books, 2015; How nonviolence is misrepresented, Brian Martin (Gandhi Marg, Vol.30, No.2, July-September 2008).
[2] See, for example, ‘Fascism/Antifascism’ by Jean Barrot (Gilles Dauvé) and numerous other, related materials on libcom.
[3] On fascism in the US, see : ‘Neofascism in the White House’, John Bellamy Foster, Monthly Review, Vol.68, No.11, April 2017 (‘Not only a new administration, but a new ideology has now taken up residence at the White House: neofascism. It resembles in certain ways the classical fascism of Italy and Germany in the 1920s and ’30s, but with historically distinct features specific to the political economy and culture of the United States in the opening decades of the twenty-first century’).
[4] Recent titles of relevance include: Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, Mark Bray, Melville House, 2017 and Militant Anti-Fascism: A Hundred Years of Resistance, Mala Testa, AK Press, 2015. See also : Beating The Fascists: The Untold Story of Anti-Fascist Action, Freedom Press, 2012; ‘Red Action – Left Wing Political Pariah: Some Observations Regarding Ideological Apostasy and the Discourse of Proletarian Resistance’, Mark Hayes (published as Chapter 12 in Against the Grain: The British far left from 1956, Evan Smith and Matthew Worley, eds, Manchester University Press, 2014). Two journal articles of particular relevance are ”A Good Deal of Disorder’ or The Anarchists & Anti-Fascism In The UK’, M. Testa, Anarchist Studies, Vol.25, No.2, 2017 [PDF] and ‘Anti-Fascism and Prefigurative Ethics’, Benjamin Franks, Affinities: A Journal of Radical Theory, Culture, and Action, Vol.8, No.1, Summer 2014 [PDF].
[5] See : Solecast 44 w/ Mic Crenshaw on The Anti-Racist Action Network & Radical Politics (June 15, 2017). Mic’s account of the origins of ARA, and his reflections on the differences between anti-fascist organising then and now, can also be usefully read alongside ‘How British Police Shut Down the Original UK Antifa’ (James Poulter, Vice, March 12, 2018).
[6] See : On Contact: Antifa with Mark Bray (RT America, September 30, 2017). BRAY: Well you know anti-fascists are not trying to organize an armed uprising; they’re trying to stop small- and medium-sized fascist groups before they advance … See also : ‘The Cult of Violence Always Kills the Left’, Chris Hedges, truthdig, April 16, 2018.

About @ndy

I live in Melbourne, Australia. I like anarchy. I don't like nazis. I enjoy eating pizza and drinking beer. I barrack for the greatest football team on Earth: Collingwood Magpies. The 2018 premiership's a cakewalk for the good old Collingwood.
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6 Responses to Antifa is liberalism, feminism is cancer, and I’m a monkey’s uncle

  1. Marianne Garneau says:

    As with every (non-)response I’ve read this week, this piece boils down to: I don’t like this, so it must be wrong.

    In the first instance, it repeatedly assures the audience that other types of antifa tactics exist which I am overlooking — ones which don’t address individual racists but work towards the transformation of the institutions which uphold racism in our society (I constantly hear the words “mass” and “community” attached to “antifa”) — and yet not a single one is mentioned. Considering this is allegedly such a blindspot in my analysis, it surprises me that people have such difficulty coming up with examples.

    Ironically, the author then says it’s “difficult to know” whether antifa “individualise[s] racism” because I don’t “examine in any detail any particular anti-fascist group or project, or identify the liberal villain lurking at the heart of their praxis” when in fact the article is just a litany of real-life examples (no-platforming, deciphering hand gestures, outing police or ICE membership in the KKK, punching figureheads like Richard Spencer…).

    The author seems to think that whether antifa is liberal comes down to the inner beliefs subscribed to by those who engage in antifa work. The author confidently counters: “the collectives which have assembled around these projects are: armed with a structural analysis of racism, fascism and white supremacy; committed to locating contemporary political developments within their social and historical contexts and, by doing so, relating fascism and the far-right to broader social structures”. Setting aside the ironic concern with inner beliefs here (the liberal move), this again completely misses the point: I’m interested in what a group does; that is how I will judge its approach. The point of the article was to challenge antifa’s self-understanding as different from the liberal, individualizing project, by looking at antifa’s actions and tactics. Later in the article, the author returns to the irrelevant matter of what antifa adherents believe in their hearts, when again, my goal was to evaluate their project on their own terms (Is it radical? really? Does it strike at the root of white supremacy or address symptoms?).

    Then the author mentions antifa’s history, which he says goes back to ARA in the 1980s, which involved kicking Nazis out of the punk scene. This only underscores the impression that antifa is a group of self-selected subcultural group[s]. It was, granted, a very popular one, extending itself to most every city in North America with a punk scene (or other “cultural and political community” — those subcultures are the entities to which the fascists presented an “existential threat”), but what does that have to do with the price of tomatoes (the price of tomatoes = addressing racism as a structural phenomenon in society)?

    The author then returns to my question of whether antifa is effective, complaining that the question is “not new” (which perhaps indicates something?). Its answer is a long and abstract quote from elsewhere about the relationship between theory and practice in general — in other words, yet another dodge of the specific evaluation of the specific tactics in my piece.

    Finally, the author returns to the issue of building organs of working-class power, exactly as I describe in my piece, with him pulling a quote from Mark Bray that says effectively the exact same thing I do at the end of my article: that antifa tactics are insufficient without “promoting a revolutionary socialist alternative” and “drown[ing] the [fascists] out with even better alternatives”. I don’t know why the author felt it necessary to find someone else to make this exact same point as I do, as though it is in disagreement with my own, except perhaps that something only counts when a man says it. I wouldn’t raise the misogynist bugbear (it’s a tiresome game) but for the fact that the author hems to the tradition of referring to female authors by their first names, and puts a contextless and unelaborated-upon “feminism is a cancer” in their title.

    Marianne Garneau

  2. @ndy says:

    Thanks for the comment. I’ll reply fully later. In the meantime, I apologise for addressing you as Marianne and will edit the post to reflect this.

  3. Marianne Garneau says:

    I appreciate it

  4. @ndy says:

    As with every (non-)response I’ve read this week, this piece boils down to: I don’t like this, so it must be wrong.

    Aside from some commentary on Facebook, and a (very brief) post on the ‘Antifa International’ tumblr, I’ve not found any other responses. Otherwise: yes, I disagree with the central thesis of your essay, and the above is my attempt to explain why I think it’s mistaken.

    In the first instance, it repeatedly assures the audience that other types of antifa tactics exist which I am overlooking — ones which don’t address individual racists but work towards the transformation of the institutions which uphold racism in our society (I constantly hear the words “mass” and “community” attached to “antifa”) — and yet not a single one is mentioned. Considering this is allegedly such a blindspot in my analysis, it surprises me that people have such difficulty coming up with examples.

    Ironically, the author then says it’s “difficult to know” whether antifa “individualise[s] racism” because I don’t “examine in any detail any particular anti-fascist group or project, or identify the liberal villain lurking at the heart of their praxis” when in fact the article is just a litany of real-life examples (no-platforming, deciphering hand gestures, outing police or ICE membership in the KKK, punching figureheads like Richard Spencer…).

    What does antifa do? The article’s survey is confined to some recent events in the US, and lists: disrupting (or attempting to disrupt) Milo Yiannopoulos’s ‘Dangerous Faggot’ and Richard Spencer’s tour of college campuses; ‘identifying and publicizing the covert affiliations [to white supremacist doctrines] that individual police officers, or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers’ have; ‘identifying fascist hand gestures or lapel pins among individuals working in politics and government’ and; ‘doxxing [the AltRight], creating databases of them, or removing far-right websites and videos’.

    Secondly, does antifa do anything else? Yes. Obviously, documenting the scope of these activities depends upon the framework: antifa, in one form or another, has a much longer history than the last year or two, and a geographical scope which is global. When I wrote that your argument that antifa is liberalism could not be sustained ‘at least not if the handful of longer-term antifa projects in the US — which list includes NYC Antifa, Rose City Antifa, and The TORCH Network — are the object of scrutiny’, I meant to suggest that extending this framework would make it clear that antifa action is not confined to the above. Further, that while the ADL does indeed maintain a visual database which is sometimes employed to discern fascist symbology on the part of public figures in the US, that Forward magazine has made note of Sebastian Gorka’s fascist affiliations, that individuals like Megan Squire maintain databases of extreme-right actors, and that the Metropolitan Anarchist Coordinating Council has developed software to better enable reporting of fascist content on YouTube, documenting these facts is not a detailed examination of the collective actions of the kinds of antifa groups I listed. That’s also partly why I referred to ARA, and antifa activities in the UK.

    So, to take the first group on that list, NYC Antifa has: published a blog; documented the far right — its leading personalities, organised groups and activities — in New York and further afield; (re-)published analyses of contemporary affairs and events of relevance (on white nationalism, racist police brutality, anti-statism on the far right, Assadism, the SPLC, European fascisms, and so on) as well as historical accounts of anti-/fascism; argued in favour of and provided instruction in the formation of antifascist affinity groups and solidarity networks able to rapidly-respond to ICE raids; encouraged the production of anti-fascist propaganda and participation in a range of activities — strikes, walk-outs, marches, rallies — in opposition to Trump and Trump’s policies (both prior to and after his election); organised an international day of solidarity with antifa prisoners (July 25) and other, similar events; and more besides.

    Whether or not these actions are useful, and what effect they have is, of course, open for debate. Beyond this, if a survey of antifa were to extend beyond the USA and the last two years, yes, antifa engages in other activities. For example, in the UK, along with musical performances, the 0161 Festival will this year incorporate a walking historical tour of Manchester; it’s also a fund-raising venture, with profits donated to ‘groups fighting against racism in their communities across Europe’. Similar festivals have operated in the Czech Republic (the 2013 event included musical and theatrical performances, lectures and film screenings) and elsewhere in Europe; in Greece, anti-fascists have assisted migrants and refugees to obtain housing by squatting empty buildings, organised educational, medical and other services, and sought to operate these social centres on anti-authoritarian principles: the struggle against Golden Dawn comprises a myriad of activities.

    Obviously, this list is illustrative, not exhaustive, and I would suggest that the array of activities engaged in by antifa resemble those of a number of other social movements, appropriate to their time and place.

    Thirdly, are Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos just individuals with ideas? On one level: yeah sure. They’re individuals. And like other individuals, they have ideas. But what gives these individuals and their ideas significance is their situation, the fact that they have followers, and the fact that they, along with others, have embarked upon a political project. In other words, antifa’s concern in this context is not, in fact, to ‘address individual racists’ like Richard or Milo, but rather to ‘work towards the transformation of the institutions which uphold racism in our society’ by identifying those actors (individuals, communities, groups, projects, tendencies) that constitute the basis of ‘fascism’ as a social movement.

    At the ‘Unite the Right’ rally in Charlottesville, Spencer was joined by somewhere between 500 and 1,000 others, one of the largest fascist gatherings in some years. In the wake of Heather Heyer’s murder at Charlottesville and the injuries to dozens of others, the IWW General Defense Committee issued a statement. It reads in part:

    Fascism is a deadly threat to all of us. There is no escape from the demand that we confront it. Politicians, the police, and the university will not save us. We cannot vote our way to safety. As always, police aided and protected the fascists, while permitting and assisting wholesale violence against counter-protesters. University officials refused to use campus security to protect students and others from a gang of hundreds of fascists.

    The General Defense Committee calls upon all people who value human life, freedom, and dignity, to enter the struggle against fascism in every way they can. Give to the fundraisers for survivors and surviving family members of today’s fascist murder. Talk to your family and friends, your coworkers and neighbors, and determine a way to directly and concretely confront fascist hate wherever it appears. If you can, join your local General Defense Committee or another local antifascist group.

    This statement, which calls upon others to raise funds, to talk, to ‘directly and concretely confront fascist hate wherever it appears’ (whatever that means) and to join the GDC or another local antifascist group, is — notwithstanding the fact that the IWW proclaims itself to be a revolutionary industrial union — presumably another species of ‘liberalism’, and the fact that, in the opinion of a number of religious figures who attended the event, ‘had the antifa not stepped in, those of us standing on the steps would definitely have been injured, very likely gravely so’ (and even killed, according to Cornel West), is irrelevant to the possibility of addressing institutional racism in the US. For reasons which I think are obvious, these seem like fairly tenuous claims.

    Finally, inre the question of strategy and tactics: I think the various actions you’ve referred to are indeed tactics, but I don’t think — and I should’ve made this clearer in my reply — that the strategy is as you’ve described it, ie, ‘direct physical and verbal confrontation with extreme right groups, in person and online’. Rather, this is another tactic: the strategy, as I see it, is to escalate the political and social costs of engaging in fascist activity. The goal of this strategy is seek to limit the growth of fascism as a social movement. Why would an anarchist such as myself be interested in constraining fascism? Well, there’s several reasons, but the most significant, in this context, is the predictable effects upon other political currents, especially revolutionary ones, of successful fascist organising — ie, to the extent that fascism is successful, so radical, revolutionary and liberatory political tendencies are endangered.

    See also : Militant tactics in anti-fascist organizing: interview transcript, libcom, August 2, 2017; Tigertown Beats Nazis Down: Reflections on Auburn and Mass Anti-fascism, libcom, May 5, 2017.

    The author seems to think that whether antifa is liberal comes down to the inner beliefs subscribed to by those who engage in antifa work. The author confidently counters: “the collectives which have assembled around these projects are: armed with a structural analysis of racism, fascism and white supremacy; committed to locating contemporary political developments within their social and historical contexts and, by doing so, relating fascism and the far-right to broader social structures”. Setting aside the ironic concern with inner beliefs here (the liberal move), this again completely misses the point: I’m interested in what a group does; that is how I will judge its approach. The point of the article was to challenge antifa’s self-understanding as different from the liberal, individualizing project, by looking at antifa’s actions and tactics. Later in the article, the author returns to the irrelevant matter of what antifa adherents believe in their hearts, when again, my goal was to evaluate their project on their own terms (Is it radical? really? Does it strike at the root of white supremacy or address symptoms?).

    I’m not convinced that my description is simply a matter of ‘inner beliefs’ or matters of the heart, nor do I think that ideas are unrelated to actions: I would suggest that the self-conception of others is relevant but not determinative of political status. I mean, on one level, Marx was ‘just a writer’, and if activities like writing (or punching a nazi or publishing a zine or organising a public meeting and so on) are isolated from their contents and their contexts, they’re robbed of all meaning and significance. I would further suggest that it’s only possible to examine an individual’s ‘inner beliefs’ when they are given public expression, and that these public expressions can assume collective forms when they are made in concert with others. This is what I understand constitutes political philosophy and political practice. In the context of this particular discussion, it’s also why it makes sense to pay attention not only to the ‘dumb’ act of punching a nazi etc., but the stated intentions of those ‘punching’ (and of course those being ‘punched’), and the context in which such acts take place.

    Then the author mentions antifa’s history, which he says goes back to ARA in the 1980s, which involved kicking Nazis out of the punk scene. This only underscores the impression that antifa is a group of self-selected subcultural group[s]. It was, granted, a very popular one, extending itself to most every city in North America with a punk scene (or other “cultural and political community” — those subcultures are the entities to which the fascists presented an “existential threat”), but what does that have to do with the price of tomatoes (the price of tomatoes = addressing racism as a structural phenomenon in society)?

    I referred to ARA as being one, important antecedent of contemporary antifa organising; I didn’t mean to suggest that it was ‘Year Zero’, and naturally there have been numerous other anti-fascist organisations and projects dating back to the 1920s. In this earlier era, ‘anti-fascism’ (or anti-Fascism) was at first concentrated, understandably, in the Italian migrant communities, including of course both in the US and Australia. The tactics adopted by anti-Fascists then are fairly similar to those employed now: inter alia, they published materials exposing the injustices of Fascist Italy, conducted boycott campaigns, speaking tours, fund-raising campaigns for resistance groups, and even smuggled papers into Italy (where the radical press had been suppressed). They also confronted their opponents physically, disrupting Fascist meetings, marches and rallies.

    Aside from being of historical interest, ARA, and moreover its origins, are I think revealing, but not in the sense you indicate. ARA consciously sought to extend its activities beyond the punk and skinhead communities; the ‘cultural and political communities’ Mic refers to means Indigenous, Black, Latino and working-class youth, anarchists and socialists. It was understood at the time that these confrontations with ‘violent racists’ could not be confined, say, to the production of propaganda, but had to extend to direct physical confrontation. In terms of the ‘existential threat’ posed by these violent racists, I don’t mean the maintenance of some sub-cultural form: Heather Heyer, like Pavlos Fyssas, Clément Méric, Ivan Khutorskoy, Anastasia Baburova, Stanislav Markelov, Jan Kucera, Timur Kacharava, Alexander Ryukhin, Stanislav Korepanov, Ilya Borodaenko, Davide Cesare, Björn Söderberg, Lin Newborn, Daniel Shersty and many others, is unable to contribute to this discussion because she’s dead. As I write, a far-right activist in Melbourne, Phillip Galea, is on trial for ‘terrorism’. The Crown alleges that, between September 2015 and August 2016, he conspired to conduct deadly bombing attacks upon local anarchists. I was one of his targets, it seems.

    The author then returns to my question of whether antifa is effective, complaining that the question is “not new” (which perhaps indicates something?). Its answer is a long and abstract quote from elsewhere about the relationship between theory and practice in general — in other words, yet another dodge of the specific evaluation of the specific tactics in my piece.

    Well, that’s certainly one interpretation, but my purpose in quoting Knabb was to suggest an approach which might render a different result.

    To summarise:

    • Actions obtain meaning through reference to their contexts;
    • While ‘inner beliefs’ — which I think obtain relevance when they are publicly-expressed, such as in dialogue with others — are meant to be discounted, I see no evidence to suggest that antifa want ‘to draw our attention away from systemic problems and towards individual behavior’, as even a cursory examination of the many public rationales antifa groups provide for their political activities would demonstrate;
    • Antifa strategy is not primarily concerned with ‘punching nazis’ or d0xxing. Rather, these are some of the tactics that are employed in pursuit of a strategy which seeks to attach a political and social cost to fascist activism;
    • Antifa is primarily defensive, of the communities, groups, projects and individuals targeted by fascist movements. Countering fascist ideas and movements is both ethical in itself but moreover, from a radical, revolutionary and liberatory perspective, is aimed at securing from fascist attack the political space and conditions necessary to advance a broader-ranging political project of the sort that can more directly attack the racism and other evils that are embedded in state and other social institutions, ie, in social relations generally.

    PS. With regards the post title: as I noted, my first reaction on encountering the article was ‘lolwut. antifa is liberalism? huh?’ It’s a claim that is, on first glance, counter-intuitive and wrogn. So too, the claim that ‘feminism is cancer’, a phrase that was apparently coined by Milo Yiannopoulos, and which he now claims as ‘one of my most popular catchphrases’. The essay discusses in some detail the encounter between Milo and antifa at UC Berkeley in January 2017, and his fans at that event and during his tour of Australia in December last year employed the phrase to castigate his opponents. In my view, ‘antifa is liberalism’ and ‘feminism is cancer’ are both completely incorrect and silly takes (albeit for very different reasons) and amount to my declaring myself a ‘monkey’s uncle’. With regards my use of a quote from Mark Bray’s book: yes, you agree with Mark. So do I. The purpose in my employing it was not mere repetition, but rather to highlight the fact that, despite this apparent agreement, and as Bray articulates at some length in his book, anti-fascism is both very necessary and far from ‘liberalism’ (Bray defines antifa as ‘a radical pan-leftist politics of social revolution applied to fighting the far right. Its adherents are predominantly communists, socialists and anarchists who reject turning to the police or the state to halt the advance of white supremacy. Instead they advocate popular opposition to fascism as we witnessed in Charlottesville.’).

  5. ablokeimet says:

    OK. Now I’ve read FW Garneau’s piece, I find myself agreeing with a central observation in her final paragraph:

    Finally, many proponents of antifa will read this piece and agree with the limitations of the tactics mentioned but declare their embrace of a “both-and” approach: we should build organs of working class power (unions, block associations, tenant groups), while also confronting individual fascists and fascist groups. Such a “both-and” approach is not necessarily objectionable. Let us just be clear which aspects of that combined approach are the liberal ones. Contrary to antifa’s self-understanding, it is not distinct from liberalism but another form of it, one that has merely taken on a more radical veneer.

    For much of the article, though, she’s arguing with a straw opponent. Few Antifa activists would hold the world-view or analysis that she criticises. A clue about the straw nature of her opponent is the fact that she doesn’t cite individuals, organisations or articles for criticism. This allows her to ignore the reasoning of people who support working class organising but also support Antifa tactics.

    It’s basically correct to say that people who assert that Antifa tactics are both necessary and sufficient to combat Fascism are operating with a liberal political theory that misdiagnoses Fascism and underestimates the evils of the existing class structure. Few Antifa activists, though, would assert that. Rather, people usually come together as Antifa activists in addition to other activities in which they are already engaging. For these people, as for me, Antifa is a necessary defensive strategy with which to complement more constructive strategies of building working class power. Not engaging in physical defence against Fascists, though, is asking for trouble.

    Finally, FW Garneau’s piece (despite the lack of desirable citations) does describe aspects of some Antifa work with which I disagree. Sometimes Antifa activists pick up liberal tropes and use them unthinkingly, in ways that give ground and/or ammunition to our enemies. Basically, this revolves around couching opposition to Fascists around what they propose to say. My contention is that what comes out of Fascists’ mouths is substantially irrelevant. They’ll say whatever is convenient at the moment – whether it means getting headlines, geeing up their supporters or attempting to confuse their critics. Rather, what is important is what Fascists do. Indeed, a Fascist group would be a menace even if it assembled in complete silence.

    A Fascist group is a conspiracy to murder. Nazism is a species of Fascism and a Nazi group is a conspiracy to commit genocide. It is this that determines the necessary response to Fascism. Further, since a Fascist group has a choice in its timing and location of targets, one cannot simply defend against them on the occasion of their attacks. They would just bide their time. Instead, we have to break up those groups and physically prevent them from organising. Ideally, we would see this done in the manner of the Battle of Cable Street, with the mass organisations of the working class taking the lead, but in the absence of that, the smaller ranks of Antifa activists have to do what they can to fill the breach.

    How to get the mass organisations of the working class to take effective action against Fascism is a necessary question – but one that I’ll have to leave for a different day.

  6. JuicyParsons says:

    What I find most troubling here is FW Garneau seems to be making a few too many assumptions about the scope of antifascist activists’ opinions and strategies. Even if your interactions with antifascists are limited to the folks who use only the poor tactics that you (indeed a LOT of us) are critiquing, several responses (and ALL responses are responses btw the snarky attitude is SO off-putting seriously) are attempting to explain that these limitations are real but they aren’t the end-all-be-all of antifascism. Most importantly- what I’m not hearing from Garneau are alternative solutions for when fascist violence is at our door, aside from dismantling key positions of power, institutions, and ultimately capitalism. Fascists aren’t inherently and consistently tied to institutions or even the current ruling class, as we see more lone-wolf attacks and fascists denouncing formal organization and working outside a legal framework, we need that “both/and” approach now more than ever imo. In the meantime, to the question of “How to get the mass organisations of the working class to take effective action against Fascism?” … this is an important question and there is potential, but even getting mass organizations of workers to begin to consider using their working class power to oppose fascism is like pulling teeth- those higher-up in the invisible hierarchies of our organizations aren’t always willing to take risks necessary to openly oppose fascism. In the meantime there are targeted communities that can’t exactly wait until we get all these theories perfect. As someone above said already, some tactics may be liberal in theory but they may also effectively save lives and empower communities. I spoke with the founder of the Black Women’s Defense League last year and she talked about the very issue that Garneau attempts to address- they found that an apolitical gun club for black women was by no means revolutionary, so they started doing political education, networking, and expanding from physical defense to more community engagement and learning about anti-capitalism. So it’s just like Garneau’s piece is trying to preach a bunch of lessons that people are learning anyway by doing the work … the whole goal of this piece may be missing the mark if your analyses only speaks to the tiny sliver of folks in our left internet spaces. But some of the arguments that are being made here are snuggling a bit too close to the “racism will be dismantled along with capitalism” reduction and I don’t trust that one bit.

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