Antifa and its Discontents
A short letter about the big problems of the Antifa phenom in the contemporary U.S. to the publication "Commune." With its heavy focus on the fantasy projections of subjectively insurrectionary grad students and fealty to identity politics, the politics of "Commune" might be described as Miller Lite Maoism. In the same way that the sci-fi movie 'Planet of the Apes' generated a terrible sequel called 'Beneath the Planet of the Apes,' "Commune" is also being called by some wags "Beneath the Planet of the Jacobin Magazine."
Regarding A.M. Gittlitz's piece 'Anti-Anti-Antifa,' you should do better editing for accuracy. The 1930's journal 'Bilan' was produced by people in the same current as the Italian left communist Amadeo Bordiga, but this doesn't mean that 'Bilan' was 'Bordiga's journal', as said in the 'Anti-Anti-Antifa' piece. It's not likely that anyone in the early 21st century cares much about this small detail, but the Gittlitz piece exhibits a more glaring problem when it uncritically describes an Antifa perspective of "the economic and political institutions of white supremacy: police, courts, banks, employers and relators…"
It's bizarre to have to note to a supposedly anti-capitalist publication that banks, employers and realtors are expressions of capitalist social relations and not of "white supremacy." “White supremacy” is not a mode of production, or some kind of substitute mode of production. A world view that sees bosses and banks as functions of "white supremacy" is characteristic of an identity politics ideology that is not anti-capitalist in any meaningful way. It expresses the self-indulgent virtue signaling and conformist groupthink of a small shrill fringe of a larger irrelevant U.S. left-liberal protest ghetto. The protest ghetto that Antifa is a fringe expression of has had no credible impact on anything in this society since the evaporation of the anti-Vietnam war movement in the early 1970’s. The protest ghetto and its window-busting and anti-fascist annexes have consistently failed to find a receptive audience for their messages among a high ninety percent of ever more hard-pressed mainstream wage earners in a rapidly declining capitalist America -- people who may now be becoming receptive to an aggressive anti-statist and communist perspective of a new and extremely distinct type, one that emerges organically from our everyday life experiences. There are the makings of a sharp divergence of paths here. The larger society around us is changing rapidly. This offers new opportunities. It is time to retool.
This article refers to something its author calls "the revolutionary left" in today's United States. What is this? Where is it found? What public presence does it have? Does it include fans of Stalinism, the vanguard of the counter-revolution in the 20th century, like the publication Viewpoint? Does "revolutionary" include anyone who sits on their hands meekly whining that it would be nice if we could have a revolution -- there’s a veritable Red Army of them out there. Does this otherwise invisible "revolutionary left" include fans of Maoism and the Black Panthers? "Commune" appears to be saying exactly this.
Opposition to capitalism means collective class conflict -- Antifa is not a class against class phenomena. A perspective for the abolition of wage labor and market relations is not even remotely integral to Antifa, and this isn’t the kind of thing that can be spliced on as an afterthought. As an extreme left fringe culture fixated on equally marginal extreme right fringe cultures, Antifa cannot give rise to anything more substantive than an endless series of public brawls with extreme right-wing creeps; no new social movement confronting market society is going to grow out of this. As is so often the case, a significant unspoken motivation here is that these actions don’t tax short attention spans and allow a certain type of protest ghetto scenester to accrue gnarly street cred with their fellow scenesters. How many people who show up to duke it out with Nazis have put their tough guy chops to work in an ongoing protracted fight against more formidable opponents like employers or landlords? People who cop a buzz off streety-stuff aren’t likely to engage in long-term, commitment-intensive, non-buzz-inducing activity against bosses, landlords and realtors, where we can inflict real damage on the private sector elite. Brawls with racist and fascist scumbags are for the most part entertaining distractions and a poor substitute for better efforts that now go completely neglected. Antifa stuff feels good. This is its main appeal. The most that can result from Antifa actions is enthusiastic spectatorship or passive approval on the part of working and poor people who will themselves never get into public slug-fests with Nazis and College Republicans. There are no useful tools for combative wage earners here. Any sincere enemies of this social order involved in this would do well to begin retooling by reading -- for its emphasis on direct action among mainstream working people, and, very much in spite of its title -- 'Anarcho-Syndicalism' by Rudolf Rocker.
We now find ourselves in circumstances more conducive to the rise of an anti-capitalist mass social movement than those found in any other period of American history. The fights that matter most take place in the undramatic settings where we work, where we live, where we shop, and how we get around. Having attacked Antifa I am obligated to suggest a clear alternative. Our potential power is greatest wherever we come together in overwhelming numbers, and excellent opportunities are found in the mundane everyday reality of big city bus, subway and light rail systems. Employees of public transit agencies have potential power against the owners of this society that office workers and service sector proles don’t have. The majority of public transit users are wage workers and poor people. Urban public transit systems bring together greater numbers and a wider variety of the modern slave class that any other capitalist enterprise. Borrowing from the actions of combative proletarians in Italy in the social upheavals of the 1970’s, a wildcat on-the-job mass action by ever more hard-pressed and pissed off transit system operators, outside of and against the control of capital’s union apparatus, where bus, streetcar and subway operators "look the other way when people don't pay" has the potential to give vast numbers of wage slaves a small but real shared experience of effective direct action against an ever-intensifying regime of poverty and austerity. There is already some small precedent for this in the efforts of the group ‘Midwest Unrest’ in Chicago in December 2004, on BART in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1990’s, as well as in an attempted transit system fare strike on San Francisco’s Muni transit system in 2005.
Even a small, limited success in an action linking public transit operators and riders could lead to bigger, better and badder efforts in the future. And actions where working people keep transit running while refusing to make other working people pay to ride have a small practical negation of market relations imbedded in the effort as well. On a very modest level this is “communism as a present social movement.” (Dauve and Martin, Eclipse and Reemergence of the Communist Movement.) Efforts like this have a vastly greater liberatory potential than dust-ups with national socialist internet dweebs and neo-Confederate mental illness sufferers.
We need a 21st century version of what the real IWW was at its best -- an anti-wage labor social movement of the wage earning class. Antifa offers us nothing here. It is not a step towards this. A long-term movement for revolutionary transformation can only emerge out of conflicts between exploited people and the larger commodity society that we reproduce and confront in our daily lives. A mass movement for social revolution in an ever-more potentially unstable and promising capitalist America will never grow out of a fixation on the most clownish fringe aspects of this social order. Collective direct action on an everyday life terrain lacks the high drama of violent protest ghetto events -- and this is how it should be. The terrain of the mundane is the only terrain that matters. Like the young Marx, the old IWW, and the Situationists, a 21st century opposition to the existing state of things must be so aggressive, inventive, daring and public that it becomes impossible to ignore.