The Left’s Long History of Militant Resistance to Fascism  – Sarah Jaffe.

Riots between anti-Fascists and Blackshirts (British Fascists) when Oswald Mosley’s supporters were gathering in Great Mint Street for a march through the East End of London in what is now called the Battle of Cable Street. In this image, anti-Fascists are pushed back by police on October 4, 1936.

A conversation with historian Mark Bray about the origins of modern anti-fascist movements.

Antifa is an abbreviation for anti-fascist or anti-fascism. Anti-fascism is a movement that goes back a hundred years. But when we talk about antifa today, we are talking about modern militant anti-fascism, which predominantly grew out of movements in Great Britain and Germany in the 1970s and 1980s.

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These were movements of leftist immigrants, punks and all sorts of people who were targeted by a neo-Nazi backlash, a xenophobic wave that spread over these countries and others. It is essentially a pan-socialist radical politic of collective self-defense against the far right.

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Going back to the beginning, we can certainly look to the Arditi del Popolo, The People’s Daring Ones, which was an anti-fascist militia formed by various different kinds of leftists in Italy in 1921 to fight back against Mussolini’s Blackshirts. These were anarchists, socialists and communists who took up rifles and defended small villages and towns from fascist attack. It was too late by the time they were formed, because much of the left movement had already been destroyed by that point. Then, the Socialist Party and then the Communist Party pulled out of it. So, it ended up being mostly anarchists and rank-and-file leftists. It wasn’t up to the task of stopping Mussolini.

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In the 1920s and 1930s, there were several different left formations in Germany. The Red Front Fighters’ League is one of the more important ones. The Iron Front, formed by the socialists, and Anti-Fascist Action, formed by the communists, were more oriented towards electoral work than anti-fascist confrontation, though the popular impression of them was that they were a paramilitary formation. There was a wave of conflict between Nazis and left forces across the spectrum in Germany in the 1920s and into the 1930s. Many were killed on all sides of this.

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But the Socialist and Communist Party leadership didn’t really take Hitler especially seriously, or at least not as seriously as they wish they had in retrospect. This is evident in the Communist Party slogan “First Hitler, Then Us,” whereby they believed that Hitler would get into power, do such a poor job that he would be out quickly, and then they would take over government. Of course, that never happened.

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The first moment of conflict when the European Left realized that they were facing an existential threat in the fascist menace was 1934 in Vienna, when socialists rose up against the right-wing government. From that point onward, the anti-fascist struggle in Europe was seen as not just street fighting, but a war for survival for the Left.

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That fed into the Spanish Civil War from 1936 to 1939. The International Brigades are perhaps the most iconic anti-fascist image in history. The Spanish Republic did fall. Then, you have World War II. In the book, I focus on anti-fascism when fascist regimes are not already in power. There is plenty to be said about Italian and Yugoslav partisans and all sorts of resistance in France and the Netherlands throughout World War II. Certainly, there was armed resistance to Franco in Spain.

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But as far as a militant antifa model in the post-war period, maybe the prototypical example was the 43 Group in London, that organized commando units to shut down fascist speakers and meetings on street corners around London in the 1940s. Perhaps the next biggest moment is the Battle of Lewisham in 1977, when the National Front organized an anti-mugging march in an immigrant neighborhood. All sorts of immigrant groups, left groups and feminist groups showed up to block their path and successfully shut it down, preventing the National Front from intimidating the community. Some of the participants of that action likened it to the earlier Battle of Cable Street.

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Other examples include the Battle of Waterloo in 1992, when Anti-Fascist Action in Britain confronted some skinhead groups and essentially had a battle in a train station. Then, you can also look at the blockades of different white supremacist marches.

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continued at In These Times.com

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