A useful insider’s guide to Antifa

Antifa join the protests against far-right demonstrators in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August last year.

Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook
By Mark Bray
Random House Publishing & Melbourne University Press
259 pages

In Charlottesville, Virginia, on August 11-12 last year, an infamous mobilisation of neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other far-right groups was met by anti-fascist and anti-racist protesters. In violent clashes, attacks by the far right resulted in many counter-protesters being injured and one dead — anti-fascist activist Heather Hayes, who was killed when a fascist drove a car into the crowd.

US President Donald Trump, whose election was supported by and emboldened the far right, refused to condemn the far right, stating: “You had many fine people on both sides.”

In the aftermath of these events, publisher Random House decided to move forward the release of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook to later that month, rather than September as originally intended.

Based on many interviews with anti-fascist activists from around the world, Mark Bray, a former Occupy Wall Street organiser, provides an insider guide to Antifa.

The movement, whose name is short for Anti-Fascist Action, and which grew in prominence in the US after the Charlottseville events, exists in various forms around the world.

Antifa seeks to counter the far right by any means possible, including the sometimes controversial “no platform for fascists” principle. Antifa activists reject the liberal notion that fascism is an idea that can be debated and given consideration.

Bray traces the history of Antifa from the unsuccessful efforts to stop the rise of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain in the 1920s and ’30s, as well as the more successful attempts to counter the rise of Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists in the same era.

After World War II, the continued threat of the far right has resulted in the continued mobilisation of anti-fascist groups. In Britain, groups such as the 43 Group and the 62 Group formed to counter fascist groups. In more recent times, various anti-fascist groups have been formed in Europe and North America.

After tracing the rise of post-war fascism and anti-fascism, Bray examines the various tactics used by Antifa.

One anti-fascist activist, a Native American skinhead named Gator, recounts how, in the late 1980s, he and a colleague confronted a teenage skinhead involved in a white supremacist group called the White Knights, which had been terrorising punks and people of colour. Gator told him that the next time he saw him again, he had better not still be involved with that group. It was this tactic of giving people a chance to think over the consequences that has sometimes led to people switching sides.

For all the portrayals of Antifa violence in the media, physical confrontations with the far right are only a small fraction of Antifa’s activities. The majority of Antifa activists’ time is taken up with researching the far right online, carrying out educational work, fundraising, making leaflets, preparing for protests, supporting refugees and immigrants and protesting against police brutality.

That said, they remain unapologetic for acts like punching Nazis in the face, such as the famous incident when an anti-fascist protester punched white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face as he was speaking to the media during Trump’s presidential inauguration.

The far right has always sought to use the economic crises of capitalism to target minorities. In the 1920s and ’30s, the Nazis persecuted Jews, while today the far right mimics anti-Semitic propaganda in its targeting of Muslims and other immigrants.

The conditions created by the 2008 global economic crisis and its aftermath have helped fuel the rise of far-right groups such as the French National Front, the Dutch Party for Freedom, the Austrian Freedom Party and the Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West (Pediga) movement in Germany.

In the first 34 days post-Trump’s electoral victory in November 2016, more than 1094 “bias incidents” were reported across the US by the Southern Poverty Law Centre. These included attacks on Jews and Muslims, and mosques in Texas and Florida being set on fire.

Bray argues that defeating fascism in the long term will require developing a revolutionary alternative to capitalism. But, he says, in the short term, Antifa activists are committed to weeding out racists, anti-Semites and Islamophobes.

In the words of Montreal Anti-racist Action founder Walter Tull: “The job of the anti-fascist is to make [fascists] too afraid to act publicly and to act as volunteer targets for their hate and attacks which might keep them from thinking about burning down the mosque in their own neighbourhood.”

Bray’s handbook is a useful guide to the vital work that groups such as Antifa do in opposing the far right.

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