Antifa is not a gang. Antifa is not a danger. That is, unless you are a white supremacist and/or a fascist. Despite the best efforts of the right wing, most of the liberal media and way too many supposed leftists, antifa is one of the few left-anarchist phenomena actually performing a public service. By chasing nazis and other white supremacists out of places like Boston, Berkeley, San Francisco and by fighting back against them in many others, including Charlottesville, Virginia, antifa and others opposed to the poison of white supremacy have put its advocates on notice—they are not welcome. Furthermore, their protests and actions have made millions of US residents aware of the ugliness within their society. Of course, if one is to read the aforementioned right-winger and liberal media, they might believe that it is antifa who are the danger to society and not the nazis and their cohorts.
Most antifa advocates are wasting little of their time arguing with those who disparage them; one assumes they are organizing the next street protest against the next fascist event. However, Melville House Publishing did recently publish Mark Bray’s excellent introduction, which serves as a reasoned and passionate defense. Titled Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook, Bray’s text provides the reader with a history, discussion of principles and arguments in favor of antifa. Furthermore, he rebuts several of the now familiar chants of the liberals and leftists who oppose antifa’s approach (and oftentimes its politics.) Among the latter are a discussion of the meaning of free speech and the liberal pretense that such speech is an abstract absolute. Part of this argument assumes that the hate speech of fascists is the speech of an individual addressed to individuals when in fact it is an act that demeans and is intended to harm entire groups of people.
In Antifa, Mark Bray provides a history of antifa’s origins and development over the years. Beginning with a discussion of the first anti-nazi organizations in 1930s Europe, Bray takes the reader through the decades up to antifa’s current manifestation. This journey spans the streets of continental Europe, the battle of Cable Street in Britain, the post-New Left anti-Klan organization called the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC), the anti-fascist punk subculture of the late 1970s and later, and today’s militant groupings across the planet. Although he properly places today’s antifa’s specific origins in the autonomist movements of Italy, Germany and the Netherlands, the mention of the JBAKC helps present a clear and constant chain of history from the 1930s to the present. This continuity is important; especially to counter attacks from those who argue that today’s antifa has no antecedents.
There are those who say that by protesting fascists anti-fascist protesters are giving them publicity. Bray’s response is simple. Fascists prefer to work without their work being opposed and portrayed in its true light. Even if the groups spreading fascist thought seem to be small, allowing them to go unopposed can cause explicit harm to individuals in groups fascists wish to repress or exterminate. Furthermore, as is often pointed out, the Nazi party in Germany between the wars began partially as small violent groups who attacked communists, Roma, Jews and others. Furthermore, argues Bray, when nazis are challenged and exposed they often disappear. Of course, this is the result most people want.
In recent weeks, antifa has been portrayed by those forces mentioned in the opening paragraph of this review as a group of masked individuals roaming into white supremacist rallies and beating them. The truth of the matter is quite different. Antifa does include those who are willing to use physical force against nazis and their ilk. It is also the thousands across the nation who have participated in mass protests against white supremacy. When the media serves the fascist narrative that equates opposition to fascism with fascism, one wonders what its intention is. Is the media purposely paving the way to a fascist state or is it merely confusing the issue by refusing to address the true nature of fascism and pretending fascism is a rational and humane philosophy?
In his text, Mark Bray presents a solid defense of antifa. Melville House has done the movement against white supremacy and fascism a great service by publishing it. This book is going to anger many folks who see antifa as misguided, foolish or even evil. It should provide those already allied with antifa with more intellectual ammunition for their endeavors. Most importantly, Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook serves as an educational tool for those whose inclination is to support antifa because they oppose fascism and white supremacy, but remain on the fence. As the struggle to shut down fascists and white supremacists continues in the US and elsewhere, one hopes the public’s understanding of the movement will also grow. Bray’s concise and multilayered text is an essential aid in that task.