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ANTI-FASCISM WRITE-UP

Tuesday 16 April, Birkbeck College

Key questions:

  • Why is anti-fascism so white?/ What is the relationship between anti-fascism and anti-racism?
  • How can fascism be effectively combatted on the internet?
  • Is violent confrontation a necessary aspect of anti-fascist activism?
  • What is the significance of language?/ Who gets to define ‘fascism’?
  • Is it useful for anti-fascism to be subculture?
  • Is anti-fascism policing the acceptable boundaries of discourse?
  • How can you counter fascism when it is in power? / What happens when the overton window shifts and you are opposing government policies, rather than fascists on the street?
  • How useful is localism and the idea of defending one’s own ‘turf’ in anti-fascist mobilisation?
  • How can we fight fascism when it is more diffuse and fluid than its predecessors?
  • Are anti-fascists mobilising against organisations/institutions or narratives?
  • How can anti-fascists address the underlying factors that give rise to support for fascist groups and narratives?
  • How can anti-fascists counter the weaponization of the label ‘fascists’ against the left?
  • What role has anti-communism played in fascism historically?
  • Is there any value in the idea of a ‘popular front’ against fascism?
  • How can we deal with the sheer number of fascists that are being mobilised?
  • Should anti-fascists mobilise against fascism in particular, rather than the ‘far-right’ more broadly?

The History Acts session on the 16th April brought together historians of anti-fascism with anti-fascist activists to discuss what value history might have in combating fascism today. Here is a brief summary of some of the issues and ideas that were discussed.

Adam, member of Plan C and one of the hosts of 12 Rules for What, suggested that history could be a tool for anti-fascists, yet has the potential to weigh them down. Campaigns such as ‘Bring Back Rock Against Racism’ are stuck in the cultural moment of the 1970s and risk mis-reading contemporary youth culture – much of which is now orientated towards online platforms like YouTube. Although there has been progress made in the development of a counter-movement of left-wing youtubers like ContraPoints, it is difficult to know how to tackle the sheer popularity of many right-wing youtubers like PewDiePie amongst young people.  

There might be value in drawing parallels between fascists today and WW2-era fascists – such as the picture that was leaked of John Tyndall of the BNP in full Nazi uniform, or the comparison of Tommy Robinson with tape over his mouth to a similar image of Hitler – but this toxification of fascist ‘brands’ might be more difficult in the present day when it is not as easy to draw a straight line connecting key figures to WW2 fascism.

The relationship between anti-fascism and anti-racism must also be explored; anti-fascism must necessarily be anti-racist. The majority of anti-fascist activists are white, but can we expect people of colour put themselves in danger in potentially violent conflicts with fascists in the street? This raised the question of the place of violence and militancy in anti-fascist activism. Nigel Copsey, historian of anti-fascism in Britain, suggested that violence has historically been a defining feature of anti-fascism – which is necessary, effective and justified. Adam also suggested that militancy is itself a territory that needs to be contested and not simply conceded to fascists. What, however, happens when fascists withdraw from the street into ‘community politics’, or take power? How might anti-fascists develop effective techniques and tactics of mobilization which are able to adapt as fascists do?

This related to the broader question of what anti-fascists are rallying against. Anti-fascists are not necessarily organising against particular parties, groups or organisations – as in the twentieth century – but narratives, such as the ‘betrayal of brexit’, sexual grooming cases or the denial of ‘free speech’. How should anti-fascists respond when they are no longer fighting battles in the street – but government policy and the mainstream media?

Discussion also turned to how anti-fascists can address the root causes of fascism. Is ant-fascism useless if it is not combined with a structural critique of the economy? How has fascism, historically, been associated with anti-communism? Anti-fascist mobilisation can often be rooted in localism and the idea of a defending one’s own turf against fascists, but how could this local mobilisation also speak to the material deprivation communities face and offer a transformative vision for economy and society?