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In the wake of Saturday’s violence at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, condemnations of the marchers’ cause came quickly.
Except from the White House. In remarks Saturday and in the following days, President Donald Trump made references to “many sides” and violent responses from counter-protesters. Conservative critics were more explicit in pinning some blame for violence on Antifa.
Antifa is short for anti-fascist, a non-centralized ideology whose followers, as the Washington Post says, have a “willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly” which “distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists.”
Antifascists argue that after the horrors of chattel slavery and the Holocaust, physical violence against white supremacists is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective. We should not, they argue, abstractly assess the ethical status of violence in the absence of the values and context behind it. Instead, they put forth an ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.
The newly published “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook” traces Antifa’s history and tactics, from its origins fighting the wave of European fascism in the early 20th century to protests in Berkeley, California, and Charlottesville today.
- Mark Bray Historian of human rights, terrorism and political radicalism in Middle Europe; a lecturer at Dartmouth College; author of the new book "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook"
- Maria Stephan Director, Program on Nonviolent Action at the U.S. Institute of Peace; co-author of "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Non-Violent Conflict"
Read An Excerpt Of "Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook" by Mark Bray
I wish there were no need for this book. But someone burned down the Victoria Islamic Center in Victoria, Texas, hours after the announcement of the Trump administration’s Muslim ban. And weeks after a flurry of more than a hundred proposed anti-LGBTQ laws in early 2017, a man smashed through the front door of Casa Ruby, a Washington, D.C., transgender advocacy center, and assaulted a trans woman as he shouted “I’m gonna kill you, faggot!” A day after Donald Trump’s election, Latino students at Royal Oak Middle School in Michigan were brought to tears by their classmates’ chants of “Build that wall!” And then in March, a white-supremacist army veteran who had taken a bus to New York to “target black males” stabbed a homeless black man named Timothy Caughman to death. That same month, a dozen tombstones were toppled and defaced in the Waad Hakolel Jewish cemetery in Rochester, New York. Among those resting in peace in Waad Hakolel is my grandmother’s cousin Ida Braiman, who was fatally shot by an employer months after she arrived in the United States from Ukraine as she stood on a picket line with other immigrant Jewish garment workers in 1913. The recent spate of Jewish cemetery desecrations in Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and elsewhere occurred under the Trump administration, whose statement on the Holocaust omitted any reference to Jews, whose press secretary denied that Hitler gassed anyone, and whose chief advisor was one of the most prominent figures of the notoriously anti-Semitic alt-right. As Walter Benjamin wrote at the apogee of interwar fascism, “even the dead will not be safe from the enemy if he wins.”
Despite a resurgence of white-supremacist and fascistic violence across Europe and the United States, most consider the dead and the living to be safe because they believe fascism to be safely dead—in their eyes, the fascist enemy lost definitively in 1945. But the dead were not so safe when Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi described spending time in Mussolini’s prison camps as a “vacation” in 2003 or the French Front National (National Front) politician Jean-Marie Le Pen called Nazi gas chambers a mere “detail” of history in 2015. Neo-Nazis who in recent years have littered the sites of former Jewish ghettoes in Warsaw, Bialystok, and other Polish cities with white-power graffiti know very well how their Celtic crosses target the dead as well as the living. The Haitian anthropologist Michel-Rolph Trouillot cautions us that “. . . the past does not exist independently from the present . . . The past—or more accurately, pastness is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past.”
This book takes seriously the transhistorical terror of fascism and the power of conjuring the dead when fighting back. It is an unabashedly partisan call to arms that aims to equip a new generation of anti-fascists with the history and theory necessary to defeat the resurgent Far Right. Based on sixty-one interviews with current and former anti-fascists from seventeen countries in North America and Europe, it expands our geographical and temporal outlook to contextualize opposition to Trump and the alt-right within a much wider and broader terrain of resistance. Antifa is the first transnational history of postwar anti-fascism in English and the most comprehensive in any language. It argues that militant anti-fascism is a reasonable, historically informed response to the fascist threat that persisted after 1945 and that has become especially menacing in recent years. You may not walk away from this book a convinced anti-fascist, but at least you will understand that anti-fascism is a legitimate political tradition growing out of a century of global struggle.
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