Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, April 23, 2010

In defence of anti-fascism

Over at a newish blog that I have came across today, Necessary Agitation, there is a post arguing 'Is anti-fascism a waste of time?'

'The question for me, at least, is with the limited energies and numbers of those on the left, is anti-fascism a good use of our time? My answer is no. Further, I would even say it is counterproductive to the cause—it confirms the liberal media and elite’s perception of a valid role for the radical left, which is, predictably, a total dead end as far as overthrowing capitalism in the 21st century is concerned.'

The blogger goes on to give the following reasons - which I will try and counter briefly in turn.

1) In present conditions, groups such as the BNP and EDL have no supporters within mainstream government. They are not the militant wing of fascist tendencies within government. In fact, they are reviled by the elite. The kind of racism one finds within the liberal parties is truly awful—scapegoating immigrants and so forth—but is qualitatively different to BNP style racism. As such, they do not pose any real threat. A victory for one of their candidates would certainly make a local community more unpleasant, but that is about it.

Leaving aside the question about whether or not the BNP and EDL really are reviled by all of the 'political elite' (which seems debatable), is not the fact that 'a victory for one of their candidates would certainly make a local community more unpleasant' enough? Evidence suggests that racist attacks rise in areas where there are BNP successes electorally, and with the danger of a BNP controlled council in a couple of weeks time in Barking and Dagenham, the likelihood is that black, asian and Jewish people in that area are going to be under intense pressure and victimisation at the very least - if not, as is more likely, actual physical danger. If you are black/asian or Jewish or just happen to vocally disagree with the BNP then actually it does matter or not if fascists have taken control of your local town hall.

2) There is no transformative potential in anti-fascism. Anti-fascism is a static affair that adopts an entirely defensive posture. Its activities have no transformative potential for the properly revolutionary aim of overthrowing capitalism. There have been, in the past, periods in which it has played a vital roll in the struggle; today it merely saps energy.

Not true - as anyone who attended say watched the likes of The Clash storm Rock Against Racism carnivals in the 1970s up and down the country - or has attended some of the excellent Love Music Hate Racism gigs being held of late - anti-fascism remains incredibly 'potentially transformative' and energising for a whole number of young people in particular.

3) Anti-fascism leads to complacency. With such a clear enemy as the BNP (hated not just by the radical left, but much of the left and centre of the political spectrum) a certain moralising complacency can be allowed to prevail at the expense of making those hard choices that face the radical left. Since we on the radical left currently face a crisis of both communicating our ideas and attracting people to the cause, the hard thinking that needs to be done around these issues is obviated by investing in tribal warfare with the far-right. I won’t deny the fun of it; but particularly around election time, the sentiment which still prevails around most of the left and labour movement (vote for Lab or Lib Dems as a lesser evilism to keep the Tories out) should be the target of our ire. Unless we can shift most of the left and its natural constituency away for this kind of thinking there will never be any change.

I agree about the dangers of complacency, but what is really complacent is simply thinking that the threat from the fascist right does not matter and anti-fascism is therefore just a matter of 'fun' and 'tribal warfare'. Reformist and Labourist ideas within 'the wider labour movement' won't just fall away if the revolutionary Left simply puts more effort into challenging them - they have deeper roots within the system and the history of the British Labour movement than that - and the 'wider Labour movement' will certainly not abandon their support for say the Labour Party for a left alternative if they think 'the Left' and those arguing for building a socialist alternative to New Labour do not, for example, take the menace of the far-right more seriously than the current Labour leaders.

4) Anti-fascism in ineffective. I haven’t seen any proof, or indeed, any logical arguments, for showing why anti-fascist rallies are effective. Surely it just demonstrates that there is a militant core opposed to them who can make a lot of noise too? In terms of denting support for the BNP, I have serious doubts it does much good.

Well, to answer this one only has to compare the situation in Britain with that of most of continental Europe - particularly Eastern Europe. The fact that organisations like Unite Against Fascism exist in Britain and the likes of the Anti-Nazi League before them mean that the BNP have as of yet found it harder to make the kind of breakthrough into the mainstream than their fascist counterparts elsewhere (eg France). Bitter experience from elsewhere shows that waiting until Nazis have made a breakthrough into the mainstream before begining the work of trying to counter them means that it is then a much harder task that confronts anti-racists. On this question, one can do no better than quoting Adolf Hitler himself after his Nazis had taken power in Germany: "Only one thing could have stopped our movement. If our adversaries had understood its principle, and from the first day had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement".



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