They hope to attach to Antifa the same stigma as is attached to fascism.
Since the election of Donald Trump, the anti-fascist group Antifa has made somewhat of a name for itself. Donning black and red attire and faces masked, they often appear at political events and engage in what they consider revolutionary class warfare, or as the rest of civilization sees it, violent thuggery. The group has attracted many critics, some of which consider the name Antifa to be oxymoronic, and consider Antifa to be ‘the real fascists.’ Could this be true? Or are these critics simply trying to shift the label of fascism away from themselves? This suggestion is not a bizarre as it sounds, with leading political historians such as Zeev Sternhell suggesting that fascism was born out of French Marxism rather than Italian or German nationalism. To answer this, we must first explore what fascism is.
Fascism is a word used colloquially to refer to a broad range of figures, being anyone from feminists or nationalists to the stern teacher who gives you detention. This has trivialized the term and masks the diverse ideas which fascism is comprised of, leading to historians such as Gilbert Allardyce to suggest dismissing the term altogether. Academically, Fascism has been a hard ideology to pin down, due to its multiple manifestations and contradictions. Despite the nebulous nature of fascism, many academics adopt some variant of historian Roger Griffin’s definition ‘Palingenetic Populist Ultra-Nationalism’ (Palingenetic meaning to instigate the rebirth of the nation). Though this definition has its floors, it is an appropriate generalization of fascists.
Griffin presents ultra-nationalism as a key component of fascist ideology, which is clearly absent in Antifa’s rhetoric. Many Antifa members align themselves with communism, and so accordingly prefer to see the world through the prism of class struggle rather than national struggle. Therefore, describing Antifa as ultra-nationalist would constitute a total misunderstanding. This was evident in the words of Jeff Shantz writing for anti-fascist news, who presented his movement as directly opposed to this notion:
Fascism proposes an elite that can save the nation from the degenerate state. This makes clear the choices made by Trump in his cabinet. The cabal of millionaires and billionaires are the elite who will bring about national rebirth.
Though this writer expresses a somewhat misinformed understanding of fascism, his intentions are telling. This means that Antifa is missing a key element of fascist ideology, thus damaging their credentials as ‘the real fascists’.
However, Griffin’s definition of fascism, though largely correct, is a generalization, as he openly admits by embracing Max Webber method of ideal types. Therefore, his definition fails to address many of the more nuanced elements of fascism. One of these neglected details is the Manichean natural of fascism, meaning, in a secular sense, to consider the world as divided between good and evil. This is a method of thinking which rejects nuance and insists that there is no gray, only black and white. This is abundant in fascism, such as the Nazi belief that the world was divided between Aryans, and the inherently inferior subhuman races, who exerted a corrupting influence over the world. But is this Manichean world view prominent in Antifa’s philosophy? Certainly.
Rather than dividing the world between various races as the radical right do, the radical left adopts an equally deluded principle, insisting on a division between classes. This language of class struggle is an overriding theme in Antifa’s ideology as well as their appearance, often flying communist flags and critiquing capitalism. In an introduction to Boston Antifa’s YouTube channel, the description reads:
No xenophobia, Islamophobia, bigotry, racism, sexism, cissexism, white nationalists, fascism, capitalists or reactionary sh*t allowed.
In a video shared on Antifa Boston’s Facebook page, the speaker states:
People don’t see that we are the forces of good, not them.
This is just one example of Antifa’s inherently ‘black and white’ philosophy, which is a distinct floor they share with fascism.
Another feature of fascism Griffin’s definition neglects is authoritarianism, which is an obvious feature as fascist regimes have consistently instigated police states. Antifa made headlines when brawls broke out at the so called ‘Battle of Boston’ when they counter protested a free speech rally organized by Trump supporters. It could be argued that this counter-protest was an expression of disapproval of the president, rather than the concept of free speech. But these arguments are sadly misguided. The above-mentioned Facebook page also addressed the argument that ‘the right to openly discuss ideas must be defended.’ They responded:
Many of you are transplants who come here to hike up rent, fill job positions and pollute the city with your anti-immigration and free speech.
This shows a clear capacity for authoritarianism and another distinct similarity with fascism. There are multiple other, more vague similarities between fascism and Antifa, such as attachment to a government controlled economy, political violence, and bigotry. But Antifa lacks the Ultra-Nationalist incentive which is intrinsic to fascism. Therefore, it is not accurate to refer to Antifa as ‘the real fascists’, however, it is fair.
Those who refer to Antifa in this way are not making a genuine political comparison; they are making an accusation. They hope to attach to Antifa the same stigma as is attached to fascism. This makes the accusation a dishonest method of achieving a commendable cause, as Antifa have made clear their attachment to political violence, class hatred and opposition to political tolerance. Therefore, though Antifa may not be ‘the real fascists’, they are equally as problematic. Rather than attempting to impose the stigma of an overused political label, we should instead distinguish between those who are committed to the values of peace, tolerance, and liberty, regardless of their place on the political spectrum.