What do US Antifascists Actually Believe? A Reply to "On Antifa: Some Critical Notes"

  • Posted on: 26 November 2016
  • By: Anonymous (not verified)

From IGD
by Philly and NYC Antifa

For many years, until early 2016, the U.S. antifascist movement was small and relatively stable in numbers, with only occasional national mobilizations. This year, however, new groups started springing up, largely in reaction to Trump’s candidacy. With Trump’s election, the trickle turned into a flood of interest.

Along with renewed interest has also come a flood of commentary by people who seem to consider themselves “experts” on the antifa movement. They are lining up to give us instructions or to criticize us. What’s common to them all­—whether from good or bad intentions­—is that they know very little about the existing movement, and therefore grossly misrepresent it.

Because the essay “On Antifa: Some Critical Notes” comes from the same political circles as our own, and has been reposted by comrades, we feel obligated to correct how the author paints today’s actual U.S. antifa movement.*

People assure us that “On Antifa” is an honest critique. Of course, we can’t say that it doesn’t accurately represent the people with whom the author is in contact. What we can say with certainly is that, as three long-term participants in the antifascist milieu, who belong to active antifascist groups (Philly Antifa and NYC Antifa)—and who know hundreds of active antifascists, including many currently part of the TORCH Antifa Network, the successor to Anti-Racist Action (ARA) Network, which one of us was in—the picture painted in this essay bears little or no relationship to the national antifascist movement as a whole.

1) In the 1980s and early 1990s, some people—especially some members of Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (SHARP),and to a lesser extent, ARA—did believe that “racism” was a specific thing embodied in KKK, bonehead groups, and other white supremacist groups, and that smashing it would somehow bring down “the system.” Politically, they were wrong about this, although many of them were coming from a perspective purely of self-defense, having to fight off crews of boneheads invading the punk scene. This is rarely the case anymore, despite Little Black Cart peddling the misrepresentation that:

“Almost 30 years ago the fight against fascism looked almost identical to how it does today…The people who were resisting, who were fighting, used a vocabulary to describe what was happening that was incredibly constrained. That vocabulary, emotional and theoretical, hasn’t improved much since.”

None of us has met anyone active in antifa groups for the last decade or more who believes such simplistic nonsense.

Today, an understanding of structural racism and how white supremacy is woven into the fabric of the U.S. is essentially a requirement to do this work. If a person with these simplistic views wanted to get involved in antifa circles, we would help them develop a deeper critique before we could closely work with them. Similarly, we can’t think of anyone currently in our circles who does not oppose capitalism. In the recent past there has been the occasional person with sympathies for capitalism who has participated; generally they don’t hang around for long.

2) In point #7 of “On Antifa,” the author places “antifascists” in opposition to “anarchists and anti-state Marxists.” In practice, the U.S.antifascist movement is largely a subset of the anarchist movement, with strong participation by current or former punks and skinheads (which only makes sense since there is constant fascist recruitment in those circles, which makes people particularly sensitive to the issue). There are also a few anti-state Marxists, as well as a handful of Maoists. For the author of the essay to believe otherwise shows that they lack perspective on the national composition of the U.S. antifascist milieu.

3) In point #2, the author writes, “Antifa is not a political project and has no real political content beyond ‘let’s beat up racists.’”

Even a cursory reading of any of the main antifa blogs (such as It’s Going Down, Anti-Fascist News, or Three Way Fight) or the websites of local groups, like NYC Antifa or Rose City Antifa, would show this is not an accurate representation of their politics.The author’s potshot at NYC Antifa only succeeded in misrepresenting the event they referred to. If the author had more closely read NYC Antifa’s webpage, they would see a constant stress on opposition to capitalism and the nation-state. NYC Antifa promotes, and individual members work directly with, a number of other movements that are seen as interwoven with antifascist work: Black Lives Matter, immigrants’ rights, anti-police/anti-structural racism actions (especially opposition to the NYPD’s “stop and frisk”), political prisoner support, and Rojava solidarity work. Similar political positions are common in the U.S. movement.

4) On a political level, anti-fascism has (until recently) been something of a behind-the-scenes practice. While many different kinds of groups across the political spectrum work to monitor and counter the influence of the Far Right, liberals tend sorely on an “anti-extremist” approach that condemns both the Radical Left and Far Right in the same breath—for example, comparing fascists and anti-fascists. They also frequently work with politicians and law enforcement and minimize or thwart direct action. Anti-fascism is instead an engagement in this work from a radical perspective, which utilizes direct action and refuses to rely on the cops or courts to counter the Far Right.

Anti-fascist work is a bulwark against the most ideologically reactionary forms of the Far Right. This work is particularly important when fascists come into radical circles to cross-recruit and gain dominance; for example, we see this activity in the radical environmental and animal rights groups, music subcultures, and soccer supporters clubs. At other times, some Far Right groups position themselves as an independent revolutionary force against the neoliberal state,and try to recruit disenchanted people into their ranks (known as the “Three Way Fight” perspective).

To criticize antifa for not mobilizing against Obama is to misunderstand the movement: anti-fascism is not a comprehensive critique of hierarchical society in and of itself. Anti-fascist work is done as a piece of, and not a replacement for, a larger radical vision. Anti-fascism is comparable to political prisoner work. No one claims that supporting our imprisoned comrades will bring down capitalism, the state, and hierarchy, but it is a necessary piece of background work that we feel must be done. Mobilizing large radical movements against neoliberal (or populist) capitalism is not the focus of anti-fascism; this is the work of the anarchist and anti-capitalist movements as a whole.

5) We don’t mind critiques of our movement—criticisms help reveal our shortcomings and challenge us to do better—but we do ask critics to learn a little more about what it is they are criticizing. There are several good blogs to read and many groups that can be contacted in order to become more informed.

We don’t doubt the author of “On Antifa” has met some people who call themselves anti-fascists and who have the beliefs that are described in the essay; we do, however, very strongly object to this critique passing itself off as representative of the U.S.anti-fascist movement as a whole.

We continue to encourage everyone to engage in the anti-fascist work of exposing and countering organized white nationalist and fascist groups, now and in the future.

* NOTE: “On Antifa” is also influenced by the theoretical approach of Gilles Dauve, who has talked many a comrade out of engaging in the practical, day-to-day work of anti-fascism—instead encouraging them to wait for that “final day” of revolution, or to simply ignore fascist groups as they murder our comrades and oppressed people, try to take over communities, and recruit from the same circles we are in. Dauve’s nonsense deserves a good debunking. Until then, however, comrades should consider whether quietism in the face of the Far Right—the path chosen by Dauve and his mentor Bordiga—is really the response they want to take at this crucial time.

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Comments

Hmmmm.... Where I am living, the antifa group is pretty strictly composed of Maoists using their work as a recruitment tool. Definitely an opposition to anarchists.

On the Nov 18-20 weekend the neo-Nazi, "alt-right" thinktank National Policy Institute met in DC. Unlike prior NPI meetings where we had dozens of protesters, we had about 100 people storming their Friday night dinner at Maggiano's, and maybe 1,000 people chasing them around the Ronald Reagan Building during their big Saturday hatefest. Two of their "reporters" decided to come out and starts some shit. One got her hair spraypainted, the other tried to jump one of us and got beaten down hard enough to put him in the hospital by ambulance.

Here is the DC Indymedia report and the video of the storming of the Friday night dinner that has gotten almost 70,000 views despite being on Archive linked from DC Indymedia instead of Facebook or Youtube:

https://dcindymedia.org/node/1317
https://archive.org/details/NPIDinnerStormed11182016540p

The companion video from the next day shows that one Nazi getting painted without showing the painter. The beat-down footage was taken from another, previously published video and redacted anyway just in case the pigs didn't find the original video clip from which it was taken. I did not use my own footage of that for fear of providing new camera angles to what will soon be Trump's gestapo. Also shown are the huge crowd beseiging NPI in general:

https://dcindymedia.org/node/1318
https://archive.org/details/NPIReaganBuilding11192016v2540p

The reality is, the antifa tendency is resurgent. There will continue to be an upswing in activity for the foreseeable future and people only listen to armchair types like Gilles Dauve and Aragorn when there isn't much going on in the real world. Pretenders to relevancy, much like their online followers.

How foreseeable is the future? Does your crystal ball tell us that all critical discussion is always of the arm-chair variety and therefore never to engage in it? Can we not hope for, and strive, for both, or is this yet another mutually exclusive binary?

oh chill the fuck out. the containerization of antifa in that other article is so off base to anyone whos spent time around us antifascist circles be it nyc, philly, or even the recent torch conference in denver. the article clearly states. Its not that all criticism is bad. Antifa crews often reflect and criticize themselves, but this clearly has no clue whats going on.

"They are lining up to give us instructions or to criticize us. What’s common to them all­—whether from good or bad intentions­—is that they know very little about the existing movement, and therefore grossly misrepresent it."

Apparently I inadvertently suggested that I was somehow something other than "chill'. It's called trying to have a dialogue or even to counter pose points, if you will. WTF is this "containerization". Also it's obvious that older Antifa folks may be out of the scene and therefore no longer relevant in your estimation, but doesn't that kinda' reek of the typical Maoist organization tendencies? 'Yea fuck those older guys they don't know what's going on hear and now!'

*here* Err,,,,,,,,,,can you hear me?

It's that nothing will ever come out of armchair (and future wheelchair) intellectuals.

When writing and publishing is your excuse for apathy, what else do you get than nothing, or an implosion?

OH!! We have an amateur prophet who can predict the future, you petty little pseudo Nostradamnit? Can I have a go? In the future, all you antifa activists will be compensated and recuperated into being puppets of the half-boiled ingrained inverted X-tian millenarianism you presently worship.

You wouldn't understand how ideological guilt has been reified into a mass psychosis called neo-liberal righteousness, how historicity (now mutated from its ancient biblical context) has still diverted the course of organic social potentialities away from a spontaneous sustainable future. Why bother explaining further,,,,,,,,sad.

Sure, just keep rushing forth with your ideological blinders on, you can surely expect a different result up ahead some day. By all means ignore the critics, they are all just old, and they don't know the rituals anyway!

nothing will ever come out of armchair intellectuals? you know its funny you say that because the godfather of all armchair radical intellectuals Karl Marx himself (who spent much of his life reading in libraries, while shitting on the uprisings that happening during his life time for not doing what he believed was important things to do in an uprisings) created a trajectory of thought that contributed a lot (good and bad) to the world and it can be argued that he is one of the most influential thinkers in the history of the world. so much for nothing coming out of armchair types....

The irony of your post is that your perceived resurgent can'tifa tendency is in response to an actual fascist resurgence(though it will never be 20s-40s dangerous). Part of the excuses for the existence of this pseudo radicalism is the precautionary principle that you want to restrict fascism to just basement dwelling Bill Whites. That obviously has not happened showing that turf war organizing does not determine whether a rival ideology grows or not. There are ways to undermine the likes of Richard Spencer, can'tifa is not one of them.

Enjoy swapping spit with communists.

"armchair types like Gilles Dauve and Aragorn "

you must not be familiar with aragorn!'s past. i don't know where he falls on antifa at this point, but he almost lost his life in the streets fighting fascists. calling him an "armchair" anti-fascist seems somewhere between uninformed and ad hominem.

No, the point is that a former activist street fighter realized the futility of a counter-binary opposition and THEREFORE became an armchair critic of it.

How is Aragorn an armchair type? I mean, he's old and out of shape now so I imagine that may be why he sits so often, but he used to bash nazis and do the whole activism thing - and is currently involved in the anarchist space running websites, publishing books, among other things.

But he sits on a goddamn chair while he does it.

Crossposting my comment from the other article since it's actually also in response to this:

Thanks for writing this. And to the moderators for reposting (though if you could add the numbered points back in, it would be easier to read).

Contra the criticisms made of this text above and in the long reply posted elsewhere, the description made by LNF of antifa ring very true to me (though it's been 10 years since I've rolled on an antifascist action in the northeast, so maybe it's different now in Philly and NYC). Machismo, a tunnel-vision focus on explicit white nationalists (paired, in some cases, with lip service about structural analysis and the occasional "intersectional" organizing drive), organizational patriotism, and a lack of strategic intelligence in the streets: these are the hallmarks of antifa I know best.

I was on a great mobilization earlier this year against a nazi demo - hundreds of people (anarchists, communists, pan-Africanists, lots of "non-politicals"), pushing to clash against the nazis and cops, and exhibiting great collective responsiveness. Broke out of a kettle attempt or two, and kept the focus on the cops as the hidden iceberg beneath the nazi tip. Unsurprisingly though, it was the couple small antifa crews who were there who couldn't read the rest of the crowd, couldn't "harmonize" with us I guess, and just deliriously pushed for man-to-man confrontations with the actually-irrelevant specific nazis. The fetish for physical confrontation trumps the instinct for collective power or political victory.

The fact that the TORCH response denied the existence of this fetish or of any reductionism at all ("None of us has met anyone active in antifa groups for the last decade or more who believes such simplistic nonsense.") reflects their ongoing commitment to circling the wagons. The TORCH people in my region have certainly backed off of revolutionary politics (in favor of some kind of "more authentic" prole-y generic socialism) and are a nightmare to work with - arrogant and uncurious enough that they refuse to listen to information about specific nazis that other people have gathered outside their super-secret TORCH recon.

Similarly telling is their smear of Dauve. Dauve isn't blind to the far-right, he's just clear that the popular front strategy and "antifascism" as such were not effective at stopping fascism. It's not a choice of fighting for revolution or fighting fascism, it's that the former (directly, against the system, including against it's fascist wing) is the best way of accomplishing the latter. And don't tell me that that's what antifa are already doing: fighting for revolution means participating in and spreading mass struggles and fighting against their management/cooptation. That looks very different than spending your time watching and conspiring against the nazis. Sometimes it means going up against the nazis, but generally only when you can directly challenge them in territorial struggles - driving them out of your neighborhood once they start harassing organizers and other, more vulnerable people. There's a fundamental divide between proactive subversive struggles, and reactive organizing (like antifa). By the way, Dauve has been quietly, modestly engaged in the former for decades, so let's put down the bogeyman of armchair activist, the idea of which is only offensive "real warriors."

The question of organizational patriotism is key when we're discussing antifa, because it hints at a troubling slide:
from fighting for revolution to fighting against counterrevolution to fighting fascism to fighting to build antifascist organizations/the Popular Front to fighting against critics of "antifascist" organizations. There have certainly been episodes of direct violence by antifa against their more critical comrades in Europe, and rumors of such in Canada and the U.S. So this isn't just a conceptual slide, but one with real stakes and against which antifa ideology provides few tools.

"None of us has met anyone active in antifa groups for the last decade or more who believes such simplistic nonsense."

if you are going to quote the original article, why not quote in context? They said they don't know anyone in the current antifa milieu who is regurgitating the rhetoric from 30 years ago with no change.

And yeah, fuck Dauve. Because NO ACTUAL ANTIFA GROUP IN THE US IS PROPOSING A UNITED FRONT MODEL.

Why don't you crawl back up Aragorn's ass? I'm sure it's warm inside there.

also, quit your fucking boohooing that there are people who are more willing to engage in direct confrontation or have a different focus than you--i'm sorry, don't want to engage in "harmonizing" like a fucking barbershop quartet. if you don't want nazis to show up next time, you give them a reason not to. doesn't mean you aren't also fighting against the police standing in your way. this isn't difficult for most to understand except for a tiny minority of dumbass people.

LOL, exactly. You can try to reduce things to simple formulations, like "give the nazis a reason not to show up," but the problem is that the new generation of alt-right, trad-workers, etc. are smarter than you. They plan on the antifa response, they use it to hype up their base, they choose whether they want to look victimized or strong, and use these confrontations as a springboard. They now have someplace to go (power), unlike decades of boneheads who were essentially bullies, thugs, or role-players. We have to have someplace we're going to as well (revolution), and use fighting the fash as strategically as they want to use us. This means stepping out of the antifa RPG.

As I've said, antifa types are just secular forms of satanic panic types who the metal heads used to give them extra shock value. They keep on talking about these silly precautionary tactics not asking why neo fascism has grown beyond Bill Whites basement in spite of trying to prevent them from organizing. Also as Dupont are points out the context for the era of not-nazism is entirely different then the context of the 30s and 40s. https://twitter.com/A_Certain_Plume/status/801481111574609922

Time to let this faux radicalism die with the 20th century.

Do you honestly think that antifascists who have been monitoring and fighting fascists for years only show up to nazi demos? You talked about a protest of nazis, which I might add, you were at for all of your shit-talking. At a protest of nazis, you make it expensive for them. NO ONE who seriously engages in antifascist work thinks that's all that should be done. That you keep insisting that's the case only shows the axe you have to grind, and once again points to how fucking stupid you are.

and if you don't go to a protest then you don't know anything... nice argument style.

So what are you suggesting then? It sounds clever but as usual, it's actually just a straw-man.

If we agree that affinity groups that are capable of physical confrontation are EVER a good thing, then the reasons that they form and deploy are interchangeable and antifa is just one basis of affinity among many.

As for antifa being the reason that the alt-right is mobilizing, that's a logic fallacy, mixing up cause and effect. They (alt-right) might be bashed or threatened and then use that to galvanize their support, but that's just the reality of active conflict, not a reason not to confront your enemies. It's just terrible logic - if I confront my enemies, they might use it as a photo-op so I shouldn't confront them …

Different poster than the one you were replying to, by the way

^^^ This post appeared nowhere near where it was intended

Problem is antifa has nothing to do with affinity based contexts. It's been a fucking front tactic from the very beginning. It also does not make sense to dedicate an anti analysis to a peripheral problem at best(fascism). There is already anti-authoritarianism which covers all these bases. Antifa is just an excuse to give the liberals and authoritarian leftists a reason for unity when some of these ideologies are just as bad as the fascists who will likely never again gain the power they had between the two World Wars. Even then an specific tendency against fascism was not warranted. Not in Durruti's time and ESPECIALLY not today.

That's pure conjecture as always ziggy. No reason why other people couldn't take those ideas and do completely different things.

This isn't a logical fallacy or a generalization. This isn't a liberal "please, no violence" thing. I'm talking about the two regions of the country I'm most familiar with, and how alt-right types there have specifically played the antifa and anarchists, including me, for fools. There are many ways to fight nazi organizing, even many different violent ways, but our old playbook has been digested by our enemies and is being used against us.

Wait what did Little Black Cart actually say at that presentation? I just saw a link to the description of the presentation. Did they actually level the critique that the shit critical nots piece did? That ' “racism” was a specific thing embodied in KKK, bonehead groups, and other white supremacist groups, and that smashing it would somehow bring down “the system.” '.

I've heard a fuck ton of drama around that talk but no one can tell me what they actually said, which is suspect.

Did anyone here go to that presentation? Thafuck...

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