Bash the Fash
“Fascist” nowadays has come to be popularly adopted as a harmless pejorative term used towards any person or institution considered to be mildly authoritarian. It is an anachronism that refers to a political movement that existed and failed decades ago. Euronationalist groups like the British National Party (BNP), exploiting fears from the working class over worsening conditions, now attempt to couch their policies in respectable political language. They attempt to present themselves as a radical alternative to the static mainstream political parties who have become increasingly isolated from the concerns of working class communities and have been rewarded for this with a swell in sympathy. Yet despite their apparent transformation, the political programmes of organisations like the BNP still in reality embody the original tenets of fascist ideology. They are authoritarian and hierarchical, organising themselves and understanding society along strict racial lines and promoting a centralised corporatist economic model as an attempt to reconcile the inherent contradictions of capital. These ideas may have been re-branded as the supposed popular face of white Britain and clothed in the guise of a parliamentary political party but their essential character remains. It represents, as with all statist political movements, the subjugation, oppression and continued exploitation of the working class and active opposition to its organisation through the organs of the state. Fascism is the most explicitly violent incarnation of this political programme. It shows its true colours when family values, concerns for immigration and traditionalism at the ballot box become homophobia, male chauvinism, racialism and despotism in power. Class antagonisms are silenced by a brutal regime that denies the diversity, individuality and creative potential of human life. Capital and privilege are defended by the entire repressive arsenal of the state as opponents and dissidents are quashed.
Political violence has remained consistent in fascism’s modern counterparts. Despite a commitment to “community activism”, hostility, threats and intimidation continue to exist as a central driving force behind fascist ideology. The BNP has a well publicised history of brutal attacks by its members. Tony Wentworth, the BNP’s former student organiser has had convictions alongside Joe Owens (Nick Griffin’s former bodyguard) for assaults against activists at an anti-BNP rally. Owens had also previously served eight months in prison for sending razor blades to a Jewish family through the post. Tony Lecomber – Nick Griffin’s key deputy in the party from 1999 until January 2006 – was jailed in 1985 after a nail bomb he was carrying to the offices of the Worker’s Revolutionary Party exploded and then again in 1991 for assaulting a Jewish teacher who was removing a BNP sticker from a London Underground Station. David Copeland, who exploded a nail bomb at the Admiral Duncan pub in the heart of London’s homosexual community, was a former BNP member. Although the BNP distanced itself from Copeland, Griffin wrote in the aftermath of the bombing that homosexuals protesting against the murders were “flaunting their perversion in front of the world’s journalists, [and] showed just why so many ordinary people find these creatures disgusting”. Wherever fascists are unopposed they are able to carry out systematic campaigns of violence against ethnic minorities, the gay community and working class organisations.
The term “antifa” has its original origins in the “Antifaschismus”, working class organisations that were formed in Germany (and also in Italy) in opposition to the fascist parties that were to take power during the interwar years. Originally, being composed only of members of the “Rotfrontkämpferbund”, the paramilitary wing of the German Communist Party, the groups later expanded to encompass a wide range of left wing activists. Its central goal was to present a physical opposition to the emerging fascism. Despite some attempts at mass resistance to National Socialism, particularly within the Mössinger General Strike, after Hitler’s seizure of power in 1933 the movement began to fall into decline and became increasingly isolated from the communist resistance during the war. Many antifa groups during this period came with Soviet sponsorship and Prisoners of War captured during the Eastern Front campaign were encouraged to undertake antifa training. In Spain during the 1930’s antifascism took on a more explicitly revolutionary character. During the civil war, “reds” from across the globe mobilised in defence of worker and peasant gains against the Republic and fascist armies. “¡No pasarán!” became a rallying cry alongside “Land and Liberty!” for the international emancipation of the working classes. It also came to be adopted by British militants during the 1936 Battle of Cable Street. Antifas, including Jewish, socialist and Irish groups, blockaded streets and fought running battles with the police in an attempt to halt a planned march and kick Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists out of the East End.
National Front and British Movement
In the 1970s, fascist and far right parties such as the National Front (NF) and British Movement were making significant gains electorally in the UK and were increasingly confident in their public appearances. This was challenged in 1977 with the Battle of Lewisham, when thousands of people physically stopped an NF march in South London. Shortly after this, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was launched by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The ANL had a campaign of high profile propaganda, as well as anti-fascist squads that attacked NF meetings and paper sales to disrupt their ability to organize. The SWP, whose theoretician Tony Cliff described the period as one of downturn in class struggle, later disbanded the ANL. However, many squad members refused to stop their activities and because of this were expelled from the party in 1981; many then going on to form the group Red Action. In 1985, some members of Red Action and the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement launched Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which was to be the focus of militant anti-fascism in the UK for the next 15 years. Similarly, in the 1980’s activists from the German autonomous and squatters movement began to adopt militant anti-fascist tactics in the face of neo-Nazi attacks following the reunification of Germany. They rekindled the legacy of the earlier oppositions to National Socialism and began to organize to prevent and disrupt planned activities of far right organizations – particularly the Third Position group the NDP (National Democratic Party) which had a history of violence and intimidation. After the decline of AFA in the late 90’s, in 2004 members from the Anarchist Federation, Class War, and No Platform founded the UK organization Antifa. Antifa poses an alternative to non-violent, broad front and anti-class groups like the UAF (Unite Against Fascism) and state-linked agencies like Searchlight and continues to imitate the tactics of groups like AFA before them.
Despite this chequered history and the diverse adherents the essential values of “Antifa” have remained consistent. Militant anti-fascists all accept the need for physical confrontation with fascists; they understand that fascist groups promote their ideas through political violence and that there needs to be a counterweight to this. They also accept that if the struggle against fascism is to be successful it must be tackled by communities, not the state.
These principles have led many to confuse the character of Antifa and militant anti-fascism. These aims clearly have a political quality and come hand-in-hand with a radical, class based critique of capitalist society. Yet while the roots of militant anti-fascism are clearly political, Antifa is essentially a tactic. It is about defending the streets against those who wish to claim them and presenting an active and confrontational face for working class opposition. The “flabby pacifism” of liberal and broad front organisations has and always will fail. Every inch of political ground that is given to the fascists means more attacks, more intimidation, more intolerance and less unity. The use of violence and the threat of violence is a fabric of our everyday existence. It is used by the state, it is used by the army and it is used by our political opponents. This means that activists have to face some difficult questions. Militants have a clear choice when confronted with fascism. They can either do nothing, resign themselves to pacifistic and statist “solutions” that only serve to entrench the conditions in which fascism flourishes or they can be active, they can accept a historical responsibility to take a stand and stamp this poison out of their community. It is important however, to hold no illusions over these tactics. It is vital for the health of an organisation that it is conscious of the potential negative effects that the use of violence can have. Activists must be introspective and self-critical. Machismo and hooliganism cannot be tolerated and a concerted effort must be made to stop organisations becoming gendered. An awareness of the stress and commitment that are involved in these situations and the need for solidarity and support are also important for the well-being of activists.
The secretive nature of many antifascist groups has led to criticisms of “squadism” from many within the left. They see Antifa and its equivalents as elitist and undemocratic. But such an attitude is a symptom of mentalities that view all workers organisations as necessarily vanguardist and is unfair to activists who risk their safety in defence of their communities. For decades revolutionary left groups have opportunistically used the mobilisation against fascism as a way of trying to swell their membership and the coffers of their party. There are clear practical reasons why militant anti-fascist groups have to retain cautiousness over membership. Not only does the potential illegality of actions warrant vigilance but there are also many precedents of far-right and state infiltration within these organisations. This criticism also ignores Antifa’s clear commitment to ideological struggle against fascism and the open community activism which is considered as equally important to successful confrontation with fascists. As is stated in Antifa’s founding statement, “education and presenting workable solutions to the problems faced by communities are absolutely vital to the struggle. These may be outside the current remit of Antifa, but we will wholeheartedly support these tactics, and while we may not be able to initiate such activities, we strongly encourage our members to involve themselves in this sort of grass-roots work.”
Some will argue that this ideological struggle must be waged against the fascist themselves, that a direct debate is the most effective way of undermining their ideals. But debate with a fascist is not only futile but impossible. It is an academic fantasy born of no real experience of what the threat of fascism means on your street and in your neighbourhood. It is, after all, difficult to discuss dialectics with a jackboot to your face. Debate represents progress. Fascists are not interested in this. Their ideas are inherently irrational and romanticised, they should not be considered as equal. As has been demonstrated repeatedly, to fascists like Nick Griffin public debate is merely a PR stunt. It is a media spectacle for them to spout their ideological trash.
No platform to fascists
No platform adherents like the Anarchist Federation and Antifa believe that fascists should not be given the authority to proselytize against ethnic communities and minorities and encourage their followers to violence. Giving them a platform gives respectability to their ideas and bolsters the self-assurance of their adherents who may feel it is publicly acceptable to adopt the label “fascist”. These “ideas” must never become acceptable. They undermine our confidence, they undermine our unity and they legitimize anti-class attitudes. Halting a BNP paper sale, march or meeting may seem like a trivial affair, but it is vital to disrupt their organisation at all of its levels. Adolf Hitler himself said that the only way the rise of the German Nazi party could have been prevented was if its enemies had recognized it for what it was right at the start and had smashed it in its infancy and with utmost force. It is necessary for debate to take place, but this has to be within and amongst the community. Issues need to be addressed, activists need to help build workers confidence and encourage struggles in a more productive direction. Intolerance to fascism needs to become a basic fact of community life as solidarity, mutual aid and autonomy are promoted as alternative methods of confronting the ills of capitalist society.
As militant anti-fascists we understand the necessity of Antifa and physical confrontation tactics. But as anarchist communists we also understand that ultimately the only decisive way to defeat fascism is to eliminate the conditions under which it develops. Fascism will end when an organised working class is able to overthrow capital and the state and reconstruct society along libertarian lines. Fascism is a product of weak and disillusioned people. Capitalism argues that prosperity comes through strength and this imperialism is mirrored in their ideology. Anarchist communism also argues that we can be strong, but that we discover this through solidarity and self-organisation. It will only be when these ideas are the natural principles of the working class that we will we be able to decisively give fascism the boot.
ANTIFA is a collective of militant anti-fascists committed to opposing the rise of the far-right in Britain and abroad. They believe in the ‘no platform’ philosophy and the tradition of fighting fascism/racism stretching back to Cable Street, Red Lion Square, Lewisham, and Waterloo. They are a network of various organisations and individuals who see anti-fascism as part of the class struggle.