In a recent correspondence with a well known left intellectual, I mentioned the tendency of certain elements of the left to celebrate suppressions of free speech and initiations of violent confrontation with the far right.
My view, one with which he has been associated for many years, was that both were wrong on principle and strategically suicidal. His response was to agree but then to go a step further. According to him, at its base, the confrontation involved “two fascist factions, one calling themselves ‘left.’” The connection should have been obvious to me and to that matter, everyone one else, though once it was established, many recent incidents began to fall into place.
For example, what term other than fascism describes the scene below?
Another example, for those who need more than the thousand words elicited by the bats, tasers and clubs in the picture, is the following list of quotations drawn from classical fascists -mostly infamously familiar- and current self proclaimed “left” anti-fascists. (The variable X replaces terms which would identify the sources’ nominal allegiances.)
- “Everything is a contest of power, and X are by definition not permeable to rational argument. They are defeated by force.”
- “We shall weather the next decades only if X has a profound conviction, believes in its own strength, and proves this strength.”
- “X . . should be smashed earlier in their development rather than later when they are better organized and better at fighting.”
- “Xers at large to plague society need to be shut away . . . We believe in extinguishing a fire while it is still small. It saves trouble and averts much damage.”
- “We are carry(ing) out this most difficult task for the love of our people. (There is) no defect within us, in our soul, or in our character.”
- “We must constantly ask ourselves, ‘Who is, or would be an opponent in case of war? Who is an ideological opponent, that is, who is under X’s influence’? We must clearly realize, that X is a diabolical teaching, for it appeals to the meanest and lowest instincts of mankind and makes a religion of this.”
- “We want to exalt aggressive action, the racing foot, the fatal leap, the smack and the punch.”
- “This is heroism…This is violence of which I approve and which I exalt. This is the violence of X.”
- “When X was massacred that was a good thing indeed.”
- “If you’re not anti-X, you are, by definition, pro-X.”
- 11) “When punching X launch your fist like a missile and punch through the face.”
- “The X’s . . . feelings and beliefs are endowed with a virile forceful elan. He is a real man.”
- “Anyone enjoying X-bashing . . . should know that they’re watching . . . pure kinetic beauty.”
- I will leave to the reader the 12 second investment in clicking the links which reveals the identity of the classical and post-modern fascists holding forth in the above. While the differences in styles of discourse relevant to the two periods make the job of guessing not so hard, it should be apparent that regardless of the form of expression, its contents are variations on a similar theme.The theme, it should be clear, is fascism tout court. This includes among other salient aspects, the visceral thrill of violence as an aesthetic act, the demonization of entire classes of individuals as beneath contempt or (“deplorable” as they were famously described), the assumption that the other side is of a fundamentally lower order and incapable of rational discourse, the accusation that those not supporting the most extreme tactics are in league with the enemy, the conviction that violence undertaken by our own side can be morally justified and that it is strategically wise even when all evidence suggests otherwise, celebrating the inherent virtues of masculine aggression and manliness while denigrating as cowards those who refuse to “support” the heros on the front lines. Once this is recognized, identifying those calling themselves “anti-fascists” as “fascist” is as simple as seeing beyond packaging. Both are the same product just as much as Coke and Pepsi are colas being sold under different labels.I should note here that most of the “anti-fascist” quotations from the above were drawn from on-line exchanges, usually accompanied by numerous comments. This feedback was useful in that it quickly became clear that they were reflecting a widespread if not dominant view: endorsements or incitements to violence were almost always received with numerous “likes”, Those expressing any degree of disapproval were generally ridiculed, trivialized or shamed. In fact, I myself was mocked by a leading “antifa” celebrity for the relative obscurity of my public profile compared to his.https://twitter.com/ciccmaher/status/881245418386063360
It is a point I will immediately concede, and which I had already written about: What goes under the rather absurdist name of “antifa” is unquestionably a significant presence among some sectors, particularly the most vocal and emotionally invested sectors, of the left.
Whether that’s a good thing is another question altogether.
In particular, those with a relatively long memory will be among those having doubts. They will recall the late sixties when the huge mass movement which had developed in opposition to the war in Vietnam began to question its previous committment to non-violence in favor of what was euphemistically known as “direct action.”
It is believed by many that those advocating non-violence did so to avoid making a serious committment to the struggle, mainly well intentioned suburban liberals of the sort legendarily caricatured by Phil Ochs for having little at stake. What this generalization misses is that allied with this group were those who had the most at stake, namely the Vietnamese people themselves whose concern, which they expressed to anti-war activists, was to end the murderous assault to which they were subjected.
What they recognized was that the shift away from non-violence was devastating to their attempts to defend themselves. Violent confrontation of the sort advocated by the Weather faction and others, rather then reducing support, resulted in increased support for the war among the broad public. The latter would then more or less immediately become a justification for intensified bombing and a hardening of the U.S. negotiating position. On this basis, the Vietnamese continually pleaded with the peace movement to enact the mildest forms of protest. These engaged the largest constituency, uniting blue collar workers, African American ministers, professional athletes, Nobel prize winning scientists and pop music megastars in opposition to militarist elements within the national security apparatus and the Pentagon.
The battle for the U.S. peace movement was one the Vietnamese lost with almost unimaginably tragic consequences. The 1972 election of the “law and order” candidate Nixon in a rout over the peace candidate McGovern predictably resulted not only in a continuation of the orgy of death in Vietnam but also its further expansion throughout Southeast Asia. The millions of lives thus lost were in part the direct responsibility of those on the left for whom violent confrontation, as was predicted, had exactly the opposite effect of what they were claiming to want to achieve.
For those who recall it, the current climate evokes a painful sense of deja vu. The election of a far right ideologue who views the left, and capitalizes on viewing the left, with complete contempt has foreclosed hopes for even modest progressive change. Now more marginal than perhaps any period in its history, any attempts by the left to influence policy outcomes seem misplaced, if not delusional.
But those capitulating to hopelessness blind themselves to certain unmistakeable signs of hope which the crisis has precipitated, namely, the extraordinary showing of the Sanders campaign, and its successor organizations such as OurRevolution, Brand New Congress and Justice Democrats. Rather than invest activist energies in developing these and supporting initiatives they are undertaking, such as the push for Single Payer in California, direct action/antifa advocates see change as only possible completely outside of the political system. The potential for an electoral humiliation for the right in 2018 and 2020 complementing strong showings by candidates from within the Sanders wing is written off by them as delusional. The best we can do, according to their logic, is to inflict pain, injury and dental costs on those in control of the system and jail terms for ourselves.
But to imagine these will have any impact on the decisions to impose still more suffering, military aggression and environmental catastrophe is a fantasy. Lashing out is not only sure to become the justification for still more intensified repression, as it did during the Vietnam period, it will marginalize the left still further, driving those who should become part of a resistance to corporate dominance of the political and economic system into the arms of the right.
In fact, it is not fascist tactics but the contempt for them by the overwhelming majority of the public which has already become a recruiting tool for the right. As the flood of reactions to the Richard Spencer assault attest, the right simply noted that resorting to fists was a direct acknowledgement of the left’s arguments having failed to convince. And many who were previously unmoved exercised kindergarten logic and found themselves more in agreement with the right than those calling themselves “left”.
It is for this reason, among many others that, rather than being the solution, much of what goes under the name of “antifa” is the disease of which it claims to be the cure.