Antifa as a concept was invented by Marxist-Leninists. During the years leading up to the rise of Nazi Germany, when Germany’s social democrats were sabotaging the unity of the anti-Hitler coalition by maneuvering to violently prevent revolution, the country’s Marxists were the ones fighting to prevent dictatorship and genocide. They created Antifaschistische Aktion, an armed organization dedicated to stopping the fascists from terrorizing the people. The treacherous actions of the left anti-communists were too damaging for them to undo the effects of, but like other defeated communists such as the Panthers, what they achieved can still set an example for future generations.
Today’s anti-fascists have access to the historical knowledge that shows us the route towards eliminating fascism, and fulfilling the mission of that original iteration of antifa. The first part of this knowledge comes from the actions of the Soviet Union in World War II, wherein fascist Germany and Italy were successfully defeated. They were defeated because they were fighting against a socialist country, the USSR, that overwhelmingly bore the costs of combating the Third Reich. The USSR won because unlike the non-committal imperial powers that it was temporarily allied with in combating Hitler, or the detrimentally “anti-authoritarian” Spanish anarchists who it was temporarily allied with in combating Franco, it had a serious strategy for bringing down a fascist regime.
Despite the anti-communist myths about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact having enabled Hitler, it was indispensable in letting Stalin prepare to beat Germany. When the correct strategic time came, and the USSR’s superior strength was clear, Stalin didn’t neglect any of the steps necessary for ending the Holocaust, unlike the United States did. Washington’s refusal to bomb Auschwitz, a decision that these same anti-communists have shamelessly defended the U.S. for, was a mistake that the USSR corrected by liberating the concentration camp.
Another mistake anti-communists made in fighting fascism that the USSR didn’t make was to neglect anti-fascist repression, under the rationale that this would be too “authoritarian.” Whereas the USSR used the war as an opportunity to establish the anti-fascist haven which was East Germany, providing that section of Germany’s workers with decades of superior economic development and democratic rights compared to the West, Spain’s anarchists declined to assert their own authority when given the equivalent opportunity. They had the chance to implement their version of workers democracy—however flawed it was from a Marxist perspective—and then refused to. The consequence was that they doomed Spain to fascist tyranny.
If this sounds unfair, my assertion comes straight from anarchist thinkers who’ve studied the conflict. As contributor to The Anarchist Library Wayne Price writes about an analysis by another anarchist Chris Day, the Iberian Anarchist Federation and the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo made a fatal error by purposefully disempowering themselves out of a sense of principle:
These anarchist leaders saw only two alternatives: (1) The FAI-CNT takes power by itself. But the FAI was a minority even within the CNT; probably most CNT unionists were not anarchists. There were many other workers and others who did not agree with the full politics of the FAI-CNT. In the country at large, half the working class was organized into the reform socialists union (UGT) and others were not in any union. Therefore, if the FAI overthrew the state and established itself as the ruler, the result would have been a one-party dictatorship. As far as it goes, the logic of this scenario seems correct. (2) Working together with all other anti-fascist forces, including not only the reform socialists but the various capitalist parties and accepting the existing hegemony of the liberal-capitalist state. This started them on a road which led to anarchist ministers in a capitalist government, the defeat of the revolution, and the victory of fascism in Spain (shortly before the start of World War II). Chris indicates that the anarchists should have taken the first alternative.
Today’s anarchists would never admit it (it’s hard for them even to admit their predecessors were wrong about how to fight fascism), but these historical lessons vindicate Russia’s intervention in Ukraine. When Putin took action in Ukraine, he was taking example from the knowledge on anti-fascist strategy that Russia’s communists hold on to. These communists pressured him into starting Operation Z because if they were still in power, Russia would have sought to demilitarize and denazify Ukraine in 2014, right when Kiev’s ruling fascist junta first took power. Washington’s coup installed a regime that began threatening Ukraine’s Russian speakers with ethnic cleansing as soon as it got the opportunity, and there immediately appeared a humanitarian mandate for taking away this regime’s tools for violence. A socialist Russia would have embarked upon Operation Z years earlier both because its foreign policy would lack the opportunistic motives which define Putin, and because a socialist country has the self-sufficiency to be able to better withstand sanctions.
By extension, Marxist education helps one understand why Operation Z should be supported. The essence of Marxism is that it’s a theory of historical development. It’s concerned not with what’s most ideologically or “morally” pure, but with what best transitions society towards revolution. A Marxist who properly understands Marxism is able to recognize the bourgeois nature of the Russian state as the secondary contradiction; the primary contradiction is imperialism, which by the Leninist (i.e. non-liberal) definition does not come from Russia. In the 21st century, the only imperialist states are the U.S. and its wealthiest allies, as they’re the only powers whose economic base resides in extraction from the peripheral countries. Russia’s military countering of imperialism, like China’s economic countering of it, is therefore revolutionary in character.
This is both because combating Ukrainian fascism is positive for Ukraine’s development towards proletarian revolution, and because combating imperialism brings the entire globe closer towards socialism. Operation Z’s detractors argue that there are “fascists on both sides,” but they leave out crucial context: that whereas the fascists have taken even greater control over the Ukrainian state due to the conflict’s impacts, the fascists on the Russian side have become further sidelined. Russia’s triangulating bourgeois government is increasingly bending to the will of the communists, making Ukraine the only state between the two that has a fascist character.
These three great anti-fascist lessons of the last century—that anti-fascist forces must act strategically, that utilizing authority is the only way to defeat fascism, and that any state combating fascism is the state which should be supported in the war’s context—are disregarded by the younger generation of anarchists. Unlike many of the older anarchists, who’ve learned through social practice that authority is a necessary tool, the most vocal among these new ones have formed their ideas entirely online. Which has led them to embrace an aggressive individualism, viewing everything through a myopic lens in which their own “autonomy” is more important than the class struggle. It’s a corrupt mindset, because its foundation is brazen selfishness. Which, due to the sectarian social media combativeness that their practice revolves around, has led them to aggressively disregard nuance or any elements of a dialectical analysis. As Parenti warned about these types of anarchists long before social media, their goal is to fight against communists more than it is to fight against the ruling class.
From this aggressively anti-Leninist culture comes a “leftist” ideology that’s decisively aligned with the State Department on foreign policy questions. Like the domestically focused right-wingers, they deny loving imperialism, but the mere fact that they promote the State Department’s propaganda makes them pro-imperialist. The impacts of one’s actions matter more than one’s intentions, and the impact of advancing imperialist narratives is for imperialism’s defeat to be made harder. A movement that’s founded upon this disregard for the consequences of the actions it takes, that doesn’t care about how its effective support for things like the Ukraine aid project is assisting in the global rise of fascism, can’t be a proper ideological vanguard for the anti-fascist movement. When the predominant activists who claim to represent “antifa” are the same types of actors who most vocally support Ukraine from a leftist lens, and most vocally attack those who speak out against the NATO narratives, antifa has been co-opted by forces which go against its original mission.
When the groups calling themselves “antifa” are overwhelmingly led not by serious Marxists, nor by politically underdeveloped leftists, but by bad-faith anarchists who have no desire to fix their movement’s ideological bankruptcy, “antifa” ironically can become a force for violent counterrevolution. These are the types of anarchists who represent a step down from their more ideologically competent older counterparts like Chomsky, who merely argue that Leninism “ruined the Russian revolution.” This argument is incorrect of course, but the new generation of radical liberals has taken it to its logical conclusion by normalizing the idea that Leninism is “red fascism.”
Combine this idea with the eagerness for violent action that street-level movement wreckers share, and you get a perverse iteration of “antifa” that’s been weaponized against the anti-fascist cause. What the feds have done is cultivate a pipeline that starts with absorbing left anti-communist ideas, and ends with the ideological targets becoming radicalized into tools for terrorizing those who actually work to advance class struggle. All under a twisted new definition of “fighting fascism.” Communists must rebuild the true antifa by having our cadres combat fascism, which entails countering fascism’s biggest source of support worldwide: U.S. foreign policy.
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