Antifa and the Marxist Left: Some Questions and Answers
(answered by Walter, of the Antifa International Collective; posed by Marxist Studies in Global and Asian Perspective).
The historical roots of widespread anti-fascism are in united and popular fronts especially prominent in the 1930s and led by Marxist-oriented parties and movements. Does antifa explicitly position itself in relation to that history?
That’s a difficult question that requires a preamble: antifa does not hold a single unified political position or viewpoint on other political movements, beyond an opposition to fascism. Antifa is a broad-based, non-sectarian movement whose members are united solely in their opposition to fascism and in their willingness to do something about it. This means there are people from every kind of political ideology imaginable that participate in the antifa movement, save for the obvious exception of fascism.
That said, it is historically factual that early opposition to fascism was rooted largely in communist and socialist movements in the 1920s and 1930s in countries like Italy and Germany. Indeed, the two main symbols of the modern antifascist movement—the “two flags” logo and the “three arrows” logo—come directly from German communist and socialist antifascist movements in the 1930s. But the connection of the modern antifa movement to the communists and socialists who opposed fascism in the 1920s onwards extends beyond those symbols. We see that early antifascists employed confrontational tactics designed to deny fascists public space in which to organize and broadcasting platforms from which to recruit. In that regard, modern antifascism bears many similarities to our predecessors from a century ago.
Is there any general way that antifa views the link between capitalism and police brutality, if not also the fascism-capitalism nexus more generally? Does antifa have a common understanding of fascism?
Again, antifa is a broad-based movement so it would be impossible to generalize about how antifa views or understands anything beyond the necessity of opposing fascism. That said, it would be difficult to not see that racism is a system of oppression created by U.S. slave capitalism and imperialism and that the police have always been the body to enforce this system when required by capitalists to do so. But let us be clear: there are capitalists that consider themselves to be antifa and there are people who support the police—and even police officers—who identify as antifa (although in our experience such people are very much in the minority!). As we’ve said, antifa is a broad-based, non-sectarian movement of people opposed to fascism. Obviously, some political ideologies are going to be less congruent with the objectives of antifa than others, but the only ideology that has no space in antifa is fascism.
What are the views of antifa leaders in general terms on the struggle for socialism in the U.S. and around the world?
This question is unanswerable for two reasons. One: there are no antifa leaders. Antifa is a broad-based social movement without any leaders or leadership structure. Two: because antifa is a broad-based, non-sectarian social movement, there is no consensus on any political ideology besides fascism, which antifascists are united in opposition to. This commitment to non-sectarianism has been a big strength for organizing a mass movement, even if it frustrates those who would like to pigeonhole antifascists as desiring anything beyond the elimination of bigotry, fascism and hatred. But antifascists—many of whom do hold strong ideological beliefs—are willing to put the ideological debate on hold while we try to stop fascists from literally murdering people. Antifa believes that if the house is on fire, our priority is to put out the fire; we can talk about where the furniture should go after that.
How might the antifa movement be connected to other struggles for social justice and to trade union struggles?
Antifascists generally understand that relationships between struggles against repression as being interrelated. As a movement opposed to bigotry and hatred, antifascists have been extremely active and vocal in support of LGBTQ+ rights and the Black Lives Matter movement, among many others. Antifascists generally support any movement that defends those targeted by fascist violence.
One example that fails to get as much attention as it deserves is antifascist support for the Rojava revolution, in the geographic region of northern Syria. For the last several years, countless numbers of antifascists have traveled to Rojava to volunteer in the revolutionary struggle there and to defend the revolution against Daesh/ISIS, the Turkish state and others. Many antifascists have been martyred doing so, and many who have returned to their home countries have been persecuted by the state for their heroism.
What are the key reasons that Marxist/socialist-oriented leftists should support antifa and if they want to support antifa, what should they prioritize?
Our understanding of Marxism specifically and socialism generally is that they are both diametrically opposed to the tenets of fascism. To be a Marxist or a socialist is to already be halfway to also being antifa, insofar as one’s political ideology opposes fascism. The next logical step is praxis—to take some form of action in the fight against fascism.
We believe that all people—whether or not they are Marxists or socialists—should be antifascists. Antifa is defending the right of people to simply exist and live their lives peaceably and without fear of brutal repression, deportation, enslavement and genocide because of their disability, ethnicity, gender identity, language, migration status, race, religion or sexual orientation. Everyone should be involved in that fight. As Joy Kogawa wrote, “if history teaches us one thing, just one thing, it’s that bystanders and perpetrators are on the same side.”
In that regard, we would recommend getting in contact with your local antifascist group to offer your services as a volunteer, material support or to attend their events and actions. We’ve published a guide to locating and contacting local antifa or starting your own antifa group, which you’ll find here. There are international antifascist projects that are well worth contributing to, such as The International Antifascist Defence Fund, The International Day of Solidarity with Antifascist Prisoners, and The International Violent Hate Crimes Research Project. Finally, we firmly believe that antifascist action does not always equate to life-risking street heroics or adventurism. The vast majority of anti-fascist actions today are smaller, safer gestures that when combined, create a powerful effect. We have published a list of 30 such actions that we believe anyone would be able to succeed in performing, perhaps with the help of a few friends; likewise Showing Up For Racial Justice has published a pamphlet titled “40 Ways To Fight Nazis” that is worth looking at.