The Problem with Antifascism

I wanted to call this essay “Why I am not Antifascist,” but I thought about how the uncharitable would conclude, “You mean you aren’t opposed to fascism?” It should be clear from my blogs that I am opposed to fascism. I find it hard to believe anybody wouldn’t be opposed to fascism. History has shown us the horrors fascist practice brings. It is profoundly illiberal and antidemocratic practice ( a proper treatment of its form and content requires at minimum a dedicated essay, so I will have to put that to one side for now).

At any rate, given my opposition to fascism, I am being told in memes and commentary on social media that I should self-identify as an “antifascist.” After all, the commentary goes, antifascism is the antithesis of profascism (an odd construction given that a fascism is by definition profascist). But antifascism is not the antithesis of fascism. Antifascism is a dangerous worldview and political practice. It is like fascism. I want to explain why in this blog entry.

Former antifa organizer Scott Crow once told an interviewer, speaking about fascists, “The idea in Antifa is that we go where they go. That hate speech is not free speech. That if you are endangering people with what you say and the actions that are behind them, then you do not have the right to do that. And so we go to cause conflict, to shut them down where they are, because we don’t believe that Nazis or fascists of any stripe should have a mouthpiece.”

Crow’s statement of antifascist principle should terrify those of us who believe in liberty and democracy and basic human decency. In practice, Antifa cast a very large net, one that catches run-of-the-mill conservatives and then punches them in the nose. When I hear somebody telling me that hate speech is not free speech, I wonder who the omniscient wise guy is (the “Oracle”), what central office he occupies (the “Ministry of Truth”), determining which speech is hateful and which speech is not—as if this can be separated from ideology. Who can I trust to tell me what speech is hateful? How about myself? I’m sure you have seen Antifa members—do you trust them to tell you what to think and say? They’re clowns.

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When Antifa and those who glamorize them worry about the consequences of ideas, do they include the actions antifascist ideas incite? Why would the rights of a single person be conditioned upon the judgment of an organization that spouts nonsense and beats people up? The Taliban use this tone of voice (and spout nonsense). When Crow says Antifa “go to cause conflict,” why doesn’t he just come right out and say that this means vandalizing property and assaulting people?

Why shouldn’t fascists enjoy the same rights of expression that Antifa claims for itself? After all, there isn’t much difference between the two of them except the sides upon which they claim to stand. In case you aren’t up on the principles of civil libertarianism and the history of authoritarian repression and violence, what Crow is saying and what Antifa do in practice is perfectly in line with fascist thinking and action about free association, assembly, and speech and expression. Antifascism is the authoritarian attitude in its paradigmatic form. Antifa is illiberal and antidemocratic, bent on violating fundamental human rights. It’s a toxic ideology. Just like fascism.

Progressives want to portray fascism and antifascism as thesis and antithesis. They want us to think in crude binary language. But they are in fact alternatives on one side of the political dynamic, comrades in authoritarian thinking, with antifascism lying at the far left of the authoritarian end of the authoritarian v. libertarian spectrum. Antifa claims the left. So what? The left isn’t monolithic. The left includes liberty and and democracy minded folks, on the one hand, and authoritarian and totalitarian minded folks, on the other. Antifa claims to anarchism, communism, and socialism, political economy is hardly important (or apparent, frankly) for a group that fetishizes street violence—you know, like neonazis do (who also claim to be socialist).

Antifascism is the perfect way to describe this attitude because it is the mirror image of fascism, which is to say it is a reflection of itself. Like antimatter is to matter in physics. If they only annihilated each other, then that’d be fine. To the vacuum with the lot of them, as far as I’m concerned—as long as it is by their own hands. But annihilation in social life generates energy that affects its surroundings. And even without its identical matter to confront, the antimatter in this case is on the prowl for something to annihilate. Since there are so few fascists left in the world today, and these few hardly leave their parents basements anymore (not because of Antifa), Antifa is left exploiting black anguish for attention and attacking police officers, those who are duty-bound to defend people and property from violence and destruction.

So what is the alternative to the fascism-antifascism binary? Small “d” democratic and libertarian-minded ethics, those principles—civl rights, feminism, humanism, liberalism, secularism, and scientific-rationalism—that have produced the most just and most technologically-advanced and prosperous civilization in the history of humanity. Antifascists want to tear all that down because a just world is a world without them, especially since justice doesn’t need them. More than this, justice is difficult to achieve with them around. Their idea of utopia is a punk concert forever. And while punk music is great, a society based on its image would vanish faster than the punk movement did. Unlike punk, anarchism would leave civilization in ruins.

There are persons around with characterological traits that suggest an appreciation for fascist attitudes and rituals. Fortunately, these days, such persons are rare animals. To be sure, if the traits and attitudes are organized into a cohesive worldview, and if there is a compelling force that steers that worldview, that directs political and moral action, then fascism can threaten society once more. But there is no mass-based fascist movement threatening society. There is, of course, a great deal of hype about fascism, just as there is hype about the devil in Christianity. But we must leave hyperbole to the religious fanatic.

The threat is not from old school fascism. There is a much greater threat facing us. Antifa is not in back of a regressive countermovement threatening our republic. Antifa is a blatant manifestation of the threat to civilization. The danger is far greater than those defacing and toppling statues, beating people in the streets, the lawless occupation of neighborhoods, the smashing of stained glass and the burning of churches. The Democratic Party, and even some Republicans, are encouraging this because racial division benefits those they represent: the corporations that rule the earth. Why do we see the convergence of the bureaucratic collectivism of the East and the corporate bureaucratic statism of the West? Both express a profoundly antidemocratic and illiberal logic that reduces citizens to subjects. Those of us who believe in freedom and dignity are staring authoritarianism in the face. People must grasp this moment. It’s been building for decades. It is finally realizing itself on the streets.

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

2 thoughts on “The Problem with Antifascism”

  1. So many big assumptions.
    It easy to create an argument for a specific outcome when you define the terms of what something is and/or is not. It is always good to check for logical fallacies.

    Antifa a greater threat than fascism – seriously! I think not.

    1. Antifa is what it purports to combat. Moreover, there is no serious rightwing fascist threat today. The fascistic analog is the corporate state. So the question isn’t whether it is a greater threat than fascism. The problem is the threat of the revolution from above for which Antifa serves as foot soldiers.

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