The New Yorker By Daniel Penny, August 22, 2017
On October 4, 1936, tens of thousands of Zionists, Socialists, Irish dockworkers, Communists, anarchists, and various outraged residents of London’s East End gathered to prevent Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists from marching through their neighborhood. This clash would eventually be known as the Battle of Cable Street: protesters formed a blockade and beat back some three thousand Fascist Black Shirts and six thousand police officers. To stop the march, the protesters exploded homemade bombs, threw marbles at the feet of police horses, and turned over a burning lorry. They rained down a fusillade of projectiles on the marchers and the police attempting to protect them: rocks, brickbats, shaken-up lemonade bottles, and the contents of chamber pots. Mosley and his men were forced to retreat.
In “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook,” published last week by Melville House, the historian Mark Bray presents the Battle of Cable Street as a potent symbol of how to stop Fascism: a strong, unified coalition outnumbered and humiliated Fascists to such an extent that their movement fizzled. For many members of contemporary anti-Fascist groups, the incident remains central to their mythology, a kind of North Star in the fight against Fascism and white supremacy across Europe and, increasingly, the United States. According to Bray, antifa (pronounced an-tee-fah) “can variously be described as a kind of ideology, an identity, a tendency or milieu, or an activity of self-defense.” It’s a leaderless, horizontal movement whose roots lie in various leftist causes—Communism, anarchism, Socialism, anti-racism. The movement’s profile has surged since antifa activists engaged in a wave of property destruction during Donald Trump’s Inauguration—when one masked figure famously punched the white supremacist Richard Spencer in the face—and ahead of a planned appearance, in February, by Milo Yiannopoulos at the University of California, Berkeley, which was cancelled. At the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, a number of antifa activists, carrying sticks, blocked entrances to Emancipation Park, where white supremacists planned to gather. Fights broke out; some antifa activists reportedly sprayed chemicals and threw paint-filled balloons. Multiple clergy members credited activists with saving their lives. Fox News reported that a White House petition urging that antifa be labelled a terrorist organization had received more than a hundred thousand signatures.
Bray’s book is many things: the first English-language transnational history of antifa, a how-to for would-be activists, and a record of advice from anti-Fascist organizers past and present—a project that he calls “history, politics, and theory on the run.” Antifa activists don’t often speak to the media, but Bray is a former Occupy Wall Street organizer and an avowed leftist; he has intimate access to his subjects, if not much critical distance from them. Especially in later chapters of the book, that access helps him to provide an unusually informed account of how antifa members conceptualize their disruptive and sometimes violent methods.
Many liberals who are broadly sympathetic to the goals of antifa criticize the movement for its illiberal tactics. In the latest issue of The Atlantic, Peter Beinart, citing a series of incidents in Portland, Oregon, writes, “The people preventing Republicans from safely assembling on the streets of Portland may consider themselves fierce opponents of the authoritarianism growing on the American right. In truth, however, they are its unlikeliest allies.” (Beinart’s piece is headlined “The Rise of the Violent Left.”) According to Bray, though, antifa activists believe that Fascists forfeit their rights to speak and assemble when they deny those same rights to others through violence and intimidation. For instance, last week, the North Dakota newspaper The Forum published a letter from Pearce Tefft in which he recalled a chilling exchange about free speech with his son, Peter, shortly before Peter headed to the rally in Charlottesville. “The thing about us fascists is, it’s not that we don’t believe in freedom of speech,” the younger Tefft reportedly said to his father. “You can say whatever you want. We’ll just throw you in an oven.”
For Bray and his subjects, the horror of this history and the threat of its return demands that citizens, in the absence of state suppression of Fascism, take action themselves. Bray notes that state-based protections failed in Italy and Germany, where Fascists were able to take over governments through legal rather than revolutionary means—much as the alt-right frames its activities as a defense of free speech, Fascists were able to spread their ideology under the aegis of liberal tolerance. Antifa does not abide by John Milton’s dictum that, “in a free and open encounter,” truthful ideas will prevail. “After Auschwitz and Treblinka,” Bray writes, “anti-fascists committed themselves to fighting to the death the ability of organized Nazis to say anything.”
Part of antifa’s mission is to establish, as Bray puts it, “the historical continuity between different eras of far-right violence and the many forms of collective self-defense that it has necessitated across the globe over the past century.” To this end, the first half of his book is a somewhat rushed history of anti-Fascist groups. The progenitors of antifa, in this account, were the German and Italian leftists who, following the First World War, banded together to fight proto-Fascist gangs. In Italy, these leftists gathered under the banner of Arditi del Popolo (“the People’s Daring Ones”), while in Weimar Germany, groups like Antifaschistische Aktion, from which antifa takes its name, evolved from paramilitary factions of existing political parties. Bray moves swiftly to the failure of anti-Fascists in the Spanish Civil War, then races through the second half of the twentieth century. In the late seventies, the punk and hardcore scenes became the primary sites of open conflict between leftists and neo-Nazis; that milieu prefigures much of the style and strategy now associated with the anti-Fascist movement. In the Netherlands and Germany, a group of leftist squatters known as Autonomen pioneered the Black Bloc approach: wearing all-black outfits and masks to help participants evade prosecution and retaliation. Bray reaches the present with his description of “Pinstripe Fascists,” such as Geert Wilders, and the rise of new far-right parties and groups in both Europe and America. The book flits between countries and across decades; analysis is sparse. The message is that antifa will fight Fascists wherever they appear, and by any means necessary.
The book’s later chapters, such as “Five Historical Lessons for Anti-Fascists” and “ ‘So Much for the Tolerant Left!’: ‘No Platform’ and Free Speech,” which are adapted from essays published elsewhere, are more focussed and persuasive. Here Bray explicitly deals with the philosophical and practical problems of antifa: violence versus nonviolence; mass movements versus militancy; choosing targets and changing tactics. Bray concedes that the practice of disrupting Fascist rallies and events could be construed as a violation of the right to free speech and assembly—but he contends that such protections are meant to prevent the government from arresting citizens, not to prevent citizens from disrupting one another’s speech. Speech is already curtailed in the U.S. by laws related to “obscenity, incitement to violence, copyright infringement, press censorship during wartime,” and “restrictions for the incarcerated,” Bray points out. Why not add one more restriction—curtailing hate speech—as many European democracies do? As for the slippery-slopists, afraid that antifa will begin with Fascists and eventually attack anybody who opposes them, Bray maintains that the historical record does not support this fear: anti-Fascists who have shut down local hate groups, as in Denmark, usually go dark themselves, or turn their attention to other political projects, rather than finding new enemies to fight. (In his Atlantic piece, Beinart notes, “When fascism withered after World War II, antifa did too.”)
Violence, Bray insists, is not the preferred method for past or present antifa—but it is definitely on the table. He quotes a Baltimore-based activist who goes by the name Murray to explain the movement’s outlook:
You fight them by writing letters and making phone calls so you don’t have to fight them with fists. You fight them with fists so you don’t have to fight them with knives. You fight them with knives so you don’t have to fight them with guns. You fight them with guns so you don’t have to fight them with tanks.
There is a moral logic to this notion of anticipatory self-defense, but the progression, from writing letters to fighting with guns, is worrisome nonetheless. Right-wing militiamen in Charlottesville made a point of displaying force, and this was reportedly “unnerving to law enforcement officials on the scene.” Should anti-Fascists start toting AR-15s, like the right-wing Oathkeepers? The idea can seem naïve in an American context, where, practically speaking, only white people can carry guns openly without fear of police interference. Bray mentions a few pro-gun antifa groups, including the Huey P. Newton Gun Club, and a collective with the punning moniker Trigger Warning; he quibbles with liberal scholars, including Erica Chenoweth and Maria J. Stephan, who dismiss violent protest as an ineffective tool for garnering public support. But it is unclear from the book whether he thinks that brandishing guns is an ethical concern as well as a tactical one, or whether he worries about an escalation of violence. Postwar antifa, as Bray details in earlier chapters, has largely been a European project, in which opposing sides sometimes beat each other senseless and stabbed one another to death. They didn’t have assault rifles. The Battle of Cable Street was fought with rocks and paving stones.
What were the effects of Cable Street, exactly? Scholars continue to debate the showdown’s consequences. After the battle, Mosley, like present-day Fascists, was able to cast himself in the role of a law-abiding victim assaulted by immigrant hordes. In the months following, Fascist youth attacked London’s Jewish residents and businesses in what became known as the Mile End Pogrom, and the British Union of Fascists did better at the polls in 1937 than they had in years prior. Bray argues that such results do not undermine the legacy of the incident, because it radicalized and galvanized a community, which continued to fight Fascists in Britain through the buildup to the war and beyond, and whose efforts were largely successful.
In the British press, at least, Cable Street has been referenced repeatedly in coverage of the protests and the terrorism in Charlottesville, an event that has forced a discussion of what to do when far-right extremists come to your town. Bray, for his part, believes that one can practice “everyday anti-fascism” by confronting bigots in nonviolent ways, “from calling them out, to boycotting their business, to shaming them for their oppressive beliefs, to ending a friendship unless someone shapes up.” The point, as he sees it, is to shut down Fascists not just in the street but in every interaction. “An anti-fascist outlook has no tolerance for ‘intolerance.’ ” he writes. “It will not ‘agree to disagree.’ ”
Daniel Penny is a member of The New Yorker’s editorial staff.Tags: antifaMSMreviewcategory: Essays
This is episode number 3 of "B(A)D NEWS – Angry voices from around the world", a monthly news program from the international network of anarchist and antiauthoritarian radios, consisting of short news segments from different parts of the world.
You can listen to the episode here
* Radio Kurruf: Government social care projects
* 98FM: Update on resistances to state repression of political actvists
* The Final Straw: Grand juries in the US
* A-Radio Berlin: The disappearance of Santiago Maldonado and the Mapuche struggle in Argentina to reclaim Benetton-owned land
* Dissident Island: Issue of abortion on the island of Ireland + update from anti-fracking protest in Lancashire
LISTEN HERE: https://archive.org/details/AnarchyRadio08222017
Cliff co-hosts. Cascadia Cave. Rising fascist threat ??(e.g. Boston, Durham). Coral, kelp dying out globally. Barcelona jihadists "normal"! Anews editorial #25:Subjectivism 101. David Byrne, Zizek(!) on technology. A vaccine for heroin. LED eyelashes, NurturePod by Stuart Candy. One call.Tags: CliffJohnKarlcategory: Projects
Régis Labeaume, the right-wing Mayor of Quebec City, has made inflammatory comments today against anti-racist protesters, and against me personally. The substance of his comments have been reported here.
For those that don’t understand French, Mayor Labeaume talked about a “Singh gang”, referred to antifa protesters repeatedly as “cretins”, stated that the protesters that destroy property are “always from Montreal”, and told the protesters to “go somewhere else than Quebec City” and that “Quebec City is not for you”. Lots more too.
This is my public on-the-record reply:
Mayor Labeaume, like Donald Trump, is claiming equivalency between anti-racists — and the varied tactics and strategies we use — and the racist far-right. His false equivalency, like Donald Trump’s after Charlottesville, is absurd. With his comments today, Mayor Labeaume is essentially pandering to racists in Quebec City, repeating a disgusting tactic he has used since he’s been a public figure.
More generally, Mayor Labeaume is replicating the rhetoric of the racist far-right by essentially telling people to “go back to where you came from”. This is the main talking point of far-right anti-immigrant groups, including the racists of La Meute, the Storm Alliance, and Soldiers of Odin, all of whom have a strong presence in Mayor Labeaume’s Quebec City.
Specifically, in singling me out, Mayor Labeaume is in effect encouraging the internet trolls and anonymous far-right activists who on a daily basis make racist comments, including threats, against me personally. His personalization of me is dangerous and inflammatory. Moreover, it’s incorrect. I wasn’t leading any group or groups. I was an active participant in the anti-racist mobilization on Sunday, and my role was quite public and open, and witnessed widely by fellow protesters and the media. According to one report: “Avant de se faire arrêter violemment, le militant Jaggi Singh ne faisait que danser et scander des slogans, ou partageait quelques informations aux contre-manifestant-e-s.” [tr: Before being arrested violently, the activist Jaggi Singh was dancing and shouting slogans, or sharing information with the counter-demonstrators.]
Labeaume, like Trump, has the mentality of a bigot, but with a huge media platform. In talking about “la gang à Singh” Labeaume sounds like those far-right conspiracy theorists who blame everything on George Soros. The far-right in Quebec has taken up the theme that I’m personally responsible for anti-fascist organizing, and Labeaume repeats their false talking point. Labeaume remarks reminds me of this racist skinhead, but with a suit and tie (go to 1:35).
The Mayor of Quebec City is power-tripping if he thinks he can decide whether I, or anyone else, is welcome to his city. There is no border between Montreal and Quebec City (and if there was, I wouldn’t respect it anyways). I will definitely continue to visit Quebec City, on my own terms, and I look forward to participating in more demonstrations there, and visiting friends and comrades.
Moreover, I feel compelled to add that I have strong connections to Quebec City. I spent a summer in Quebec City a long time ago, working at the Complexe Scientifique on Rue Einstein, trying to improve my French. I was privileged to hear a speech by the late, great, unionist Michel Chartrand in Quebec City, which helped to improve my French in other unpublishable profane ways. I spent a full year engaged in social justice popular education work, spending a significant amount of time in Quebec City in advance of the mass protests against the Summit of the Americas in 2001. I might be a Toronto-born, Montreal-living, anarchist activist, but the Mayor of Quebec will not dictate to me (or anyone else) when and how I can visit Quebec City.
Instead of lashing out at anti-racist protesters, perhaps Labeaume should look inwards at his own complicity for the current xenophobic environment in Quebec City, for which he bears much responsibility. In the past generation a toxic mix of inflammatory talk radio, pandering politicians like Labeaume, and cynicism has made Quebec City into a base for the racist far-right, where anti-immigrant groups feel like they can organize openly with impunity. By insulting anti-racist protesters, Labeaume is providing a smokescreen for his own inaction and apathy in the face of racism, xenophobia and Islamophobia, which has had murderous consequences in Quebec City.
Importantly, it’s clear that neither the Mayor nor the police of Quebec City are capable of dealing with the far-right racist threat in their City, and in significant ways they are complicit in the rise of the far-right. Instead, anti-fascist activists, from Quebec City, Montreal and beyond, will rely on the model of grassroots organizing involving popular education, supporting migrants and other communities under attack and, yes, engaging in direct action to confront far-right racists and fascists when necessary.
Fortunately, Quebec City is much more than inflammatory talk radio, Mayor Labeaume, and racist, right-wing groups. There is a beautiful community in Quebec City, that I have known well in the past. My experiences in Quebec City, with the exception of far-right racists and the police, have been positive. I have learned so much from other organizers in the Quebec City community, and commend their resilience and organizing. Labeaume’s recent comments, which are really about pandering to part of his racist base, will simply increase the resolve of anti-racists and anti-fascists to effectively mobilize, despite the current Mayor.
To repeat some slogans on Quebec City’s streets on Sunday: “Everyone detests racists! Welcome refugees, immigrants, Muslims, Haitians, and everyone!” (The slogans sound better in French!)
— Jaggi Singh, anti-fascist anarchist activistTags: canadaantifacategory: Essays
The buzz has become impossible to escape. Business associations speak of “renewal”, while expensive restaurants celebrate “revitalization” and local politicians promote “redevelopment” as the city gives large grants to Toronto entrepreneurs to set up shop in town. This is all accompanied by a media blitz presenting Hamilton as a land of opportunity for the rich. With every passing day the meaning of these words becomes painfully obvious – in practice they really just mean increased misery, hardship, and displacement. Real estate agents, property management firms, investors, and business owners amongst others, reap huge profits as many of us who have called Hamilton home struggle to get by in the changing city. This is a fundamental reality of capitalism and is not surprising. What is surprising, is that those who celebrate and profit off gentrification continue to do so openly without regularly feeling the anger of those who their narrow self-interest harms.
This summer, we took a few small actions to remind the profiteers and boosters of gentrification that their presence in our neighbourhoods is unwelcome. Between June and August 2017, we carried out a series of simple attacks against businesses and entities that seek that seek to attract rich people and investors, encouraging the kinds of rapid rent increases that have already displaced thousands of people.
With these actions, we remind ourselves that we're not powerless and that those who profit off our worsening living conditions, even with all their access and power, are still within reach. We don't pretend these attacks will stop gentrification in themselves, but we can at least refuse to greet these profiteers with smiles and break the illusion that what's good for investors is good for all of us. These attacks are easy to do and the list below is just a few that we can claim, but every day we walk around the city and see manifestations of hostility towards both the established local rich and the vultures who have recently descended. It makes us happy to know other people we've never met feel the way we do and by sharing this account we hope to encourage others to turn their anger into offensive action.
Windows were broken at The Butcher and the Vegan and at The Heather, two restaurants on Barton seeking to attract a rich clientele to one of the city's poorest neighbourhoods. Where so many of us are on social assistance getting $600 a month, it's an insult that the creep at The Heather gets tens of thousands of dollars from the city to sell a single meal for $70. We don't care how artisanal your butter is.
The locks were glued and the facades vandalized with paint at the offices of Co-Motion, the branch of Marsales Realty in Westdale, and of the Acclamation condo development on James St. The latter two feel self-explanatory, but Co-Motion deserves a bit more attention. Founded by a prominent local capitalist and slumlord, Co-Motion seeks to attract entrepreneurs and investors to participate in the current redevelopment feeding frenzy. They mask their greed with talk of community and creativity, but their purpose is to recruit for and intensify the processes of gentrification in the city.
The security cameras on Hendry's shoes on Barton St. were vandalized and tags reading “no handouts for yuppies” were left on the windows. The people who are redeveloping that building with funding from the city brag to their potential clients about how the neighbourhood is up-and-coming and gentrifying. This is essentially saying that there are poor people there now, but don't worry, they'll be gone soon and opportunities to make money abound. A large tag reading “Condos are War, Defend the Block” was also left on the front of the former Gibson school on Barton. The people in the neighbourhood fought to keep their school open only to now see it turned into condos that few could ever dream of affording.
It's easy to attack when you give yourself the means. There's still a month of summer ahead and no shortage of deserving targets.
And solidarity to those in Montreal who have been developing a practice of attack against gentrifiers over the past few years!
How often do you talk to people who you disagree with? How do you talk to them? Are they people you've known for a long time, old friends who went in different directions from you, family members, co-workers/students, neighborhood folks? What have you noticed about how you relate to them, what you don't challenge--and what is that based on?
There's a group I've been in for some time, and people in the group sometimes say really stupid things, and I don't always confront them immediately, for a variety of reasons usually, like they're old, and I don't think they're going to act on anything dumb, and I know that they know I disagree with them already, and they're ready for people to complain about what they just said and I'd rather wait until I think they can hear me better. And I know that I will see them again, and so there's no sense of urgency.
The point is, multiple reasons are in effect for me to say something, or not to say something, and also in how I say something or not (do I laugh? Roll my eyes? Turn away and start another conversation... etc.).
What are yours?
Welcome to the anews podcast. This is episode 25 for August 18. This podcast covers anarchist activity, ideas, and conversations from the previous week.
Editorial: Beginning with Wings
TOTW - Working Together
A101 question: Is Anarchism left wing or right wing?
This podcast is the effort of many people. This week this podcast was
* sound edited by Linn O'Mable
* editorial written by chisel
* written by jackie
* narrated by chisel and a friend
* Thanks to A! and Klee for their help with the topic of the week
* Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more