G.D. Idamett 
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Re: “LETTER: Antifa‚Äôs Slippery Logic Is Hard to Pin Down

I read Chris Lister's letter to the editor in Style Weekly from September 19th entitled "Antifa's Slippery Logic is Hard to Pin Down" https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/letter-antifas-slippery-logic-is-hard-to-pin-down/Content?oid=4721995 . The article was written in response to Karen Newton's "A New Book Aims to Clarify Antifa's True Mission and the Author is Coming to Richmond" https://www.styleweekly.com/richmond/a-new-book-aims-to-clarify-antifas-true-mission-and-the-author-is-coming-to-richmond/Content?oid=4581746 which discusses Mark Bray's new book entitled "Antifa". Lister's letter raises a number of legitimate criticisms and questions that I would like to address as a someone who has read "Antifa".
First, the main issue that Lister seems to be at odds with is the ambiguity he sees in defining the terms around "fascism". While it is correct to say that Karen Newton's piece does not explicitly address what constitutes fascism and fascists, Mark Bray has in his new book. In fact history that helps us to define and identify the exact nature of fascism is an underlying theme that develops throughout the entirety of his book. Early on he introduces the political scientist Robert Paxton's working definition:
"a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion."
Bray does not stop there though in his attempt to contextualize what constitutes fascism and fascists. Although it says in the introduction of "Antifa" that his intent is not to write the history of fascism, he nearly does just that through his examination of the historical roots of several fascist movements across Europe and North America starting from the late 19th century, from Jeunesses Patriotes, to Mosley's Blackshirts, to neo-nazis in the skinhead punk rock scene in the 1990's. Illustrating this history of fascism is an effect of Bray's belaboured task in outlining a history of anti-fascism. He shows that in nearly every moment in history that there have been fascist movements, there have also been those willing to oppose them, whether successful or not.
So although Lister is concerned with the "slippery logic" of undefined fascism, that is simply not an element of Bray's work, nor does it seem to be an element of any of the movements outlined.
Lister goes on to seem concerned that defining who constitutes as a "fascist" is dependent upon disagreements with anti-fascists, as though anti-fascist movements are in fact not targeting groups based off of working definitions of fascism and instead incoherent mobs. This in many ways ignores the tactical and ethical debates upon which anti-fascist movements have thrived and grown from. A common theme throughout "Antifa" is the recurrence of movements finding themselves at impasses, forced to reassess the modes by which their activism takes place. In fact some of these internal conflicts have even led to fissures within movements. In one example within German anti-fascist groups in the 1980's, anti-fascist women seeking an alternative to the "prevalent machismo and patriarchal behavior of their male counterparts" created their own feminist antifa groups called "fantifa". In another example, tensions arose towards British anti-fascists in the mid 1990's because of their emphasis on social class without an anti-imperialist framework like the German antifa scene at the time. Around the same time the German Autonome Antifa declined an invitation to join the International Militant Anti-Fascist Network with the criticism that the other groups focused too much on confrontation and ignored other important tactics. In reading Bray's "Antifa", it becomes obvious that anti-fascist movements have in fact represented a diversity of people and plurality of beliefs all collaborating to balance these tensions to work towards a common goal.
I think these few examples serve to illustrate that historically, anti-fascist movements are in fact ripe with debate, so much so that it may even at times hinder these movements from being as potent as possible. This demonstrates how the tactical approach of anti-fascist movements has historically fallen in line behind the philosophical and moral perspectives that draw people to that work in the first place.
Lister writes a number of hypothetical questions about what makes someone a fascist, enumerating several topics that are sources of contentious debate in the US right now. With those questions he seems to be hinting at the idea that because one can expect anti-fascists to oppose certain perspectives, that in fact anti-fascists unfairly base their understanding of what makes someone a fascist by targeting the beholders of individual beliefs that are irrelevant to fascism. While for some this may seem accurate based on how events are depicted in the media, this is in fact a gross misunderstanding of how anti-fascist movements organize to target specific fascists. As Newton correctly points out in their article, the vast majority of antifa activism rests on data collection and identification. They are not wading through millions of harmless conservatives on Donald Trump's Twitter for this task, as would seem feasible in Lister's perspective, but instead collecting intelligence on and infilitrating explicitly fascist organizing (this remains the task even when fascists brag about their attempts to blend in as Trump supporters https://twitter.com/UR_Ninja/status/905074851433598976 .)
In most cases, until recently, defining who is a fascist in these terms has been as easy as looking for the guys with the swastikas yelling "white power". But it would be a grave error to assume that such an explicit representation of fascism is the only form it can take, especially right now.
Again, the underlying theme of Lister's letter is that fascism has not been defined for him, and so it may not exist as far as we know. To me this immediately echoes Trump's reaction to criticism for not calling out white supremacists sooner after the Unite the Right Rally in Charlottesville. In a press conference he said, '"Define alt-right to me," Trump replied, pointing to the reporter. "You define it. Define it for me. Come on. Let's go."' http://www.businessinsider.com/trump-define-the-alt-right-2017-8 . This is not, however, to say that I am suggesting Lister is intentional in replicating such a maligned sentiment.
On the contrary, I think Lister has fallen into a trap that is amongst the predominant sentiment of media being published on this subject at the moment. A trap that is illustrative of not doing the due research on a topic that is this important. Unfortunately, as the innumerable articles on Richard Spencer's "clean cut" demeanor seem to suggest, the "alt-right" in fact relies on people not doing their homework about what constitutes fascist organizing and who is a fascist.
I would like to suggest to readers that they do not also fall into this trap. If you are well-meaning, I challenge you to do your research by reading on this history in Mark Bray's "Antifa". I also challenge you to look at the forums and websites that the alt-right and other far-right factions use to push their message. I feel confident that any confusion you had on which side is which will be resolved immediately.
I think in reading Bray's work that you will find that anti-fascism has a lineage as old as modern politics, and has at times constituted mass movements and helped redefine societies. For those that are legitimately concerned about the rise of the far-right in the US, it is your responsibility to develop a popular movement that takes our contemporary situation gravely and confronts it as such. The risk of this not happening is a society defined by a far-right "tiny fringe", one which already suggests it has connections to the White House (http://www.newsweek.com/alt-right-chief-boasts-secret-white-house-links-undercover-activist-668149).
But as tiny to some as it may seem, let us also not fall victim to underestimating the potential for small groups of fascists. Mark Bray's "Antifa":
"It doesn't take that many fascists to make fascism.
In 1919 Mussolini's fasci had a hundred members. When Mussolini was appointed prime minister in 1922 only about 7 to 8 percent of the Italian population... belonged to his PNF (Parito Nazionale Fascista). The German Workers' Party only had fifty-four members when Hitler attended his first meeting after the First World War. When Hitler was appointed chancellor in 1933, only about 1.3 percent of the population belonged to the NSDAP (the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, or National Socialist German Workers' Party.) Across Europe, massive fascist parties emerged out of what were initially small nuclei during the interwar period. More recently, the electoral success of many previously miniscule fascist(ic) parties after the financial crisis of 2008, and the recent wave of migration, has demonstrated the potential for far-right growth when circumstances become favorable...
Anti-fascists have concluded that since the future is unwritten, and fascism often emerges out of small, marginal groups, every fascist or white-supremacist group should be treated as if they could be Mussolini's one hundred fasci, or the fifty-four members of the German Workers' Party that provided Hitler's first stepping stone."

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Posted by G.D. Idamett on 10/20/2017 at 8:45 AM

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