IAS: Beyond Anti-Fascism But Not Without It

As the descent of US politics into a racist, xenophobic fascism continues, I thought it would be useful to repost a recently revised statement on anti-fascism by the Institute for Anarchist Studies.

Beyond Anti-Fascism But Not Without It

Since Trump’s election, fascism has barged on to center stage, moving more brazenly into public space, mainstream media and public discourse than it has in decades. This renewed and emboldened presence of overt fascism has been met by an explosion of analysis and discussion about its history and politics, as well as the conditions necessary for its emergence. In equal proportion, growing attention is also being paid to the history and politics of anti-fascism. This anti-fascist response is welcome, and it is crucially needed.

Meanwhile, women, queer and trans people, and communities of color (particularly Black and Indigenous communities) who have been experiencing related forms of violence and raw hate for years have had full cognizance of the implications. Yet their analysis and resistance has not been accorded the same urgency and attention—even keeping in mind the major tectonic shifts initiated by Black Lives Matter and the Indigenous blockade movement against fossil fuel pipelines, as exemplified by Standing Rock,

When the first great global anti-fascist Popular Front emerged in the 1930s, Pan-Africanists and Asian anti-colonialists pointed out to their white leftist comrades and allies that what appeared unprecedented and alarming to them when it reared its head in Europe had long been familiar to those on the wrong side of the color line. The logics of white supremacy, and its institutions and systematized practices—including the brutal dehumanization (racialization, criminalization) of the “Other” and violent misogyny—had all been routine components of the apparatus of colonization, conquest, and dispossession. Thus, those logics, rhetorics and practices had merely continued along their obvious trajectories by blossoming into fascism at home, where the shock was that they appeared close by and that they visited upon “us,” rather than acting far away, upon “them.”

Black and brown revolutionaries declared (and proved) themselves ready and eager to step up and join the fight against fascism, while also insisting that these connections not be overlooked: that if Hitler, Mussolini and Franco were confronted without simultaneously dismantling the British and French empires and the US racial regime, then the whole enterprise would be fatally flawed. Perhaps the present resurgence shows that they were right.

So what about now? What comparable connections need to be stated and foregrounded?

We need analysis and historical contextualization of fascism and anti-fascism, but we also need analysis and historical contextualization of their relationship to longstanding anti-racist resistance and decolonization efforts. Some of this has been done, but we need to pay more attention to this and further develop it. We need to talk about how institutionalized forms of white supremacy connect to the racism and imperialism of US world interventions, which in turn connect to systematic police murders and the mass incarceration of poor people and people of color. In order to provide a fuller perspective, and therefore a more effective ability to fight back, we need to understand what’s different and distinct about the present moment, while also understanding its intersections and continuities. We need to hear more from those who have never stopped experiencing, recognizing, calling out and fighting back against the not-so-dormant forces that have produced this latest crop of malevolent fascist blossoms.

We should appreciate those who have already laid out their analyses; they are essential to our struggle. Nevertheless, we also need to hear from the rest of the comrades, organizers, writers, and everyday folks. This is happening, and we want to amplify it. (For example, check out the work of Alexis Pauline Gumbs, Dilar Dirik, William C. Anderson and Zoé Samudzi, Robyn Spencer, the Upping the Anti collective, among others. We also refer readers to the work of Black anarchists such as Ashanti Alston, Lorenzo Kom’boa Ervin, Walidah Imarisha, and Kuwasi Balagoon.)

If you are writing, talking, and speaking out publicly and you want another forum for what you have to say, write us at PerspectivesonAnarchistTheory@gmail.com. Whether you have only an idea, a rough draft that needs work, or a fully formed and polished piece, we’d like to see what you’re thinking and consider it for publication. Send it to us!

Perspectives on Anarchist Theory collective, Institute for Anarchist Studies, June 2018

While writing, disseminating, reflecting on, and rewriting the Beyond Anti-Fascism call has been a collective effort, the first draft and original conceptualization for it was done by Perspectives collective member Maia Ramnath. Maia would like to address the objections to the original call, and speak to the reflections generated by them here:

“Yes, I stated that some connections weren’t being made, at least publicly, in the most publicized anti-fascist talks and writings, and reviews of those writings. I had observed this directly, for example having attended such talks in which the speaker on the history of anti-fascism admirably presented the material within his stated parameters, and also pled ignorance or unpreparedness to address connections to other struggles that exceeded those parameters when audience members pointed out or raised questions about those things, namely anti-colonial struggles or anti-racist struggles outside the European and North American experience. I’m not trying to shame anyone; I took this side-stepping to be done in good faith and ethical circumspection. The friendly critiques being offered by these questioners, and by the Beyond Anti-Fascism statement, were arguments for addition, not replacement; for intersectional connection, not zero-sum correction. I don’t understand how suggestions for adding more voices should be taken as a dismissal of existing voices (did the objectors miss the “but not without it” part?).

Solidarity17x22

(Solidarity Sunflowers, by
Roger Peet)

I wish to rebut the objections on two counts.

First, to talk about identity: are people seriously saying that it’s wack to suggest that progressives/leftists/anarchists/anti-fascists with a commitment to full emancipatory aspirations should continually attend, in all our work, as part of the process of our work, to redressing the ongoing imbalances in who gets to speak? Or that anyone subjected to one modality of oppression gets a pass on also attending to other modalities of oppression? Surely that’s pretty basic and non-controversial by this point. As is what I would think would be a pretty basic and non-controversial observation that such imbalances are based not in essential identity but in historically realized institutions and material structures of oppression which we are not done dismantling.

Secondly, to talk about content: they are even missing the point I was making about content, and about historicization, by misidentifying the connection I was flagging. I was not faulting anyone for missing the connection between today’s neo-fascism, white nationalism and white supremacy with earlier 20th century forms of fascism, anti-semitism and Nazism. That’s obvious, and abhorrent. Rather, I was trying to foreground the connection between (European and North American) fascism and colonialism/imperialism, both then and now—echoing the connections made since the 1930s-40s by the likes of W.E.B. DuBois, Aime Cesaire and Hannah Arendt among others—in order to foreground its more contemporary manifestations. Maybe everyone who gives a shit should sit down for an in-depth critical discussion of Cesaire’s Discourse on Colonialism plus Arendt’s On the Origins of Totalitarianism. Actually, that could be fun and useful.

Anyway, not to get all cheesy-inspirational, but the point is: If we all did a better job of uncovering these connections, and acting upon them, our ability to fight together…rather than fighting each other, or fighting for only some of us … against all modes of racism, white supremacy, Aryan supremacy, ethno-nationalism, anti-semitism, and anti-Blackness, would be much strengthened. That way the uplift of any sector of people (in a struggle for resources) would be conceived as directly rather than inversely proportional to that of any other, and we could quit kicking the can of unfinished liberation down the road.”

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Luigi Fabbri – Reflections on Fascism

As fascist, neo-nazi, white supremacist and right-wing paramilitary groups continue to pursue their agenda in the United States with relative impunity, egged on by a racist and authoritarian President, one can only think of how fascists in the past have used the same sort of demagoguery, violence and terrorism to claw their way to power. But always behind them are very powerful interests who benefit from what the Italian anarchist, Luigi Fabbri, described as the fascist “preventative counter-revolution.” Capitalists will always hang the threat of fascism over ordinary people’s heads in order to keep them in line and to stop them from impeding the ruling classes’ own agendas. Here, I reproduce Fabbri’s introduction to his ground breaking analysis of fascism, Fascism: The Preventative Counter-Revolution. I included lengthier excerpts in Volume One of Anarchism: A Documentary History of Libertarian Ideas. Even then (1921), Fabbri was able to identify the elements of a racist fascism in the United States.

Reflections on Fascism

In spite of all the good intentions to the contrary which I brought to this essay, I have in fact failed, in examining the dark issue of fascism, to stand “above the fray”.

Many a time I have tried to suppress the pain and outrage that stirred my hand, but immediately thereafter wounded feelings surged back to offer me counsel in tune with a disturbed and aggravated state of mind. The fact is that I do not really stand above the fray. If only for personal reasons, as a matter of temperament and custom and, to a slight extent – confined to the climate in which I live – out of a professional obligation, I stand slightly apart from the active, militant movement, which is to say that my involvement in the bitter social struggle is all too slight and almost exclusively confined to my writing, even though I too am in this fight with all of my heart and mind.

For around thirty years now I have been an anarchist and revolutionary and I regard myself as another obscure soldier in the proletarian army fighting the old world: and whereas this was something in which I took pride, when fortune was smiling upon us and the working class looked, after victory upon victory, to be on the verge of the ultimate victory, I was all the more proud to feel that I was one of its own come the grey and yellow hour of disappointment and defeat. And I cherished the hope of fairly imminent revenge, since, while troops easily enthused about the prospect of imminent excitement were disappointed, I stood firm in my belief in the inevitable victory of an egalitarian, libertarian justice for all.

Maybe we needed this harsh lesson from reality. For some time past too much detritus had been building up along the way, too many thoughtless things had been said and done and unduly easy successes had attracted to our side insincere and self-seeking persons out to turn our ideal into a cloak or a kiosk. And upstarts eager to use it for self-advancement. Maybe it was good luck that made many of them less kindly and less fair, or overly complacent and indulgent of the onset of the sort of degeneration that always besets movements that look to be the strongest and on the verge of success. And, when the storm struck, and the gale swept away the detritus and all the trivia, it also swept away the insincere self-seekers. We may well lament the fact that the lightning also struck the old sturdy, fruitful tree that had borne good crops, but on the other hand, the soil will have become more fertile under the plough of pain and the whirlwind will have left the air purer and fresher.

However, while it is true that it is an ill wind that blows no good, evil is always evil and as such, must be resisted. To resist it we need to look it in the face and take the measure of it. And the modest pages that follow may prove of service to that end. They make no claim to the prize of impartiality and the most Olympian serenity, for I too am parti pris, committed to the ranks in which I march and I identify profoundly with all the oppressed, whatever their particular political background, against those who beat, murder, torch and destroy in such cavalier fashion and with such impunity today. But, however much passion may have prompted me to speak thus, I hope that I have not done any injury to the truth.

What I have written here is not a history of fascism; I have merely made the occasional reference to certain specific facts, more in support of my thesis than with any real narrative intent. So many of my assertions may appear unduly absolute and axiomatic. However, not one of those assertions does not have precise corresponding facts, many specific facts with which the newspapers have been replete for the past year or so; and I do not mean just the subversive press. One can draw up the harshest and most violent indictment of fascism on foot of documentation drawn from the conservative papers most well-disposed towards fascism and from the fascist press proper.

Moreover, the fascist phenomenon is not peculiar to Italy. It has surfaced in even more serious form in Spain and has raised its head in Germany, Hungary, the Americas and elsewhere. Nor were persecution and unlawful reaction mounted by private citizens unknown prior to the World War. In certain respects, they had precedents in the pogroms in Russia and the lynchings in the United States. What is more, the United States has always had a sort of private police in the service of the capitalists, acting in cahoots with the official police, but independently of government, in troubled times and during strikes.

Italian fascism has its own characteristics, motley origins, positions, etc. In some instances it is an improvement upon its brothers or precursors beyond the mountains or across the seas, and in some cases worse than these. But it is not entirely a novelty. From a detailed reading of Italian history from 1795 and 1860, we might well be able to trace its historical ancestry. Take, for example, the Sanfedisti: in the context of the secret societies, these seem to have begun as a patriotic, reform-minded sect, albeit sui generis; but later they turned reactionary and pro-Austrian establishment against the “red” conspirators from the Carbonari and Young Italy.

Especially in the Papal States, in Faenza, Ravenna, etc., the Sanfedisti warred with the Carbonari: but the government heaped all the blame exclusively upon the Carbonari. De Castro (Mondo Secreto, Vol. VIII) recounts: “An armed, bloodthirsty rabble wrought havoc and looted throughout the city and countryside of Frosinone in the name of defending the throne and hunted down liberals: and the government dispatched the liberals to the gallows and acquitted the brigands.”

There is nothing really new under the sun, or so it seems! And if, in the past, the most violent conspiracies against freedom and against the people proved unable to fend off new ideas, prevent the downfall of old institutions and the emergence of new ones, then today too, they will not succeed and they will not succeed in the future.

The living step into the shoes of the dead,
Hope follows mourning,
The army is unleashed and goes marching
Blithely lashing out at the vanquished.

Luigi Fabbri

Bologna, 15 October 1921