Following the Second World War came waves of decolonization, independence movements, and immigration into Europe, largely due to brutal wars waged to prevent independence. The National Front of Britain gained popularity by organizing under ideals such as “Stop the Asian Invasion,” and “Send Them Back,” while the French under the Front National organized to halt an “Algerian France.” Focusing on the ‘purity’ of the white race, fascist movements exploded with anti-immigration rhetoric. However, due to fascist movements, in many cases, being built upon anti-politics, racist political parties, such as the NF, found themselves stuck “with no culture element,” coupled by the inability “to attract young people.” Thus came the co-optation of punk and skinhead cultures within Britain. The growth of fascism within Europe soon found its way across the Atlantic within North American (youth) movements. In reponse, anti-fascist organizations, with ARA becoming the leading force, successfully fought back against the re-surgence of nationalist violence. The exporting of fascism from Europe also brought the exporting of anti-fascism, largely inspired by the work of the German autonomous and subsequent antifa movements. In viewing the history of ARA, it is necessary to highlight their successes that, in large part, were due to direct action tactics. However, it is also necessary to critically examine the organization’s pitfalls. It is critical to recognize that ARA’s overemphasis on anti-politics, and it becoming a “victim of its own success,” allowed for fascism to adapt and evolve into new and unexpected methods. In doing so, a current day praxis must be built that recognizes fascisms evolving forms, combating these forms through direct action, and finally preventing them from occurring by building subsistence programs that liberate people from the insecurities and divisions of labor that arise from a capitalist mode of production.
The seeds of racism within liberal democracies are ever present germs that mutate into fascist movements when exposed to social turmoil, as we examine with its birth in Italy. Mussolini, a former socialist, broke with the movement in the wake of the First World War, leading his fervent nationalism and militaristic ideals to take priority over the proletariat. Core to his pedagogy was the co-opting of socialist thinking, such as in the case of “practice and thought,” i.e., praxis, and street demonstrations that began to ferment in tandem with the collapse of European monarchies. A corporatist ideology that promoted the “unity of classes established in one economic and moral reality in the State,” fascism promoted the social Darwinist “inequality of mankind.” This inequality gave rise to the notion that “peoples which are rising…are always imperialist,” giving way to the ‘justification’ for the Italian invasion of Abyssinia. Mussolini’s successor, Hitler, followed in his footsteps, occupying most of Europe, while considering the ‘Judeo’ Slavic peoples of the East being ‘inferior.’ This racism was crucial to Operation Barbarossa and ‘Lebensraum.’ Fascist nations were to plunder other ‘decaying’ ones, at the behest of the transcendence of both communist, “Jacobin utopias,” and capitalist, “materialist,” individualism, through a spiritual rebirth. “Opposed to classical Liberalism,” and the ‘decaying’ forms of thought of fascisms predecessors, fascism was to be a spiritual movement of the youth, underlined by the (conquering pedagogy), and soon to be materialized through Mussolini’s Opera Nazionalle Balilla, and Hitler’s Hitler-Jugend.
While the United States had experienced it’s own proto-fascist movement with the Ku-Klux-Klan terrorizing the formerly enslaved African diaspora from Reconstruction up to Civil Rights struggles, the era of the ‘60s and early 70’s saw an explosion of class and racial concious-through the Black Panthers, Young Lords, AIM, and other groups geared towards marginalized liberation- bred by police brutality, economic warfare, etc. The imperial wars in Vietnam, Cambodia, etc., allowed for struggle to become international. Echoing Cesaire, the imperial destruction of the growing socialist powers of Indo-China once against ‘decivilized’ the (neo-)colonizer, cementing state repression through “gestapo'' police repression (through COINTELPRO), and “prisons fill[ing] up,” with beginnings of mass incarceration under Reagan. This was coupled with the AIDS epidemic, and subsequent genocidal-like negligence on behalf of the Regan and Bush administrations, due to “homophobia [being] an ideological pillar of fascism,” as examined by Tim McCaskel. In accordance with advancements of oppressed peoples through liberation struggles, and subsequent knee-jerk like reactions that (in)directly crushed these struggles through the state, racism and fascism within the U.S. exploded. In fears of growing ‘equality’ in rights, accompanied by growing LGBTQ openness, racist movements focused heavily on interracial relationships, and those that deviated from hetero-sexual conservatism, claiming that such social connections were “the work of the devil.” As found in Kathleen M. Blue’s study on the intersection of gender and racism, anti-Blackness-a core foundation within North America-was used to lure racists into fascists groups, making anti-semitism a “learned,” prejudice. In order to reconcile with the cognitive dissonance that arose from those who were deemed racially and genetically inferior supposedly winning the fight for Civil Liberties, a boogeyman was needed. Thus came about “a mythological [‘Jewish’] power…manipulating the social order behind the scenes.” Interviewing a midwestern Nazi, Blue found that they joined the organization for their “dislike of Blacks,” and subsequently ‘realized’ that Jewish people were “their puppets, the Blacks, for their own means.” The fascist conspiracy of the ‘Jewish elites in the shadows’ is again displayed in racist propaganda depicting the African-diaspora being controlled by “Jewish Brain Power.” This ‘Jewish Brain Power’ was claimed to be behind desegregation, of which the “mongrelization of the White Race [was] the planned end result!” The “nazifaction of the KKK,” was solidified in the Greensboro, NC massacre of 1979 occurred when KKK and neo-nazi groups joined together-with police informants knowingly standing by- to murder five anti-fascist communists at a ‘death to the Klan’ rally.
However, in order to make up for the complete absence of any fascist culture, and to have these messages reach the youth, figures such as the British Tom Donaldson-headliner of white-nationalist punk band Skrewdriver, cofounder of White Noise Records, and forefather of the mingling of racist music with political parties (in his case with the NF)-did just this through co-opting left wing music scenes such as “Rock Against Racism.” Soon, this trend found itself in America. As fascist political parties began to rebrand their images through electorialism, anti-immigration, and ‘suit and tie’ styles of racism, so too did the white power music scene follow in this trend. Rather than spewing for outright violence, self-pity lyrics of whites being “the world’s most endangered people,” and the subsequent portrayal of a ‘heroic effort’ in the fight for the “self-defense,” against forces that could spoil the ‘vitality’ of the white race. This is by no means to downplay the violent growth of fascism in this time period, as presented with the dangerous “nazification of the KKK”-spearheaded by White Aryan Resistance leader Tom Metzger- of which allowed fascism to solidify its once waning strength.
While fascist movements within the U.S. mimicked the nationalist aggression overseas, so too did their antithesis. The German autonomen movement of the 1980’s is crucial to view in light of ARA’s tactics. The infamous black bloc utilized by the German left had the two fold aim of “self defense, but also to show that we are here and who we are.” The Autonomen disavowed the capitalist state entirely, and chose not to “engage in broader alliances and cooperation with official institutions, parties and mass media,” in favor of revolutionary direct action. It is also worth noting that they believed that “temporary alliances… with reformists,” was necessary to build a broad, united front against the fascist menace. These alliances were temporary in that they were only utilized when needed to make racists feel unsafe to organize in public spheres. However, the Autonomen at its core, believed in the “necessity to maintain [their] positions and [their] forms in these alliances.” By maintaining their principles within these connections, they still committed to revolutionary praxis while, at the same time, broadening the movement of antifascist sentiments beyond those who were politically engaged. The main key tenet was autonomy from the capitalist state, practiced through “squatted houses…self-organized youth centers and an independent, non-commercial infrastructure.”
In response to the outburst of fascist organizing within the U.S., particularly beginning in punk scenes, ‘The Baldies’ began organizing against groups such as ‘The White Knights’ and other white supremacist tendencies within the “working class” consistency that defined skinhead culture. In their founding, many understood the basic notion that racism, within a capitalist system, was used to divide the working class, thus maintaining social divisions of labor. However, antithetical “anti-racist U.S. patriots,” were early signs of unexamined lines of thought-ideas that were later a factor in machismo and misogyny that contributed to the group's downfall. The U.S. was founded upon racism and genocide, and has continued these practices in evolving forms, thus making fascist patriotism, as presented when White Knights tried to “ensure that no U.S. flags were burned,” by anarchists, a logical act. Regardless, the ‘Baldies,’ which soon began to expand into the loose organization of ‘Anti-Racist Action,’ was, from its foundings, extremely successful in its methods of direct action against white supremacists. Through this came the first of many bricks thrown at Nazis. This one in particular was directed against the founding member of the White Knight’s apartment. Its main points of unity were formed in the 1994 conference. Point 1, "We Go Where They Go,” made certain that fascists would always be met with anti-fascist resistance- Point 2 emphasized the complacency, and even active engagement, of the state and their monopoly of violence through police-Point 3 evoked a ‘United Front’ strategy-Point 4 expressed solidarity to the marginalized, and the most vulnerable-and the later established Point 5 declared the support for total reproductive freedom. The points of unity, guided under a decentralized network that prevented bureaucracy, made for local chapters to respond quickly, efficiently, and effectively to the threats on their own communities. Community building, door-to-door canvassing, communicating with “co-workers and neighbors,” was a crucial tenant to building solidarity amongst the working class, and to make self-defense through violence as the last means necessary. As ARA became an increasingly white-dominated movement, coalition building and solidarity campaigns with marginalized groups became essential, as evidenced by their working with the politically radical John Brown Anti-Klan Committee. By their first bulletin, ARA organizers aided in “countering the capitalist FTAA summit,” and against all other NA transnational trade meetings; “Sometimes, but not always, as part of a black bloc,” like their German predecessors. Here, they also fully recognized the unequal force of the state used to suppress progressive forces. Copwatch programs followed suit, policing the police-directly taking from the Black Panthers-and using white privilege as a tool to do so. Toronto ARA became a blueprint to follow in their solidarity campaigns with the Indigenous Aazhoodenaang Enjibaajig peoples, of whom had their land stolen by so-called Canada for a military base during WW2. The stakes were heightened when the state murdered “Dudley,” a leader of the tribe’s movement to settle back on their original territory. Tangibly engaging in land back praxis, Toronto ARA listened to Indigenous voices first, opting for nonviolent direct action, and subsequently “worked together to organize speaking events and tours, a benefit concert, and protests.” Similar to that of Germany, and the police removal of autonomous squatting, private property has become sanctified in liberal North America, thus bringing about state violence against those who defy it. Unfortunately, Toronto ARA was a unique, chapter-based example. While ARA did embark on successful solidarity work at times, and, at times, used white identity as a means to be on the ‘frontlines, organizers, such as the ex-Panther/anarchist Lorenzo Komboa-Ervin, rightfully argued that ARA at an international level didn’t focus enough on the “racist paramilitary agents of the [capitalist] state.” The failed materialization of Komboa-Ervin’s suggestion to create a ‘People of Color’s caucus’ on a national scale most definitely hurt the group's pro-politic capabilities.
Ervin not only suggested an “outreach committee,” but also a “Coordinating committee,” both of which would be created to foster new relationships, more formal structure throughout the network, and to “administer the organization on a daily basis.” Unfortunately, this was never implemented in a concrete fashion as well. While persons within ARA were right in that the “network,” prevented bureaucracy and allowed for quick action, they may have been shortsighted in the idea that no committees prevented an area “order-giving bodies [could] take over.” In regards to the German autonomen, the opposite occurred. While the ‘80s oversaw direct action and subsistence building on a mass scale through squatting and communal environments being constructed, it ultimately fizzled out due state repression coupled by a transient nature that lacked theory and formal organization. Faced once again with questions of how to organize, the ‘90s oversaw the creation of the formal Anti-Fascist National Organization. This was coupled by decentralized, “ semiautonomous work groups,” that allowed for work to be split into smaller, bureaucratic free groupings that increased productivity. Decentralized in a similar fashion to ARA’s national presence, smaller segments were autonomous, while regularly checking in so “ everyone ha[d] a sense of everything that [was] going on.” However, these smaller autonomous groups, guided by varying degrees of centralization, “prevented the informal hierarchies and the concentration of power into a few hands,” which ARA members-of whom disavowed committees-feared. They also helped prevent the “spontaneity and unaccountability of other antifascist groups.” This was a huge issue that ARA could not solve, with a national, decentralized network, preventing accountability from gendered violence within chapters-even in ones such as Toronto-abetting its collapse. While the German autonomous movement continued to build beyond anti politics, making antifa that of a revolutionary politic, ARA continued to suffer due to failing to focus more on building self-subsistence outside of the capitalist economic system.
In the wake of the terrorist attacks of 9/11-of which were to be expected due to continuous U.S. imperialism in the middle east, coupled by anti-communist efforts in the Cold War that left the only ‘viable’ forms of resistance to be fundamentalist in nature-anti-muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric exploded, forshadowing the refugee crisis and subsequent explosion of neo-fascism in 2010s Europe. While the Black Panthers ran their infamous free breakfast programs and newspapers, and European anarchists have continued to build autonomous structures through squatting and vocational training, such subsistence programs-both in theory and practice, were and have been squashed by the state as they have gone against the interests of capital. Unfortunately, ARA as a whole did not embark on such efforts, leaving fascism to ‘revolutionize’ their anti-politics. While it has been a historical trend for antifascist organizations to grow, and thus wane, in correspondence to their fascist counterparts, antifascists in the current day must reverse this trend. The capitalist system, through revolutionary politics, must be transformed by anti-fascists, destroying the roots of the weeds of fascist nationalism and violence, and replacing them with a mass led-movement in favor of equitable, interconnected forms of living. Power in numbers is essential in the height of state surveillance, as well as being a necessity for true, people power democracy.
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By Luke S.