Why Antifa Now?

By Doctor Comrade

Antifascism (Antifa)--a leftist movement in opposition to fascism and fascists--is now gaining significant steam in the United States. Antifa had a strong presence in Europe before the Second World War and played a significant role in the resistance to Hitler, Franco, Mussolini, and others, and it continues to be an important street-level movement against the burgeoning right-wing nationalist parties in recent history. But no legitimate fascist party has ever been large enough to catalyze a mass antifascist movement in the US. Antifascism has, for the most part, been limited to local ad hoc actions such as resistance to the KKK, spontaneous demonstrations against Neo-Nazis, and the splintered leftist groups which make up the broad constellation of leftists in the US. (Of course, many people and groups have resisted fascist organizations in the US, but almost never under the banner of Antifa, which is avowedly radical, leftist, and comprised almost completely of socialists, communists, and anarchists. Important exceptions include the Black Panther Party and other revolutionary groups which upheld antifascism as a central tenet of their organizations.)

But since Trump's election, Antifa groups have begun to mobilize in unprecedented ways, and have thus gained more media attention (both positive and negative) than ever before. The well-publicized attack on Richard Spencer in the immediate wake of Trump's inauguration is perhaps the most obvious example, but the suppression of Milo Yiannopoulos' events at colleges around the country also mark the presence of Antifa in daily politics. Now it is impossible to view the news without encountering the Black Bloc or other leftists.

Antifa has become more present given the rising threat of fascism in the US. Fascism had remained on the fringes of mainstream American politics, relegated to the far-far-right in the wake of Strom Thurmond's weakening coalition of pro-Confederate (read: pro-segregation, anti-equality, white supremacist) allies. Many Republican leaders had quietly co-opted much fascist rhetoric (especially the demonization of immigrants, violently anti-LGBT attitudes, nationalism and blind patriotism, foaming-at-the-mouth anti-communism, and the general racism expected of the right wing). But now that Trump and Steve Bannon have pulled fascism into the mainstream--forcing moderates and left-radicals alike to contend with it openly--Antifa has become a significant and crucial force for the left.

This growing Antifa movement marks an important shift in left-of-center politics. More and more liberals (who cry for peace, pacifism, and non-violence) have been forced to engage with the violence of the right. Peaceful protesters have been killed or attacked, both by police and by fascists. The KKK and Neo-Nazi groups are openly praising the election of Donald Trump and have been emboldened to act out in public. These groups can't be reasoned with, they can't be bargained with, and they can't be dismissed. And Antifa has reacted appropriately.

The movement of Antifa has the power to unite all people who now realize the threat of fascism in this country. And the Antifa movement should use this opportunity both to recruit people into the struggle for liberation and as a means to spread class consciousness.

To the first point, more people are becoming aware of the potential horrors of the Trump Administration, and thus will make themselves available for recruitment into leftist causes. Trump inspires fear and uncertainty, which can be used to demonstrate to liberals and other non-socialist/non-communist/non-anarchist people the importance of forming a mass movement to attack capitalism and foster liberation. Trump is merely a symptom of capitalism, the result of decades of austerity and suffering experienced by the voters who put him in power. Antifa can help show that reform, impeachment, and bourgeois democracy are insufficient to address the underlying causes of Trump's rise and the presence of fascism.

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red action antifa

By uniting people in anti-fascism, members of Antifa can help spread class consciousness, which will aid in the growth of a mass movement against capitalism. Too many Americans feel impotent and alienated; they don't believe the political process works. And they're almost right: the political process does not work for ordinary people, it works in the interests of people like Trump, ethno-nationalists and religious zealots like Mike Pence, and the bourgeois donors who buy political influence like Betsy DeVos. Antifa can lead the movement to organize people, to educate them about intersectional oppression, to agitate for real change. Anti-fascism is a belief that most people can intuitively understand, but that low-level understanding must be transformed into a mass political will. This is a pragmatic approach: give the oppressed classes something to coalesce around. Before, workers could coalesce around unions or ethnic pride or geographic solidarity. Now that the labor movement has been destroyed, and ethnic pride has manifested in racism, and geographic solidarity pits differing parts of the country against each other, we must build something else. Our first opportunity is to pull people to the left by creating opposition to the right.

Fascism and Trump's rise demonstrate the deepest and most dangerous aspects of capitalism. Antifa must make these aspects more apparent to people who are now more willing than ever to listen. This is the catalyst for a real Antifa movement, which can use this opportunity to build socialism in the streets.