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.  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. 
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’.  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.  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.  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.  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.
 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).
 See, for example, ‘Fascism/Antifascism’ by Jean Barrot (Gilles Dauvé) and numerous other, related materials on libcom.
 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’).
 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].
 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).
 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.