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Wednesday, October 26, 2005
Interview from Beating Fascism: Anarchist anti-fascism in theory and practice
Here’s a discussion (late 2005, each in their personal capacity) between somebody from the Kate Sharpley Library, a member of Class War (from the UK) and a North American comrade connected with ‘Three Way Fight’, an anti-fascist blog.
KSL: What’s your background in anti-fascism?
CW: I got involved with the anti-fascist movement after moving to London in 1992. I saw the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ on TV and thought – I want to be involved in that!
I wrote off to AFA a couple of times, but never got a reply. By that time I had joined Class War, and I just got involved in stuff from there. Usually we would just tag along on events organised by other anti-fascists – usually AFA if it was an action, but we would do our own thing around East London, or tag along with what used to be quite a big group of non-aligned anti-fascists around East London.
By the time AFA was coming to an end in the UK, I was convinced that a range of tactics was needed against fascism, and that direct action would need to be an option in any strategy. I was briefly involved with the No Platform group, and when that petered out I was one of the people who formed Antifa.
3WF: After several years of being active in punk and skinhead circles I came to see that radical anti-authoritarian politics had to be intersecting with a broader layer of people outside of a sub-cultural scene. I started doing Anarchist Black Cross work and got behind the support for an antifascist who was being charged with assault on a Nazi. The Anti Fascist Defense Committee (AFDC) had been created in Minneapolis, Minnesota by various anarchists and anti-racists. Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation was also a key publicizer of the case and defense, with the defendant being a L&R member, as well as having been one of the founders of [Anti-Racist Action] in the late 1980’s. This defense campaign was around 1993.
With the ABC we were both supporting active militants (like in the case of the AFDC) as well as long time political prisoners (many of whom were Black/New African, Puerto Rican, and Native American/Indigenous). This work was a way to open up dialogue around the whole prison system concept and how ‘law and order’ had, and continues to be, a mechanism for social control, and within the context of the United States, disproportionately affecting poor people and people of color.
The ABC was a positive way of showing radical anarchist politics in motion. By working in united fronts with other groups we would bring our perspectives into the mix and by doing that hopefully contribute to the building of ourselves and our movement by being seen as committed, principled, and serious.
It was around this time that several anarchists and ABC groups started to develop relationships with Lorenzo Komboa Ervin. His book Anarchism and the Black Revolution had a real impact on many class struggle anti-racist anarchists. The fact that Ervin had also been involved with community (and personal) self-defense against White fascist attacks further cemented the link between militant anti-racism, class struggle politics, and revolutionary anarchism.
I had moved to Chicago, Illinois by now and through the ABC was working on different anti-police brutality, anti-prison, and anti-gentrification projects. The work was not necessarily antifascist, but we were always trying to come from a politic that had critical perspectives based on race and class (as well as gender and age).
For some of us, our ABC work started closer collaborations with antifascist projects like ARA. Eventually, the ABC group I had been involved in kinda liquidated itself into ARA. I have been involved expressly with ARA or antifascist politics since then.
KSL: What are the roots of ARA? What have been its most notable successes?
3WF: ARA formed in 1987 when there was a major rift in the skinhead scene between anti-racists and the White Power skins. ARA was created by the Baldies, a multi-racial skinhead crew in Minneapolis. Originally ARA was to be a vehicle to build a larger anti-racist presence to take on the Nazis but it really remained a skinhead movement for the first couple years of it’s life. The reputation of ARA and the Baldies got around the country and you started having ARA and anti-racist skinhead alliances form. The punk press like Maximum Rock and Roll magazine promoted ARA and reported on anti-nazi actions. Actually, MRR is where a lot of us in other parts of the country first heard about the Baldies and ARA, sometime around ’87 and ’88.
By the early 1990’s ARA had morphed into a broader youth oriented movement. It was overwhelmingly anarchist, but had a political openness that prevented it from becoming an exclusionary sect. Also, it was a fighting movement and that really set it apart from much of the left who talked the game but failed to put the boot in.
During the 1990’s ARA started to develop a more popular presence. Different chapters initiated projects ranging from anti-nazi activity, to attacking more institutionalized racism. This later aspect usually materialized as Cop Watch which was a way to monitor and disrupt police in our cities.
I would say that some of the success of ARA was that it was the largest antifascist movement in the US and Canada. During the 1990’s I think it would be fair to say that ARA politicized hundreds of militants and had hundreds more gravitating to it, not necessarily part of a core, but forming the essential periphery. Around 1997 an easy estimate of ARA’s numbers would be 1500-2000 people.
ARA had an uncompromising political edge as well as having a cultural aspect that attracted people. People felt like they were part of a real scene. Militants organized, traveled, and built a movement in a period when there was no internet (wow imagine that – ha!) We had a real network that was based on direct contact and relationships. You could travel to all kinds of cities and there would be an ARA crew to hook up with. More importantly, we were a direct challenge to racist and fascist groups who were trying to organize. Point one of ARA’s unifying plank is: ‘We Go Where They Go. Whenever the fascists are organizing or active in public we’re there. Never let the fascists have the streets!’
ARA took this seriously. All over the US and Canada from big cities to small towns, if the fascists were active, ARA would organize to shut them down and make it as difficult for them to function as we could. Obviously we had varying success. Sometimes we could smash the fash. Other times we would have to accept a defeat if we were outmanoeuvred and unable to take the ground. Even in those situations ARA tried to make an impact, but sometimes the battle was lost even if the war still went on.
Other instances saw ARA taking on the cops who would be mobilized to defend fascist gatherings. People wanted to get to the fascists and the wall of cops would become one more target of anger. You could have hundreds or thousands of people in some cities come out to protest the fascists. With these numbers you had all kinds of political agendas and perspectives mixing it up. ARA tried to relate to militant and working class anti-racists and ARA’ers would throw themselves into the thick of things. This got ARA recognized by a lot of people. It kinda built a situation where you either loved ARA or hated it, but could never ignore it.
ARA was definitely a big part in making it impossible for some fascist groups from operating. Organizations like the fascist World Church of the Creator eventually could not operate publicly without massive police protection. Even their cadre became targets in their own neighborhoods. I would say that ARA contributed in a big way to the demise of several fascist operations.
KSL: What’re you doing now?
3WF: The US antifascist movement is at a low point currently. For good or bad, groups like ARA follow the same patterns as the fascists. When open fascists are active, so is ARA. When there is no fascist organizing, ARA just kinda flounders. This lack of consistency and the inability to articulate a broader program has lead several militants to step back and rethink our agenda.
I think that fascist groups, like left groups, have periods of growth and action, while also having periods where there is uncertainty over political direction and strategy. What I think is constant is Fascism as an ideology with the potential to pop up and take advantage of situations that have become socially and politically polarized, especially around race, economics and culture. Antifascists need to be developing a broad analysis that considers where the fascist trends could and will emerge.
Unfortunately, most antifascist organizing exists to just engage the fascists on a quasi-military basis. The strategic and more ideological considerations are dealt with on such a minimal basis that sometimes it seems that they are not there at all. I think there is a danger of retreating into our heads and getting so caught up in abstract theorizing that we become do nothing, but there is also a real tendency to just act without an accompanying analysis.
CW: There is a lot to do at the moment. Simply gathering intelligence and being aware of far-right strategy, groups and activists is an enormous task. Anti-fascists in the UK are re-grouping at the moment, at a time when the fascists have never been stronger in this country. We are playing catch up. On a personal level I have spent a lot of time this year studying far-right websites (both UK and US sites) and a lot of time training at the gym – feeding the brain and the body!
KSL: Fascism is shit – is there anything else to say about it?
3WF: I think many people look at fascism and say, ‘What a load of crap. How could anyone really believe that stuff?’ Even many antifascists look at the fascist movement as a joke, violent, but a joke. No doubt the fascist movements have their share of the knuckle-draggers, idiots, and the politically inept, but don’t all movements have these types? I would actually say that in a real fascist movement, the more inept and foolish would be eliminated from the ranks. Fascism prides itself on ability, commitment, and sacrifice.
Fascist movements of the past were popular because they offered a total ideology with accompanying programs for action. Millions embraced fascism not because these people were stupid but because fascism provided a vision for social transformation amidst a time of international crisis. Fascism was able to mobilize masses of people.
I think this is important. The perspective I hold essentially sees fascism as a real movement of ideas that can draw people in and motivate them. It is a ideology and world view we are gonna have to compete with on more than a physical or military level.
CW: Fascism is a dynamic political ideology that seeks to appeal to all classes, to unite those classes within a strong state, under the control of a hierarchical elite. Usually race is a key component of fascism, and it is always staunchly anti-socialist, and opposed to any independent organisation of the working class. Fascism is usually opposed to internationalism, unless that internationalism is based on race.
KSL: What’s the current state of North American fascism?
3WF: When talking about the North American fascist movement I would first say it is in flux and there are several competing political tendencies. To give an answer I would break it down into three basic categories. Admittedly, the categories I lay out are simplified and consequently overestimate some trends and neglect other factions that are smaller, more ideological, and represent a more dissident fascism. These groups are what we might call the ‘Third Position’. A fuller elaboration would make a book. But nonetheless, I think the following breakdown gives an idea of what is here.
The first category is what I would call the Euro/White fascist block. This includes the National Alliance, The Creativity Movement (formerly called The World Church of the Creator), Aryan Nations, the various Nazi skinhead groups, the modern Ku Klux Klan, etc. Basically, those who trace their lineage back to White and European fascism and Hitlerian National Socialism.
Currently there are all kinds of rifts in these scenes. Several of the key leaders have died over the last few years and there has been a jockeying for power. I think one could also make the case that there has been a counter insurgency struggle being waged against the fascists by the US government in which there have been mysterious murders of nazi cadre by cops or the imprisonment of fascists on trumped charges. There is activity in the nazi circles but I think many groups are going through a process of regroupment.
The second block are not outright ‘fascist’ (and because of their Americanism some factions may claim an ‘anti-fascism’ and have an anti-racist platform based on Christian fundamentalism), but are based around a more popular far-Right, conservative, religious, and US Nationalist politic. There can be crossover with the hard-core fascists, but this block is unique in that it’s defined often as an ultra-conservative movement that still seeks to preserve the United States as a nation, albeit a White dominated and Christian nation. Another major political characteristic of this block is that it is isolationist and wants to remove the US from global affairs. I would say that this is a rather significant block in the US. If there is a deepening social crisis it could emerge as the strongest organized political tendency in opposition to the current two party electoral system. Anti-immigration and vigilante groups, rural militias, and sections of the activist anti-Choice movement would be included here. One important difference between this block and the out-and-out fascists is on the issue of revolution. Most neo-Nazis are for social revolution and the destruction of the US, this goes against the sensibilities of the ultra-conservatives. Though under the right social circumstances the conservatives could see the need for what amounts to a radical authoritarian ‘regeneration’ of US society. Political ideologues like Pat Buchanan and his journal, The American Conservative, could be considered an articulate voice in this block, though not necessarily the dominant one.
The last block is the wild card and has yet to materialize on any mass level, although the potentials for its emergence are present. Before laying this out I want to make clear that in this situation a blanket labeling of fascism has it’s problems. Nonetheless, certain characteristics are similar to fascism and any discussion demands serious attention and an analysis of this block’s authoritarian nature. I would consider this section to be based in the disorganized and marginalized masses of poor and working people. I would say that what could emerge are ultra authoritarian social movements that are male-centric, militarized, religious based, and insurgent.
These movements are not restricted to White/Euro culture, quite the opposite. Outside of the US, Hamas, the Sadrists in Basra, and the Al-Qaeda network are the most glaring examples of non-socialist, non-liberatory ideologically driven movements. Hamas, which has a strong presence in Gaza, has actual geographic space to define and control. They also have mass support due to their willingness to fight Israel and their development of social aid programs in their controlled areas. Now, the just mentioned groups have developed in their own unique sphere but I think that not so dissimilar situations could develop here. If a revolutionary ‘left’ opposition does not materialize in the States that is made up of and shaped by the oppressed, then more reactionary forms will emerge in that void. This position is controversial because it denies the view that the oppressed will necessarily form a left opposition to the State.
Here in the States there are vast armed criminal associations operating in the poor and people of color communities. These organizations may have links with elements of the government and cops, but they still have a relative autonomy that I think could provide the basis for an insurgent and authoritarian reaction against the State if there was a social shift in which resources and power were at stake.
Because I define three basic (and simplified blocks) I want to say also that this means there has to be different approaches to each. We can’t treat these movements in the same fashion. Fascism, and a more broad authoritarianism, is complex and our interactions with it can’t be static.
KSL: Can you say a bit more about the ‘a three way fight’ idea? As I understand it, it’s that the fascists are not necessarily an arm of the current ruling class.
3WF: In a way I already touched on this. The idea of the ‘Three Way Fight’ breaks down like this: First, the State and the capitalist ruling classes. Next, you have the insurgent forces from below who are fighting for their own vision and are autonomous from the State. This is where it gets drawn out into the sides. One force are the authoritarians. This would be fascists and the authoritarian socialists. In the other corner, you have us, the revolutionary anti-capitalist and libertarian left.
Now, these lines are not always neat and clear. This perspective doesn’t think Marxists and Leninists are fascists. And it doesn’t claim that the libertarian/anti-authoritarian left is free from mistakes and contradictions. What we think is that for our side, we are gonna be competing ideologically and on the ground with more than the State. We don’t consider there to be a simple dichotomy of ‘Us and Them’, it’s much more complicated. The authoritarian left suffered much discredit after the demise of the USSR, and with the rise of the ‘anti-globalization’ movement there has been a new wave of radical and popular anti-authoritarian politics. But all this can shift. There is no reason to think that authoritarian and Stalinized politics can’t make a come back, just as there is no reason to assume anti-authoritarian politics will progress and become the dominant political trend within the struggle against the State.
We must be offering perspectives and engaging in practice that is rooted in a radical libertarian and socialist vision. Not that everything we do has to have a big circle A stamped on it, but we have to be critical about strategy and political trends. Like I said before, if a revolutionary anti-authoritarian tendency is not present then more authoritarian politics will develop in that void.
You would think that this perspective is evident in anarchism, but I don’t think it is, at least not in North America. Fascism as an opposition is often underestimated or revolutionaries think when times get tough and that there is a radical challenge to the State, then it will ultimately coalesce a left opposition. I don’t hold that view, I think history points to something much more heterogeneous.
KSL: What’s the current state of British fascism?
CW: The way in which fascism adapts to a changing political climate, and its ability to move with the times, is remarkable when you compare it to the dinosaurs of the last century left (and at times the anarchist movement) Having punched below its weight for 50 years, British fascism has now got its act together.
Look at the way the British National Party have attempted to organise in South Yorkshire. They have spoken about contemporary issues – the rise of Islam, the changes brought about by asylum and the effect on social services, the corruption of long term Labour Councils – and the left is all too often wittering on about Palestine, or the miners defeat of 20 years ago. They are attempting to fill the vacuum.
Secondly, I think the international links that fascist groups in Europe/North America have developed put the links of European & US anti-fascists to shame. We need to up our game.
In the UK the fascists who have adapted to society have prospered politically (look at Nick Griffin) whilst those who are stuck in the old anti-semitic conspiracy theories have either stagnated, or are reliant on the arrival of recruits disillusioned with the populist approach of the ‘new’ BNP.
Nick Griffin’s masterstroke was removing the BNP’s commitment to compulsory repatriation of all non-whites. The policy was ridiculous (on many levels!) and removing it meant quite a few of the old nazi nutters left the BNP. With that policy gone, people who may have the odd black friend, get on well with the staff in their local Chinese or fancy the Asian woman in the corner shop, could vote BNP without feeling they are necessarily sending such people off to the gas chambers.
The second element in the rise of fascism in this country is entirely external, and is something that quite possibly anti-fascists can do next to nothing about. The rise of militant Islam is something outwith this interview, but the reality is that what has happened in many Muslim societies over the past 20-30 years, and what people see in some Muslim communities in Britain, scares the living daylights out of them.
This issue, and the third element, the poor levels of integration between British Muslims and other communities, has not been seriously addressed by the British political establishment. It is being addressed by the fascists. It is now being addressed by the old left, in the shape of the Respect Unity Coalition, who’s message is basically ‘Don’t Criticise the Muslims’. Things may get worse before they get better, especially if there are more suicide bombings by British Muslims.
KSL: Has the ‘War on terror’ had much effect?
3WF: I think it has put fear into a lot of radicals and made mass work difficult. The state is definitely operating with more repressive tactics. There is also massive propaganda that says: ‘You’re with America or you’re against America.’ There are actually media reports around that say that in addition to foreign born terrorists, there are home grown terrorists which included White Supremacists, Anarchists, and radical environmental groups like the ELF/ALF. In some ways, as the war in Iraq gets further drawn out, people are becoming disenchanted with it. There is a growing anti-war movement and this is collapsing the notion of loyalty to the current government. People are feeling more emboldened to speak out. This may open up more space for dialogue and radical voices.
CW: It has been a disaster for race relations in the UK. It has driven communities further apart, something that the US/UK political establishment is probably unconcerned about, and something the likes of Bin Laden, and British Muslim extremists would be delighted about.
When polarisation occurs, people take sides. And every time a British Muslim is seen talking about Jihad, or praising those fighting the US/UK troops in Iraq or Afghanistan, it is another stack load of votes and donations for the BNP.
KSL: What does the militant anti-fascist movement need to do to win?
3WF: Big question that I don’t have a good answer for.
I think most importantly we have to be engaging in struggles beyond just anti-fascist street battles. I think that we need to have monitoring groups and be keeping tabs on the various fascist fronts, but our challenge to fascism may be in broader arenas. I think we’re gonna be in combat with fascist politics (both openly and quasi-fascist) around immigration struggles and when doing anti-U.S. war work.
Also, we can’t just see fascism as a White/Euro politic. It goes deeper and is international. We have to be accessing the various opposition movements and be critical of what, how, and who we support. Some may think that those fighting US/British Imperialism in Iraq or Afghanistan are deserving of unconditional support, but what are these groups’ politics? Do we want to give support to movements that are anti-woman, anti-queer, authoritarian, and against popular participatory politics? I would say no. But for some these questions are irrelevant.
I think we have to really maintain an antifascist outlook at all times. Anti-fascism is a total politic, not just one for when were on the streets fighting nazi skins.
CW: To win we have to know our enemy, beat our enemy and replace our enemy.
I am not sure if we have a militant anti-fascist movement, and I am not sure we want to style ourselves as ‘militant’. I have always said I am a moderate – its the people who want to compromise with the fascists who are extreme!
KSL: Finally, what’s the best advice you can give someone new to the movement, on how to fight against fascism and for a free society?
3WF: Think, be critical, and don’t look at debate and analysis as something unrelated to our struggle. However, don’t let the complicated questions prevent you and your movement from action. The political situation changes and may call for new strategies; talk it over with those who seem serious and are interested in your ideas. And the last thing, think with security on your mind. Be smart, be cautious, don’t jump in without some plans.
CW: Know the sort of world you want. Know your enemy and remember this – we have to beat the fascists every time, they only have to beat us once. If they come into power, we are dead and buried. Literally.
Anarchist anti-fascism in theory and practice
edited by Anna Key
Anarchist Sources Series #6 ISSN 1479-9065
ISBN 1-873605-88-9 Price £2.50 + 30p postage / $3
Available now from good book shops or straight from the publisher:
Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane, London WC1N 3XX, UK or
Kate Sharpley Library, PMB 820, 2425 Channing Way, Berkeley CA 94704, USA
posted by threewayfight at 10:49 PM