Make us anti-fascists into fascists? Some people would like to think so. They wave their hands about “antifa” and collect their guns, sure that there are nasty folks coming after them.
Thing is, anti-fascists rarely run around with bricks and guns–and to think we are out to get you, well, I think that would verify your own belief in yourself as fascists.
We anti-fascists, for the most part, reject violence as a means toward political victory. That’s written into the core of our thinking. We follow Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in “On Civil Disobedience”:
There will never be a really free and enlightened State until the State comes to recognize the individual as a higher and independent power, from which all its own power and authority are derived, and treats him accordingly.
That means we cannot bop fascists over the head and expect to come out ahead. No, when we do that, we become fascists, too. So, instead, we follow Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who wrote in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”:
Actually, we who engage in nonviolent direct action are not the creators of tension. We merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive. We bring it out in the open, where it can be seen and dealt with. Like a boil that can never be cured so long as it is covered up but must be opened with all its ugliness to the natural medicines of air and light, injustice must be exposed, with all the tension its exposure creates, to the light of human conscience and the air of national opinion before it can be cured.
This is going on now. Yet this is not the forties nor the sixties of the last century nor are parallels we concoct going to guide us. There are, still, things we can learn from the past that can move us beyond the current crisis successfully.
One is to ignore the charges of “antifa” attacts almost completely.
“Premature Anti-fascists” was a phrase used to deride Americans who had been against Mussolini and Hitler before the outbreak of the Second World War, some of whom had actually fought against fascism in Spain. These people were utilized during the war but, once it was over, they were generally marginalized by the U.S. government. The goverment made the decision to work with the right-wing anti-communist forces (which included the KKK) instead of the leftists who had first urged us to fight fascism. The threat seen was communism, not fascism any longer. The government waged a huge battle to put down the communist-leaning left, leaving the fascists alive and well.
In the sixties, the anti-communists in the U.S. began to meld even more than before into facist mindsets–not surprising, as they had purged anti-fascist from their midst. The next generation of anti-fascists began seeing their fight as one at home. The rise of the John Birch Society and of a rightwing ideology that defined everything in anti-communist terms left plenty of room for the growth of a renewed fascist attitude.
The surprise rise of the anti-war and anti-fascist forces in response to the Vietnam War seemed, at the time, to put the facsist Americans on the defensive. They hated the new protestors as much as they hated the Civil Rights activists, and put them into an “anti-American” category. But, they also lost much of their headwind, and American fascism began to decline–or, at least, to seem to.
It took a number of more decades for American fascism to raise its head once again. The various fascists groups such as the KKK, the posse comitatus groups, and all of the others seemed, though the eighties and nineties, seemed to be out of step with American culture.
Each time fascism arises, it calls up an enemy. Jews, communists, gays… whatever. It works its strength on fear, setting its own strength to hammer this enemy. The enemy can be Woody Guthrie’s guitar, a flower… or the nonviolent strategies of Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mahatma Gandhi. These, though, are all difficult to fight.
So, we’ve now got “Antifa” posited as a violent group in today’s upset, perhaps the current concoction to replace the Black Panthers or whatever “voilent” groups of the past that allowed U.S. authorities to beef up their own fascist powers.
The people on the left who do rise up and want to use the fascists tools against the fascists, who see the only way to fight a mailed fist is with one of your own, have long been proved wrong.
Yes, we never have managed to get rid of fascism in American but we have managed to keep it at bay. We could never have done that through violence.
We have done so by refusing to join in on the fascist strategy of picking one enemy and smacking it as hard as we can–and then looking around for the next group that wants to face that “music.” There were some at the end of WWII who wanted the U.S. to continue on the war, this time against Russia. There are still plenty of people who wish we’d done that, but they just prove that fascism isn’t some foreigh-grown ideology, that there are and were American fascists quite willing to fight on their terms.
But we had enough sane leaders in 1945 to forestall that.
Now, some of our leaders are fascists–you can see that by the pointing to this fake “antifa” enemy.
We are doing well as long as we keep in mind that we will respect them even as they shake their guns in our faces.
We’ve done that before; it’s great to see us doing it again.
This time, it may just work.