If you listened carefully enough to the din of broken glass and shrill Leftist lamentations, you’d have heard another sound this weekend: the death rattle of Antifa.
“What’s equality? Muck in the yard,
Historic nations grow, from above to below”
W.B. Yeats Three Songs
If you listened carefully enough to the din of broken glass and shrill Leftist lamentations, you’d have heard another sound this weekend: the death rattle of Antifa. The cheap assault on Richard Spencer, along with the damage wrought in Washington DC, does not mitigate the fact that so-called ‘anti-fascism,’ in all meaningful respects, has been dying since the mid-1990s. What we witnessed in the weekend that has just passed was the desperate actions of a spent force. What occurred was disgraceful, and we should challenge it, but we shouldn’t be unduly disturbed about future prospects. Nor should we exaggerate the threat these people pose, or our response to it. In its death agonies, Antifa has been as noisy as it was in life, and this noise may have caused the less well-informed to conclude that there was vitality yet in this old hag. The perceptive, however, will have noted that this noise only slightly masked the increasing senility of an obsolete movement that has struggled, staggered, and gasped its way to the pyrrhic victory of a cheap-shot and a few burnt trashcans. In this new era, the age of Trump, Brexit, Nationalist murmurings across Europe, and the rise of the Alt-Right, anti-fascism is politically dead.
No autopsy is required. ‘Anti-fascism’ was born with the defect that would ultimately carry it off; a deformation of its vital systems that for long periods rendered it heavily dependent on its adversaries for political oxygen. Part of this deformation arose from its internal divisions. On the one hand, a substantial element of Antifa activity consists of the peaceful, democratic type. These are the misguided vicar’s daughters and soccer moms who are inveigled into organizing, attending, or donating to ‘anti-racist’ demonstrations, music concerns, or similar public events. We witnessed much of its constituency in the Women’s March that followed Trump’s inauguration. This element has always been ideologically lightweight, and participates less out of ideological convictions than it does out of vague moral twinges and panics. The other element of Antifa has always been smaller, but is the one we are perhaps more familiar with. This is the revolutionary anti-fascist or crypto-Bolshevik wing, consisting of Trotskyists, Marxists, Anarchists, and Jews. Its members possess a tangled mess of often conflicting ideologies that are nevertheless set aside in the name of confronting the perceived fascist threat. The latter element has always frightened and disillusioned the former. The tensions between the two have marred the history of anti-fascism, which witnessed several fractures, and failed attempts at even the most basic form of ideological unification, from the 1970s to the 2010s.
The pathology of anti-fascism, present from its birth, is that it has all the hallmarks of a particularly weak parasite. Here is an entity that is conceived purely as an anti-ideology. Its stated primary foe was ‘the Fascist,’ who was understood to lie behind all societal ills. Since actual Fascists were difficult to find after 1945, and organizing explicitly against them was thus liable to have one regarded as a paranoid eccentric, ‘anti-fascists’ hastily added ‘the State’ as a secondary, quasi-substitute for the real thing. If ‘Fascists’ couldn’t be found, they would have to be invented. Language about ‘the Fascist State’ thus became ubiquitous in these circles. Eventually, this mode of language became endemic on the Left. All political movements to the right of modern liberalism were perceived, and labelled, as quasi-Fascistic, and ‘anti-fascism’ would thus provide itself with something to mobilize against. The problem, of course, was one of linguistic economics. As the Left flooded the verbal ‘market’ with its currency, this currency underwent a dramatic deflation in emotive value. The Left’s incessant invocation of ‘Fascism’ led to the term’s precipitous and irreversible decline. Anti-fascism, in the fulfilment of its pathology, began undermining the strength of its own propaganda.
The in-born pathology of anti-fascism extended to its tactical capacities, which were also stunted and retarded from birth. Anti-fascism’s founding tactical principle was that it would oppose with violence any attempts by ‘fascists’ to organize at street level. For a time, there was some vitality in this tactical emphasis. From the 1960s to the early 1990s Antifa was sporadically engaged in violent activity against Nationalist groups throughout the West and, particularly when one considers running battles with Britain’s National Front, one could argue that there was a kind of ongoing ‘battle for the streets.’ However, by the early 1990s Nationalism became aware that it had allowed itself to be relegated to the fringes of political discourse where, along with its opponents in Antifa, it became trapped in futile turf wars that made little impact on national political trajectories. There was an internal revolution in Nationalism that led to the influx of greater numbers of ‘quality’ people, and the adoption of policies, aesthetics, and approaches that began to cut into the ‘mainstream.’ Nationalists began winning electoral victories, appearing on television, and creating their own media.
Anti-fascism at first claimed a kind of victory. With much aplomb it claimed to have conclusively ‘won the streets’ and, according to many an Antifa screed, the spineless fascists had fled the field. It was only during the late 1990s that Antifa realized that it hadn’t won anything, and had been caught on the wrong foot. If the primary weapon in your tactical arsenal is street confrontation, and your opponent is enjoying unprecedented success precisely because they have abandoned street confrontation, one might expect that a tactical change would be necessary. However, anti-fascism’s stunted development led instead to stagnancy and confusion. Nationalism had gone places that anti-fascism couldn’t or wouldn’t follow. Anarchists, a sizeable proportion of the Antifa cohort, were ideologically and temperamentally disinclined to participate in parliamentary and traditional politics. Militant Antifa was thus even more starkly contrasted with its non-violent allies, and even less likely to find acceptance in mainstream society. Antifa tactics were redundant. It was thus symbolically significant when, in 2001, England’s Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) formally disbanded.
Other factions limped on, of course. In these foul residues, problematic ideological abscesses continued to fester. The movement continue to posture itself as being opposed to a ‘system’ it perceived as reactionary, ultra-conservative, and anti-working class. It escaped many on the far-Left that anti-fascism was itself reactionary by nature, being entirely dependent for stimulus on the actions or moves of its opponents. Indeed, this was the conclusion of Nigel Copsey, scholar of fascism and anti-fascism, who described Antifa as a “reactive phenomenon” that could only manifest in accordance to stimulus. Further, while Nationalists, and others labelled as fascists, began advancing structured programs for social and economic change, Antifa could advance no vision, no position beyond reactive opposition. The assertion that Nationalists and others were ultra-conservative also began to ring increasingly hollow in an age when the far-Left influenced political outcomes to a greater extent than it has ever openly admitted. Marxism, in its cultural expressions, went mainstream. Mass immigration obliterated the efficacy of national borders. Social engineering led to the slow destruction of the family. In this context, the goals of Antifa and the ‘the State’ it claimed to oppose became indistinguishable. Antifa, more than Nationalists, had more to gain from ‘conserving’ the status quo. Nationalists, the alleged ultra-conservatives, increasingly distinguished themselves by their open desire for cultural revolution; a destruction of all that is, a revisiting of what once was, and the planned construction of what might be.
But perhaps the greatest of Antifa’s internal incoherencies was its claim to support the cause of the working-class. To be sure, Antifa was from its inception a diseased protrusion of the neurotic middle-class. In particular, it drew its lifeblood from pathological or alien elements in the upper middle-class. Always directed by middle-class intellectuals, who were frequently Jewish, Antifa was staffed by a motley of materially spoiled, attention-seeking youngsters, who sought in their Jewish or Russian gurus what they could not find from disinterested, career-minded parents. These spurned children would seek to destroy the material assets and values of the world of the hated parents, substituted now with the ‘Fascist’ or ‘the State.’ It goes without saying that the real world of the worker played no part in this drama. Bernd Langer of the Autonome Antifa, Germany’s largest anti-fascist organization, once admitted: “Most of the political activists have a middle class background, few workers are involved in the movement. They are rather the exception. The working class plays no role in the anti-fascist struggle.”
Similarly, when the Sydney Morning Herald sought out members of Australian Antifa for an inside look at the movement there, the journalist might have been persuaded by Leftist propaganda to expect to find a young dock-worker or manual laborer. Instead, and more predictably from our perspective, he found dialogue with a young, “gluten intolerant,” activist who had grown up in the wealthy suburbs of Sydney and Melbourne, had been sent to an expensive university by his parents, and had developed a love affair with ‘Marxism’ at the behest of guru professors. Our young Anarchist apparently proceeded to explain his moribund political philosophy between sips of rose tea at a fashionable cafe, as he peered over a pair of designer spectacles. Antifa is the bastard child of Marx and Goldman Sachs, conceived in the Hamptons, and nursed on the psychiatrists couch.
These yawning gaps between Antifa’s proclamations of class war and the reality of its staffing, led in many instances to friction between the duped and the deluded. Particularly during the 1990s, there were conflicts between those who saw themselves as old-school class warriors and those who came from, or drew ideological succor from more newly emerged victimhood narratives. Unlike Nationalists, with their almost obsessive care for statistics, facts and news analysis, the far-Left was bogged down in barely penetrable theory and a reliance on emotional responses to perceived slights. Thus, even the most committed economic Marxist couldn’t prevent the inevitable descent of Antifa into what Nigel Copsey described as “a multicultural, middle-class mind-set, in which the deification of difference (race, gender, and sexual preference) had replaced class equality.” Anti-fascism thus found it increasingly difficult to posture as a movement with even tangential mass appeal, instead pigeon-holing itself as a mere movement of ‘victims.’ The middle-class ‘daddy issue’ set now found themselves joined by those with other resentments; the homosexuals wanting ever more attention and acceptance, the feminists seeking revenge on an explicitly male form of political expression, and the minorities nursing ethnic grievances and possessing an interest in weakening White identity politics.
Resentment can provide a certain amount of energy. But this energy is not inexhaustible, and is certainly not comparable to the drive that can arise from the pursuit of a higher vision. Once Nationalism largely ceased its public expression in the form of marches, anti-fascism switched its focus to the disruption of conferences and meetings. This is a tactic we were all familiar with. There has rarely been a major meeting of American Renaissance, the National Policy Institute, or the London Forum that has not in some form been protested against or otherwise disturbed by Antifa intrusion. However, the cost-benefit outcome of such actions have always been negative for Antifa. In a pattern very likely to have been replicated elsewhere, Copsey found that German militant Antifa comprised only around five thousand individuals who amplified their impact by travelling non-stop around the country to disrupt meetings. It goes without saying that a large amount of time and resources would be required to maintain such an effort, and this time and resources was most often wasted. While Nationalist meetings may be disturbed to some extent, this disturbance has rarely been serious. Few meetings have had to be cancelled. Nationalism has continued to grow, both in terms of numbers and political victories. While Nationalists maintain a focus on the ‘main event,’ Antifa has remained a side-show; a kind of half-time entertainment during conferences.
Another area which Antifa neglected, and which Nationalists have exploited to an unprecedented extent, was the sphere of the ‘counterpublic.’ Having abandoned the streets, and remaining excluded from mainstream media, it was Nationalism that truly embraced cyberspace. Here the limits of “physical space,” and hence “physical confrontation,” were truly thrown into sharp relief. As the internet grew, Nationalism expanded into new forms of intellectual space, pioneering both the political forum and systematic, alternative media. Increasingly, Antifa reliance on countering mostly non-existent marches, and holding concerts for migrants and other ‘victim’ classes, began to look dated. Meanwhile, by the close of the first decade of the new millennium, Nationalism was pioneering TV channels, publishing outlets, intellectual and mass-appeal webzines, and a plethora of podcasts ranging from the high-brow to the comedic. Antifa inherently lacked the creative power of its opponents, and its main expression turned to endless sober warnings to the mainstream that here was ‘fascism’ in new clothing. First they came in suits, then with cartoon frogs.
By contrast, Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin hold little comedic appeal for the masses. Nor do such figures even evoke the kind of edgy discomfort that can be elicited by a gothic bogeyman of the type that Hitler, the ultimate Fascist, had been crafted to be. Since Communism eked out its last days with sputtering cars, and against the background scent of chemicals and stale soup, it is neither darkly attractive nor particularly intimidating. Like Antifa itself, explicit radical socialism is an anachronism; a joke perhaps, but one where the punchline made sense only in a prior age. Anarchists can sport t-shirts promising “An Ice Pick for Every Trot,” but this is a weak gallows humor. As Trotsky himself might have testified, jokes and even light dissent cost lives in the ‘worker’s paradise,’ and Leftists are notoriously thin-skinned when it came to the dogma of Marxist-Leninist theory. The Anti-fascist environment is one in which everything is taken seriously, and nothing more so than the anti-fascists themselves.
It is this extremely high level of self-obsession that gave rise to such tremendous shock when, in 2016, the Antifa’s proverbial sky began to fall. With great self-assurance, the radical Left and its fellow travellers in academia and the media asserted that Brexit would never happen. What the Left failed to realize was that, as long as the principle of the secret ballot remains, and as long as Nationalists or their ideas have any means whatsoever to influence the opinions of voters exercising that secret ballot, their monopoly of the media, the colleges, and ‘the streets’ will never be enough to end our politics or assure the victory of theirs. Having failed to learn from the Brexit experience, the same smugness asserted itself on the eve of an allegedly ‘inevitable’ win for Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential elections. We now live in the age of President Trump.
The outburst of juvenile violence which accompanied the Trump inauguration should not be taken as indicative of the health of Antifa. This is not a robust movement. It is floundering tactically, and its biggest mistake has been its misguided portrayal of Trump and his voters as fascists. The Left wins when the Alt-Right and the Antifa remain on the fringes of mainstream discourse and the mainstream remains under Left-liberal ideological control (via academia, the media, and political tunnel-vision). However, in its shock and rage at Trump’s victory, the Left has been unable to move away from a discourse that paints Trump and his very substantial bloc of voters as belonging to a homogenous Far Right. What the Left risk doing by pursuing such a strategy is reshaping the mainstream, essentially splitting it in two. Trump voters will be forced by Leftist hostility into buying into the narrative that they belong with the Alt-Right. In this scenario, Antifa and the Left do our work for us. Thus, while I agree that the assault on Richard Spencer was a huge story that deserves our attention, the bigger story from the inauguration weekend was the assaults that took place on Trump supporters unaffiliated with the Alt-Right. In scenarios like these, Antifa will act as recruiting sergeants for our cause. This is the definition of a movement that has failed in every possible sense.
To conclude, I might caution against the advice given by some in our movement that we should ‘take the fight’ to Antifa, or attempt to engage them once more on the streets. By doing so, we would validate their existence once more, and run the risk of again placing ourselves on the margins. Without compromising our values, we should continue to push as deeply into the mainstream as we can, and especially focus on forging links with Trump voters, Brexit voters, and right-leaning citizens throughout the West. As the Left continues to wail at its losses, it will continue to lash out indiscriminately. This will be to our benefit. For our part, we should focus on improving our security, while allowing the Left to show its true face to the people. Our priority is winning cultural influence and political power, not confronting small numbers of social effluent. And, rest assured, we will one day be in a position to drag this fading nuisance into the light and deliver to it a long-overdue coup de grâce.
 N. Copsey, ‘Crossing Borders: Anti-Fascist Action (UK) and Transnational Anti-Fascist Militancy in the 1990s,’ Contemporary European History, 25 (4), 707-727.