Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

October 25, 2017

Reactions to recent anti-fascist analysis

Filed under: Fascism — louisproyect @ 6:24 pm

(1) Alternet: an interview with Mark Bray:

Ilana Novick: How you would define Antifa?

Mark Bray: Antifa is, of course, short for anti-fascism. But it really is a shorthand for a specific tendency that in English is usually referred to as militant anti-fascism. Militant anti-fascism is essentially a pan-radical-left politic of direct action against the far right.

IN: Is it more of a tactic or a guiding principle, rather than a specific movement that someone can join?

MB: Think about it like socialism. Is socialism something that someone can join? No, it’s a politic. But are there socialist groups you can join? Yeah. Same with Antifa. Antifa is either an activity or a mode of politics, depending on exactly what kind of phrasing you prefer. In that sense, anyone can make their own Antifa group. There is no Antifa central command, but there are Antifa groups with membership that you could join. Or you could make your own group.

In that way, it’s no one group, but there are groups.


A highly disingenuous comparison. Antifa groups by their very nature are clandestine. They punch photographers because pictures might be used to “dox” them. They never identify themselves by name on places like It’s Going Down for the same reason. This means that you really can’t have a productive relationship with them because secrecy trumps accountability. They decide in advance within their own hermetically sealed circles what tactics they are going to carry out and then impose them on others. United fronts are impossible with them because they operate in secrecy. Within the broad left, you will never see a single antifa activist defend their positions publically in places like ZNet or CounterPunch because they have little interest in dialog. They never organize public forums where they defend their ideas at the Left Forum or elsewhere. Except for people like David Graeber and Mark Bray, there is not a single public prominent spokesperson for the antifa defending their ideas. This kind of elitist, self-anointed, combat-oriented leftism is singularly disruptive and easily exploitable by the cops. This is exactly how the Weathermen operated as soon as they adopted the position that they were out to deliver America from fascism in 1972. If the USA ever reaches the point when it is necessary to conduct an armed struggle, this sort of behavior might be acceptable but in the meantime, it is just childish acting out that undermines the kind of united mass actions grounded in democratic decision-making that is so necessary.

(2) Salvage: Charles Post, “Fascism and Anti-Fascism: reflections on recent debates on the US Left“:

In this article, Post refers to me critically:

While we must mobilize as many people as possible so that we outnumber the fascists, mass mobilizations alone will ultimately be insufficient despite the claims of some on the US left. We must prepare ourselves for the inevitable physical confrontations that have historically been crucial to defeating fascism. Our model needs to be the successful anti-fascist actions like Cable Street in London in 1936, Madison Square Garden in New York in 1938, the Mutualite arena in Paris in 1973, and Lewisham in London in 1977 — where the revolutionary left mobilized mass actions that included broader layers of people opposed to fascism, and that both outnumbered and physically dispersed the fascists.

“[D]espite the claims of some on the US left” links to a CounterPunch article I wrote on September 8th. Frankly, I have no idea what Post could have possibly been referring to. My article says zero about preparing for combat in the streets. Instead, it was a refutation of the idea that an insufficient amount of street-fighting during the Weimar Republic explains Hitler coming to power. My central point was that a combination of CP ultraleftism and SP reformism short-circuited the possibility of effective resistance. I don’t know if Salvage is understaffed or something but a sharp-eyed editor might have checked Post’s reference especially when you are dealing with a vindictive skunk like me.

Additionally, there is some confusion in Post’s article that reflects his agreement with what Salvage éminence grise Richard Seymour has written. When Post writes, “Put simply, we need to ‘no platform’ fascists”, he is simply recapitulating the long-standing orientation of the British SWP out of which Seymour emerged. This “no platforming” means something like the 1936 Cable Street in London that has an iconic value for people like Post and Seymour. This was meant to keep Oswald Moseley’s followers off the streets of Jewish neighborhoods in the East End. I recommend Janet Contursi’s “No, Antifa, This is Not the 1930s and We Don’t Need to Punch a Nazi” in the September 18th CounterPunch that takes up this action:

What the anti-fascist forces did achieve at Cable Street was a singular victory in stopping a single march. But at what price? In the aftermath of that action, membership in the BUF grew. Rather than smashing fascism, the battle turned out to be a recruitment tool for the BUF. The organization gained an additional 2,000 members immediately, and its membership continued to climb steadily. Seven months before the battle, BUF membership was around 10,000; one month after the battle, it rose to 15,500. It continued to rise until, by 1939, the BUF had about 22,500 members.

The anti-fascist actions didn’t dampen the peoples’ enthusiasm for Mosely’s message. In the weeks after the battle, pro-fascist crowds in the thousands turned out for BUF meetings, listened to Mosley’s fascist proselytizing, and marched through London without much opposition. An intelligence report on the battle noted that afterwards, “A definite pro-Fascist feeling has manifested itself. The alleged Fascist defeat is in reality a Fascist advance.”

Post also refers to another iconic action that unfortunately is misrepresented by most people adapting to the antifa nonsense, namely the SWP-led protest against a German-American Bund meeting in Madison Square Garden on February 20, 1939. This was not an instance of a successful “no platforming” action at all. Instead, it was an attempt by thousands of workers to exercise their democratic right to protest at Madison Square Garden that was blocked by the cops as the SWP newspaper made crystal clear:

Action began on 48th Street. From the corner of 8th Avenue where a solid line of mounted cops was stationed, stirrup to stirrup, they made a furious attack on the assembled demonstrators. Moving in both directions, one group of cops trampled down a throng of patriotic war veterans and cut their American flag to ribbons, while another group smashed brutally into the mass of workers.

Although the Cossacks made repeated sallies into the workers’ crowd, the mass formed and reformed, stoutly determined to hold their own until they gathered sufficient strength to exercise their right to assemble and to picket whether the cops granted it or not.

The fury of the workers increased with every minute. They kept shouting angrily at the Cossacks, and booed them for every vicious plunge into the crowd.

“Down with the Nazi terrorists!” they roared the cry of the Socialist Workers Party.

“We demand the right to picket!” they shouted. 

Surrounded by an unbreakable phalanx, one SWP speaker after another, lifted on the shoulders of huskies, made terse and militant speeches to the workers, who cheered so lustily that they could be heard, literally, for blocks away.

Max Shachtman, editor of the Socialist Appeal , was the first to speak. He pointed out that the La Guardia administration, elected to office by the vote of New York labor, was showing an amazing concern over the so-called “democratic rights” of the Nazi assassins to hold a mobilization meeting- which was an insult and a provocation to the working people of the city. The same administration, however, which gave such unprecedented police protection to the Fascist gang, was using the police to deprive the workers of their democratic rights, notably the right to assemble and to picket—rights supposedly guaranteed by the Constitution and by several decisions of the Federal and Supreme courts.

[emphasis added]

There is not a word in the article about trying to prevent the meeting from taking place. Indeed, it is the approach I have been defending ever since the antifa adventurists imposed their provocative behavior on the mass picketing of the Milo Yiannopoulos at the Berkeley student union building.

(3) Monthly Review Editor’s Note:

If you follow my blog, you might remember that I criticized John Bellamy Foster’s article “Neofascism in the White House” on May 3rd. The editor’s note repeats a number of the mistakes found in Foster’s article.

The editors write:

But with the deepening crisis of the system, marked by the Great Financial Crisis of 2007–09 and the subsequent years of stagnation, significant fractions of the capitalist class, mostly connected in the United States to the finance and energy sectors, have sought to stabilize their rule by shifting from neoliberalism to neofascism.

It is clear what neoliberalism means. We have been confronting it in one way or another ever since Allende was overthrown during the Reagan and Thatcher regimes. It is fundamentally an attack on the welfare state under the general rubric of Austrian or Chicago school economics as symbolized by Milton Friedman’s deep involvement with Pinochet’s assault on Chile’s social provisions that were a legacy from Allende and prior administrations.

Is there anything about the Trump administration that indicates a retreat from neoliberalism? Furthermore, what are the economic principles that would underpin “neofascism”? Who is its Friedrich Hayek or Milton Friedman?

There are few suggestions in the MR editor’s note about the economic policies of a neofascist regime. Originally, fascism meant corporatism. Indeed, the late Lynn Turgeon, an economics professor who was influenced by Paul Sweezey and a frequent contributor to MR, argued that FDR’s Keynesianism and Nazi economics had something in common, namely strong state intervention, especially using a military build-up to offset the Great Depression:

Some wag has defined an economist as someone who has seen something work in practice and then proceeds to make it work in theory. In some respects, this may have applied to Keynes, who was certainly aware of the tremendous economic miracle of Adolf Hitler in reducing unemployment from over 30 percent when he took office in 1933 to 1 percent by 1936, the year in which the German edition of the General Theory appeared. In his special introduction to the German edition, Keynes recognized how “thirsty” the Germans must be for his “general theory,” which would also apply to “national socialism.”

(From “Bastard Keynesianism: The Evolution of Economic Thinking and Policymaking Since WWII”)

There is more to Nazi economics than simply military Keynesianism. Despite Trump’s demagogic appeal to help out unemployed coal miners, there were signs that Hitler was ready to carry out measures that had little to do with Milton Friedman as I pointed out in an article on Daniel Goldhagen 16 years ago:

Goebbels launched a “winter aid campaign” in 1933-34 that provided charity donations in the form of goods and money to the very needy. The recipients were the old, sick and large families. The Nazi press used these campaigns to their full advantage.

Over and beyond such immediate social programs, there was the promise of a new system that would eliminate unemployment and poverty. The whole basis for social transformation was to be through a synthesis of urban and rural life, called “rurban” values by Arthur Schweitzer in his “Big Business and the Third Reich.” The Nazis promoted the view that the class-struggle in the city could be overcome by returning to the villages and developing artisan and agricultural economies based on cooperation. Ayrans needed to get back to the soil and simple life.

The ramifications of this were felt most immediately in farming where the Nazis seemed to be on a collision course with the big rural estates of the old-line bourgeoisie. The Nazis passed a law on September 13, 1933 that introduced the principle of cooperative organization into agriculture. They also created a state marketing agency that would set prices and regulate the supply and demand of produce. Finally, they stipulated that farms could no longer be sold nor foreclosed. While the Junkers were assured that the new laws would not affect them, they did feel nervous about the apparent radicalism of the new Nazi laws.

The core of Nazi rural socialism was the idea that land-use must be planned. Gottfried Feder was a leading Nazi charged with the duty of formulating such policy. He made a speech in Berlin in 1934 in which he stated that the right to build homes or factories or to use land according to the personal interests of owners was to be abolished. The government instead would dictate how land was to be used and what would be constructed on it. Feder next began to build up elaborate administrative machinery to carry out his plans.

Does anybody think that American fascism, neo or otherwise, would ever adopt such statist measures? I plan to deal with all this in an article on the political economy of fascism for this week’s CounterPunch.


  1. I wish you would have said more about the actual politics of the anti-fa, at least ideologically. The alt-Reich universally refers to them as “left” but I am not convinced. Where do they stand on the various issues, especially matters of political economy and the class structure? And I am not alone in thinking that establishment police forces have infiltrated the anti-fa groups—as agents provocateurs even.

    Comment by uh...clem — October 26, 2017 @ 12:40 am

  2. The Trump administration, as I like to argue, is the American capitalism’s declaration that, “This is it! Like it or eat shit!”

    Look at their budget and the planned tax reforms, and you’ll only see a looting of the public coffers to give to the super rich whatever is left of the economic output, while taking almost everything away from the working people and the poor.

    Real fascism actually paints an optimistic picture for its own base, by carrying out (if only in propagandistic moves) “help the poor” programs, which it can use to recruit. Our own Iranian version is very successful at this: supporters of theocracy receive actual salaries, non-monetary benefits, their family members receive benefits, they or their kids get preferential seating in universities through quotas set aside for them; the list of benefits goes on.

    Where are the benefits for the Trumpistas? They’re getting shafted everyday: whatever little healthcare they had is being stripped away, their taxes are actually going to go up if Trump’s tax plan succeeds; their water and air is being allowed to be polluted, their educational establishments are allowed to be starved even further under DeVos; and that list goes on too.

    Comment by Reza — October 26, 2017 @ 12:57 am

  3. … the actual politics of the anti-fa … .

    What actual politics? The prevalence of awn tee FAW is the most disturbing symptom of political failure on the left today. It’s the antithesis of “actual politics.”

    Mark Bray loves to lecture people affectedly on the correct pronunciation: “It’s European, you know! [just like ‘awr tee zha NAHL!’]” That’s the “actual politics.”

    This shallow stuff for all practical purposes completely dispenses with socialism in order to gratify the egos of young petty-bourgeois white males,who would otherwise have to go to Pamplona to test their budding machismo.

    Why so many on the U.S. left are still in puberty in their twenties and later is a good question.

    This does not bode well for the political future of the United States.

    Comment by Farans Kalosar — October 27, 2017 @ 12:28 am

  4. I wonder why Diana Johnstone, whom you denigrate, turns out to be the most cogent critic of antifa on CP? Hmmm.

    Comment by David Green — October 28, 2017 @ 11:13 pm

  5. Johnstone is half right. Antifa sucks but so does her hero Vladimir Putin.

    Comment by louisproyect — October 29, 2017 @ 12:05 am

  6. Allende was not overthrown during the Thatcher and Reagan years, but in 1973. Thacher was elected in 1979 and Reagan in 1980.

    Comment by Maximilian1979 — December 2, 2017 @ 10:25 am

  7. Well, given Dian Johnstone’s sympathies for Le Pen, it would seem her criticism of antifa comes from a rather different angle to the one above …

    Comment by mkaradjis — October 22, 2018 @ 11:21 pm

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