Updated: Jul 22, 2020
Bearing in mind the enhanced interest in anti-fascism while also noting the seemingly increased tolerance for fascistic speech and behaviors in the United States and other countries, what follows is my book review of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, by Mark Bray.
Published in 2017, Professor Bray crafted a highly readable, well-structured work on the philosophical underpinning of the antifa movement. He readily admits that a compressed time schedule (driven by global events) compelled him to focus on the areas which he knew best – specifically American and European anti-fascist organizations. He acknowledges that that is a shortcoming. He does make an effort to explore intersectional themes: most notably pertaining to race and racism but also on gender and patriarchy.
The first 60% of the book takes us on a history of anti-fascism. The history is broken out into three parts: anti-fascism through 1945 (with a focus on the inter-war period), from the end of World War Two to roughly the outbreak of the Iraq War, and the modern era of 2003 to the present.
There are a number of sub-themes which, in and of themselves, could each make for a book of their own: the propensity of police forces to support fascist actors and regimes, the divisions on the Left which inhibited their ability to fight back against fascism, the weakness of liberals who advocate for “neutral” values that (in effect) provide opportunities for fascists to exploit, and the leitmotif of people believing that fascist parties were “jokes”…until they actually came into power (usually via constitutional/parliamentary means).
The other 40% of the book offers some key “lessons learned” and practical organizing counsel as well as communications suggestions, such as on how to handle questions about “no platforming” and the “what about free speech for all?” whinging articulated by not only fascists but neoliberals of many stripes, including liberals.
Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook seeks to remind people about the dangers of false equivalences. We see them all of the time, on television as well as on social media (If you do X, you are just the same as Y). The reality is far different, both in principle and on the ground. Fascists want to dehumanize, hurt, and/or kill people who are different from them…racial or ethnic minorities, those who practice different faiths, women, members of LGBTQIA+ communities. Anti-fascists want to stop them, using a range of strategies and tactics. There is no ethical “middle ground” here.
I strongly recommend this timely and accessible work, especially when one considers the potential for even more widespread fascistic violence occurring between now and January 2021. It is important to understand how best to defend against fascism and help protect those most vulnerable to its depredations.