Nov 16, 2006

The Three-Way Fight and militant antifascism: a short review

A communiqué from a group of western U.S. antifascists recently appeared on the international class struggle anarchist news website, anarkismo. The communiqué adopts the concept of a Three Way Fight. From the title and language it is clear that the authors have followed and find an affinity with some of the concepts and debates associated with this blog. The following review of the communiqué is more tangential than in-depth, and should not be taken as an endorsement of the communiqué.

The authors (who situate themselves politically as participants in the anti-authoritarian, anti-capitalist movement) argue that there is a contemporary radical fascism that is “extremely hostile to bourgeois democracy and capitalism” as well as to the “egalitarian, anti-authoritarian values” of the authors’ own movement. This perspective parallels that of other radical and libertarian antifascists who have attempted to draw attention to the autonomous, popular and insurgent aspects of fascist movements - those historical as well as contemporary. These are sometimes seen as characteristics of a fascism in its movement developing stages as opposed to fascism in power.

This autonomous characteristic is important and often ignored (or denied) by much of the Left. Seeing fascism as a movement that is opposed to the current order helps explain why many disaffected people – middle, working, poor - are attracted to it. We can also see how such a movement can develop in the void of State order, with the reactionary forces constructing their own governing system complete with economies, defined social relations, and policing mechanism like militias.

While the authors do not deny the links sometimes existing between fascists and agencies of the State, they attempt to define fascism as being more than a pejorative for strategic approaches by a ruling class on the defensive. They describe modern fascism as a heterogeneous political consciousness based on a hyper-authoritarianism and myths for a national rebirth. These fascist ideas appeal to sectors of global society who feel alienated and marginalized by neo-liberal globalization. A central argument of the authors is made when they state,

“It can only be expected that as global capitalism continues to dominate and alienate more people, the various forms of fascism, like anti-authoritarianism, will continue to gain ground, though not necessarily at a comparable pace… A global economic or ecologic crisis will send a lot of people looking for answers, and some people will find the superficial self-serving answers they are looking for in fascism”

This is an extremely important position. One, it proposes that the emergence of a fascist consciousness is the product of peoples own choices, based on their own experiences in the face of prevailing socio-economic conditions, rather than their thoughts being a manufactured ideology imposed from outside (although fascism certainly is an ideology about a final imposition of values and social patterns). Two, it makes clear that anti-authoritarians are facing an opposition other than the current State.

At this point the communiqué transitions into an argument for the necessity of armed defense (offense?) against fascism. The authors use two examples to illustrate their point. The first is the 1979 Greensboro Massacre and the second is the emergence of armed White militias in New Orleans immediately following the Hurricane Katrina.

Not having any fundamental differences with either the examples that the authors outline or the political framework they are laying out, I still have some reservations and questions regarding the communiqué.

Admittedly I was prepared to not like the piece. Within the radical antifascist camps there is a tendency to emphasize the action component over the more difficult development of ideas and analysis. In part, this is because much of the U.S. Left only gives lip service to militancy and the use of force when necessary, especially in combating fascists. While politicos want to argue politics into a coma, radical antifascists understand the urgency and need for “direct action”, now, and not after the speeches and paper sales. Still, this overemphasis can easily become an over-hyping, a self justifying of the antifascist groups existence, where action gets center stage and the more difficult development of political positions is put off or superficially developed.

The result is that ideas and strategies within the antifascist movements become stunted. The lack of ongoing and critical dialogue (internal and external to the movement’s organizations) can lead to general confusion over what the struggle is about, and possibly, and unfortunately all to often, sections of the movement adopting exaggerated and potentially dangerous stances.

The title of the communiqués, Armed Resistance and Militant Anti-Fascism, and the articles emphasis on armed action, initially, reinforced what I was expecting.

The article does, if only briefly, attempt to elaborate a position, a position that is at odds with much Left conceptions of fascism. The authors then cite examples of antifascist work that attempts to build more broadly and build semi-popular action.

In the communiqué the author’s state,

“The presence of whites and blacks working together to defend a community against the racist militias was often cited locally by residents as having helped ease the tensions in a racially and economically divided area that was devastated before Katrina ever came ashore. The militia’s power had been clearly diminished after facing armed opposition, and their power withered away as free medical clinics and aid distribution sites were developed into full operations”

There is no doubt that the action cited here defended a community against racist terror attacks. The authors point out that residents working with antifascists created new spaces for survival. This organizing, with real risks involved, is an essential in creating a radical consciousness (individual as well as collective) that defies the State’s logic. This autonomous action prepares people to act independently and can prefigure more substantial breaks with the State in the future.

Still, the armed component of the communiqué resonates louder than the examples of intersections between conscious antifascists and a community under attack. Perhaps the article is not intended to be a full analysis – it is fairly short – but I think that the possible result is that the action side of things becomes itself the political strategy.

Next, I ask what is the reason for the release of the communiqué? A survey of U.S. antifascist activity through news, periodicals or websites shows little discussion of militant antifascist action beyond street protest. While this alone makes such a communiqué valuable, I’m still trying to see what the overall message being put forth is. The piece lays out an important analysis of modern fascism, but I am compelled to ask (once again) if they aren’t overemphasizing the armed action component of antifascist struggle? Do the authors assume that domestic fascists and “proto” fascists are preparing for violent force against their opposition? Against anti-racist campaigns? Are the authors announcing in not so many words that they would be ready and capable of repelling an attack or there is a need to start organizing armed antifascist militias? Or was the communiqué only issued to draw out lessons from past and present antifascist activity? Perhaps all of the above.

Given the poverty of contemporary and radical antifascist analysis the communiqué should be looked over and debated. I hope these initial thoughts spark some of that.


Anonymous said...

I think this communique, while not perfect, is really excellent, and a valuable contribution to the radical anti-fascist debate. I also think some excellent questions and criticisms have been posed, especially concerning the over emphasis of militant action over the other parts of a political strategy.

I do think that the question of the purpose of the communique was hinted at in the first line when it says "Many theoretical writings focus on armed resistance against the state-capitalist system". The bulk of anarchists/radical critiques of nonviolence and arguments for a more militant strategy focus only on "the State." Take for example Ward Churchill's Pacifism as Pathology or Peter Gelderloo's How Nonviolence Protects the State, as well as the publicity for ELF/ALF type actions against the corporate side of the system. To me, that first line suggests that this communique is in reaction to the assumption that the state and capitalism are the only enemies in need of attacking. Neither Churchill's piece nor ELF communiques talk about other strategic concerns, so this, as a response to those, wouldn't either.

Also, the other parts of radical strategy are sort of nudged at in the last paragraph of the communique when it talks about "all the facets of struggle." While this communique is important for the new perspective it brings to discussions of militancy and arms, I will agree that more discussion is needed of the non-action oriented aspects of radical/antifascist/anticapitalist strategy.