Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 29, 2017

A boom market in antifasplaining

Filed under: anti-fascism,ultraleftism — louisproyect @ 5:26 pm

Mark Bray: a hot commodity in the antifa marketplace

Almost every month a new antifa book or feature article comes out written by some young professor. As night follows day, publishing houses love to sell books and magazines love to sell articles. Luckily for them, there seems to be no topic more marketable right now. A lot of it has to do with the Trump presidency that many pundits considered to be the second coming of Adolph Hitler or Benito Mussolini. When it turned out that Trump was thwarted repeatedly, especially over immigration and Obamacare, and that leading Republicans began to disavow him, it hardly made sense to act as if it was 1933 all over again. Although I have little in common with Stanfield Smith politically, he made essential points in a March 21, 2017 CounterPunch article titled “First Two Months in Power: Hitler vs. Trump”:

Little over two weeks in power, the Brownshirts had been handed the license to bully, beat, even kill leftists and Jews. In contrast, the two week old Trump presidency found its first anti-Muslim executive order blocked by a judge.

Three weeks in power, 50,000 Brownshirts were made part of the police. They began unauthorized arrests, broke into public building and homes and made nightly raids to seize anti-Hitler opponents. Those seized were typically put in newly set up “camps.”

This has not stopped professors from churning out books that make it sound as if we faced a similar threat. This can only be done, of course, by ignoring crucial historical differences. In the German elections of 1928, the Socialist Party received 9,152,979 votes, which at 29.8% was the highest number of any party. Meanwhile, its rivals in the Communist Party received the fourth highest vote total–3,264,793, which was 10.6%. If the two parties had been able to unite, there never would have been a Third Reich nor World War Two. For that matter, the USSR would have continued until now, with likely a more enlightened leadership. As it happened, the SP ruled Germany in about the same way that Obama ruled the USA while the CP was criminally ultraleft—supporting a Nazi referendum in 1931 to dissolve the SP-dominated parliament in Prussia. I would only say that if the American left can’t get its shit together when the big battles begin, the results will be even more catastrophic.

Are we anywhere near the DSA and Bob Avakian’s RCP—the closest thing to the insanely ultraleft German CP today—getting the vote of over 40 percent of Americans? That was the situation facing the German bourgeoisie in 1928, not the low ebb of the class struggle in the USA that despite the brief “resistance” hiccup in the immediate wake of the Trump inauguration has remained on life support.

You wouldn’t have a clue that this was the state of America today reading the febrile accounts of the junior professors who are getting even more attention than Bhaskar Sunkara.

My first encounter with these antifasplainers was on Facebook, where many of them spread their gospel. Ex-FB friend Alexander Reid Ross is a geography professor at Portland State University, a city where ultraleftism was hegemonic. I hadn’t paid much attention to his posts until after Charlottesville, when they began to strike me as pure antifa nonsense. Ross had written a book for AK Press titled “Against the Fascist Creep”, a natural outlet since AK Press is to anarchism what Haymarket, Monthly Review or Verso are to Marxism.

Ross gave an interview to It’s Going Down, the voice of the antifa movement, where he splained what “creeping fascism” meant. He stated that he decided to write the book after people on the left began to say things like “white people deserve their own place because people of color are naturally inclined towards one another.” This included “some of the left wing issue based movements where Marxists were more prevalent.” Funny, I never ran into anybody like that on Marxmail but then again maybe they are just lurking. Or maybe they don’t exist. I suppose all this is splained in Ross’s book but somehow the motivation to spend money on it is lacking.

Ross tells his interviewer that he is a fan of NYC Antifa. Do these people really exist? I have never heard a single word about them doing anything here but then again there’s not much in the way of fascism here as well. Mostly NYC is like Weimar Berlin but without the class struggle. I’d prefer some class struggle but then again I’d prefer the dictatorship of the proletariat.

He concludes by stroking the ego of the website that has interviewed him, stating that It’s Going Down “picked up a lot of slack in terms of analyzing Trump, analyzing the alt-right, and actually using intelligence to shut them down.” Intelligence? I thought it was smacking the fascists with big sticks like in a Punch and Judy show that they were pushing.

Moving right along, we next meet Max Haiven, the Canada Research Chair in Culture, Media and Social Justice at Lakehead University in Northwest Ontario.

Haiven has a rather startling article in today’s Truthout titled “What the Abolition of the British Slave Trade Can Teach Us About Free Speech”. Since I had done a fair amount of research on this topic when reviewing a biopic about William Wilberforce, I was curious to see what Haiven had to say.

Looking back at the debates that took place in Parliament about abolition, Haiven tells his readers that abolitionists must have been sickened by the “civil discourse of the men who had themselves murdered and raped other human beings whom they claimed to own.” Who could blame them if they decided to bar the doors and set Parliament on fire?

With this as a premise, Haiven asks why we should allow fascists and white supremacists to speak in public. People like Noam Chomsky, Robert McChesney and Chris Hedges who defend that right are likened to the parliamentarians that should have been burned alive. It is too bad that this snot-nosed bastard doesn’t have the guts to name names.

Haiven reminds us that “Enslaved Africans abolished slavery through rebellion, riots, subversion and conspiracy”. Yes, who would be opposed to that? But the notion that a self-appointed anarchist vanguard (more arrogant than any Leninist vanguard) has anything in common with Quilombo, Nat Turner or John Brown for that matter is an insult to history. That a joker like Haiven can maneuver his way to the top of left academia in Canada is just another symptom of the malaise of higher education where such people can be taken seriously.

Finally, we arrive at the apex of antifasplaining. Mark Bray, an associated visiting professor at Dartmouth (a rather tenuous position), has come out with a book titled “Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook”. That book has made him the go-to guy on antifa. He has been interviewed or profiled on Meet the Press, NBC News, NPR, the Washington Post, The Guardian and The New Yorker magazine. Wow!

I thought the New Yorker magazine article was quite useful in showing how close punching Nazis and the passing laws against them are in Bray’s eyes:

The book’s later chapters, such as “Five Historical Lessons for Anti-Fascists” and “ ‘So Much for the Tolerant Left!’: ‘No Platform’ and Free Speech,” which are adapted from essays published elsewhere, are more focussed and persuasive. Here Bray explicitly deals with the philosophical and practical problems of Antifa: violence versus nonviolence; mass movements versus militancy; choosing targets and changing tactics. Bray concedes that the practice of disrupting Fascist rallies and events could be construed as a violation of the right to free speech and assembly—but he contends that such protections are meant to prevent the government from arresting citizens, not to prevent citizens from disrupting one another’s speech. Speech is already curtailed in the U.S. by laws related to “obscenity, incitement to violence, copyright infringement, press censorship during wartime,” and “restrictions for the incarcerated,” Bray points out. Why not add one more restriction—curtailing hate speech—as many European democracies do? [emphasis added]

Perhaps the visiting Dartmouth professor is not aware that in 2015, France’s highest court upheld the criminal conviction of 12 pro-Palestinian activists for breaking laws against hate speech. They had worn t-shirts with the words “Long live Palestine, boycott Israel.” The judges ruled that this would violate a law that banned “discrimination, hatred or violence toward a person or group of people on grounds of their origin, their belonging or their not belonging to an ethnic group, a nation, a race or a certain religion.” Twelve pro-Palestinian activists had to pay a collective fine of $14,500.

Despite the massive popularity of antifa right now among the more soft-headed elements of the left, there is one journal with a fairly impressive academic pedigree that has called out the bullshit of Mark Bray and company. I am referring to Current Affairs, the new magazine founded by Harvard PhD student Nathan J. Robinson.

In an August 20 article titled “Thinking Strategically About Free Speech And Violence”, Robinson calls attention to the lack of long-term strategic thinking among antifa activists who prioritize if not fetishize tactics. Robinson writes:

This lack of focus on long-term strategy and concrete consequences is dangerous. If one concludes, say, that “Nazis do not deserve rights” but has not carefully examined whether taking away Nazis’ rights will help or hurt the Nazi cause, it might turn out that the seemingly justified course of action and the “most likely to stop the Nazis” course of action do not coincide.

Turning his attention to Mark Bray, Robinson questions the remarks he made to Chuck Todd on “Meet the Press”: “Historically, we can see that Nazism and fascism was not stopped by polite dialogue and reasoned debate, it had to be stopped by force. And unfortunately, self-defense is necessitated in the context we’re seeing today.” Robinson writes that there are a number of unanswered questions posed by Bray’s analysis, such as “What do you mean by ‘self-defense’? Does that mean that if protesters are physically attacked by neo-Nazis they can fight back, or that physical attacks on neo-Nazis are themselves an act of self-defense?”

That, of course, is the most important question. Anybody who consults It’s Going Down, as I do after downing some Kaopectate, understands that there are no clear lines drawn between self-defense and offense. In the 1930s and 40s, socialists formed workers militias to defend trade union headquarters and even went so far as to build massive picket lines in front of theaters where people like Gerald L.K. Smith were going to appear. However, those actions were carried out by men who were democratically chosen by the trade union rank-and-file who were in a fight for survival. To conflate this with the adventurism of masked youth accountable to nobody except themselves is a travesty.

In an earlier article titled “How to Write About Nazis”, Amber A’Lee Frost argued along the same lines. Basically, she warns against writing articles that serve the propaganda aims of people like Richard Spencer by exaggerating their importance. She takes a Guardian reporter to task:

Don’t: take a righteous or panicked tone—this drums up sensationalism and sublimates reality to pathos. For example, after Charlottesville, a Guardian reporter wrote that it had “[become] clear that a surging far right has created the rudiments of an organised, effective street-fighting force.” This, however, is not necessarily true. The fact is, we don’t know just how organized the far right are; information like that would require the sort of serious investigative journalism that is sorely lacking at the moment. But we do know that the (inaccurate) image of roving bands of violent Nazi street gangs will haunt readers’ imaginations. One has to be very, very careful before coming to these conclusions.

This reporter became incensed and demanded a retraction from Current Affairs. Nathan J. Robinson’s reply was written yesterday and is a real jewel. Titled “Why We Don’t Like Hysterical Journalists”, it takes apart all those antifasplainers who have a vested interest in making the alt-right appear much more threatening than it really is. The entire article is a must-read as this excerpt would indicate:

Frost’s original article singled out the phrase “organized, effective street fighting force.” The reason this is a misleading phrase to use is that there is nothing resembling an organized, effective Nazi street fighting force in the contemporary United States. If you don’t believe me, go and look outside. Go and wander the streets of every city in America and look for Nazis. Unless you happen to show up at one of the rare times at which white supremacists are holding some (usually pitifully small) rally, what you will see is… nothing. Where’s the street-fighting force? The problem is that Wilson is extrapolating from what happened in Charlottesville one weekend (which required assembling far-right groups from all over the country, since their individual local numbers are so tiny) to draw sweeping conclusions about the United States a whole. He is committing a logical error, which is to take a highly unrepresentative incident as the sign of a broader trend. It’s exactly what journalists usually do, and it turns people stupid and makes them pay much more attention to lurid but uncommon harms than to ongoing and more widespread but less sensational harms.

Where’s the street-fighting force? That’s a good question. I have been in the largest city in the USA since 1991 and I have not seen a single fascist demonstration of any significance. This is a city with a massive immigrant community that has not suffered any of the violent xenophobic raids so common across Europe. In fact, the biggest threat to the immigrant community is the legally sanctioned ICE raids that these antifa numskulls have no answer for, just as they have no answer for fracking, union-busting, racial profiling, evictions or any other social ill that late capitalism is imposing on our city and our country.




  1. Thanks for all this, glad to see serious analysis on why Antifa can just go straight to hell.

    Comment by J.T. — August 29, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

  2. Thanks for all this analysis on Antifa. These idiots are basically a cancer at this point.

    Comment by J.T. — August 29, 2017 @ 6:46 pm

  3. How appropriate that this jackass should be called Bray. I can’t tell from a casual Google search whether he has tenure, but that look of congealed smugness certainly suggests that he does. That cat (to switch animal metaphors) has not only swallowed the canary but a whole quart of cream.

    I’m a little sorry that I let these poopy heads get under my skin earlier–I’m in the process of losing a job and am a bit explosive these days–but jesus. If there are “good people” in antifa, they need to draw a line between themselves and some of the adventurist bullies and police provocateurs (???) and get on the other side of it. “Young leftists” had better get clear of that wreck before it happens.

    Re police provocateurs. How can the police not have infiltrated antifa? Antifa and black bloc are doing exactly what the right wants the left to do. Someone young and energetic needs to get that story and publish it.

    Legitimate self-defense is an entirely different matter–ironically, it’s the assaults by antifa on the peaceful left and innocent bystanders that may ultimately drive many of us to take up some form of armament.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — August 29, 2017 @ 8:56 pm

  4. > Where’s the street-fighting force?

    Good question. There were been violent fascist gangs in the years before Trump. They are still there and – as a street fighting force – still extremely marginal. I think the hysteria about “fascism” in the US really boils down to American liberal culture (aka “PC culture”), where if people go out and openly say something racist, it’s the equivalent of genocide. All that matters is optics and rhetoric; power does not matter.

    It’s been some time since ordinary Americans have been exposed to organized far-right violence, so people are rightly concerned about recent developments. But the characteristic American hysteria doesn’t help: any hypothetical threat to “safety” is automatically perceived as an existential threat. I remember Chomsky saying that America is a very safe country in many respects, but a significant fraction of the population is absolutely petrified. I guess it’s a function of being “spoiled”, and hopefully people smarten up so that they can effectively confront the real problems.

    Here are two relevant articles from Current Affairs, one by Amber Frost of Chapo fame:



    Comment by max — August 29, 2017 @ 9:15 pm

  5. I obviously jumped the gun and wrote the comment before finishing the article haha.

    Comment by max — August 29, 2017 @ 9:17 pm

  6. I kinda like how RCP talks about seizing power. That said, I don’t want Avakian to be president.

    Comment by Tyler — August 30, 2017 @ 1:16 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: