Category Archives: Nationalism

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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My Family’s Secret Refugee Past – Aram Sinnreich. 

A descendent of Ukrainian refugees and World War II camp liberators sees in his family’s history an answer to rising anti-immigrant sentiment.

I woke up last night, as I have so often in recent months, in a state of panic. My heart was racing and my muscles tensed, as if my body was already braced for violence. My mind was racing, too, not with the remembered snippets of some fleeting nightmare, but rather with the full knowledge of yesterday’s news, and anticipation of today’s and tomorrow’s.

I know I’m not alone. Many friends have reported similar problems, and there is certainly no lack of real-time camaraderie on Facebook and Twitter at any time of night, though it’s always accompanied by fresh provocations, revelations and inducements to rage. Indeed, it seems that the entire nation’s mood — from left to right, from top to bottom — has gotten stuck in permanent fight-or-flight mode, like a laboratory animal with post-traumatic stress disorder. Even several committed pacifists I know have begun to talk openly about investing in personal firearms and to debate the morality of political assassination. While I don’t condone this widespread turn toward violence, I certainly do understand it; what else are we to do with all the fear and anger in our collective bloodstream? If we don’t flee, we have to fight.

For me, the only path through this predicament has been to remind myself, constantly, that there is a third way, an option beyond our baser instincts. Fortunately, I have a powerful example from my own family history to draw upon: If it weren’t for a simple act of mercy shown by a soldier in the midst of war a century ago, I wouldn’t be here to tell the story today.

My grandfather was born in 1914 on the outskirts of Stanislau, Galicia, a town and country that no longer exist (it is the current site of Ivano-Frankivsk, Ukraine). His family, one of the few Jewish ones in the midst of a devout Catholic community, ran a small grocery store, behind which was a two-room home with no electricity and only a bread oven for heat. In 1913, some locals raided the store, leaving my great-grandparents utterly destitute. My great-grandfather decided to leave for America, where he hoped to make some money, then return and rebuild. He was only supposed to be gone for a few months, but unfortunately, fate intervened: While he was away, World War I erupted, rendering him unable to return to his wife Rifka, who had six young children and yet another (my grandfather) on the way.

By the time my grandfather was an infant, World War I was unfolding on his doorstep. The family dog was felled by a soldier’s pistol; other bullets struck my great-grandmother’s home and narrowly missed killing her in the street. During the day, soldiers would come looking for food and supplies, taking whatever they could, sometimes at gunpoint. Once, a Cossack strode into the house, speared a loaf of bread off the table with his sword, and left with promises to return soon for more, leaving the family alive, though shaken and hungry. At night, Rifka and her seven children slept huddled on the hard-packed dirt floor, worrying that bullets or worse would come through the blacked-out windows and barricaded doors.

Without either goods in the store or money from my great-grandfather (or, indeed, any word from him), my great-grandmother was left to fend for her family in any way she could. Mostly, this meant smuggling. The German soldiers to the west of the line had material goods but little food; the Russians on the other side had food but no cloth to mend their ragged clothes. So Rifka would wrap her entire body with bolts of cloth and yarn, then don her clothes, and walk across the front line from west to east. Once she was there, she would exchange the smuggled textiles for food (mostly potatoes), stow it away, and walk back across the line, where she would sell or exchange it to the German soldiers.

This went on for months. Every day, my great-grandmother was in danger for her life, and not just from the bombs and bullets of warfare. The penalty for smuggling was execution on the spot, so if she was caught even once with her contraband, it would spell the end for her, and most likely, for her children as well.

One night, Rifka did get caught. Some soldiers patrolling the west side of the line captured her as she was returning from the east with her smuggled vegetables. They brought her to their commanding officer, a German lieutenant. My great-grandmother fell to the floor, prostrating herself before the officer and begging for mercy — not for her own sake, but for the children’s, who would be left alone in the middle of a war zone if she were executed. Luckily, the German lieutenant took pity on Rifka and spared her life and, by extension, those of her children.

Not long after this incident, the whole family became refugees, relocating to Romania for two years. Eventually, when the war ended, they returned briefly to what was left of Stanislau, and then all eight of them emigrated to America to rejoin my great-grandfather, sailing from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, and settling in Hartford, Connecticut. My grandfather Simon was six when he met his father for the first time, safely reunited on American soil.

Simon loved America, and never stopped being grateful for the opportunities this country gave him — not only to live, but to thrive. He was accepted to Harvard University (very rare for a Jew at the time, though his older brother had gone there), yet he opted instead to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point, and to pursue a career as a U.S. Army officer.

By 1945, my grandfather was a Lieutenant Colonel, stationed in Germany. One day, he and his men liberated a Nazi work camp, filled with corpses and the barely living. The abject brutality of the scene was overwhelming; it was a memory Simon would carry to his grave. Some of the enlisted men captured a German officer, and pushed him up against the wall of a barracks, planning to execute him on the spot for his war crimes. At this point, my grandfather did something extraordinary — something I’m not sure I’d have the strength to do. He intervened, saving the Nazi officer’s life. To him, it was a simple moral calculus: to kill a Nazi summarily, without a fair trial, when he posed no immediate threat, was itself an act of evil, on par with the crimes of the Nazis themselves. To kill them was to become them.

I’ve known this story for decades; my grandfather told it to me when I was a teenager, during the last years of his life. But when I asked my father about it a few days ago, I was shocked to discover he’d never heard it. My grandfather never talked about the war, he says; it was too horrible. I called my aunt for corroboration. No dice. I called my father’s cousin. Same thing. None of them knew about this remarkable act of mercy, either. Apparently, Simon never told anyone else this story, only me.

When I’ve thought about Simon’s act of mercy over the years, I always considered it to be a parable about morality, and about the value of keeping a cool head and an open heart in the face of overwhelming fear and anger. It certainly is that, but it’s also more than that.

I only learned about Rifka’s struggles, her World War I smuggling operation, and her brush with summary execution a few months ago, when I read a memoir by one of her older sons, my great uncle Joe. As soon as I learned this new piece of family history, Simon’s story suddenly clicked into place. It wasn’t merely an act of moral rectitude, or adherence to some abstract higher principles. Simon himself must have been well aware of the act of mercy by which that German officer had saved his own life a generation earlier — and his intervention to save the Nazi’s life can therefore only be understood as a cosmic act of payback. A chance to keep the karmic wheel in spin, to “pay it forward,” in the parlance of our times.

Why did Simon choose to tell me this story, when he apparently kept it secret from his own siblings and children? I can’t be sure, but I think he just wanted it stowed away somewhere in safe keeping, so that it could be told when the time was right. That time, sadly, is now. When the entire world seems to be succumbing to the same kind of insanity that brought us those two World Wars, when the horrors of the Holocaust seem increasingly likely to be revisited, and augmented, by today’s heirs apparents to the Nazi legacy. When a sociopathic charlatan like Donald Trump can plunge our democracy — our sanctuary — into chaos in a matter of days.

I’m angry as hell. I cry every day now, and not because I’m a fragile “snowflake,” but because I can barely contain the murderous rage that seethes through every vein in my body when I see the desecration of Simon’s memory and the scale of cruelty and injustice being perpetrated on the vulnerable of the world in my own name. Nearly everyone I know feels the same. I can no longer imagine a path forward for us as a nation, or as a species, that doesn’t involve hideous bloodshed, and the splintering of every peaceful bastion of civil society. I am, sadly, prepared to fight — to kill, to die, to play my assigned role in this farce, because what else can I do?

Yet, I am also committed to doing more than just that. Because of the unlikely mercy of a nameless German officer a century ago, my children and I are free to live, and to love. We owe every second of our lives to that man. And, because my grandfather repaid that karmic debt a generation later, saving the life of his bitterest enemy, who knows how many German children have been born, lived, and loved in the years since then?

So, yes, I’m prepared to fight, to protect the lives of those I love, and even to protect the institutions and abstract principles of the democracy that gave my family a home when we needed one so many years ago. But, if we’re ever going to emerge from the other side of this impending shitstorm with a shred of our humanity intact, it’s not going to be as a result of how many bullets we’ve fired, or had fired at us. It’s going to be because of the times we chose not to fight and kill, the moments we were able to transcend our rage and fear, and to see one another, just for a moment, as the delicate and precious links in the improbable story of the survival of human species that each of us truly represents. If we do ultimately survive this madness, we will do so one small act of mercy at a time.

The Daily Beast

Donald Trump, Putin, Duterte: Dangerous, populist leaders a ‘threat’ to world – NZ Herald. 

Campaigns such as Brexit and the rise of populist leaders including Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin and Rodrigo Duterte have fuelled new levels of hate, intolerance and bigotry.

But the world will pay a heavy price for playing the politics of fear in 2017, a new report has warned.

The election of US President-elect Donald Trump after a “campaign fermenting hatred and intolerance” and the rising influence of political parties in Western Europe that reject universal rights pose a bigger risk to the world than ever before.

The Human Rights Watch 2017 World Reportreleased released today warns the politics of fear has allowed dangerous and popular leaders to flourish at the expense of the very people who elected them.

In the 687 page report’s introduction, HRW executive Director Kenneth Roth warns of “a new generation of authoritarian populists seeks to overturn the concept of human rights protections, treating rights not as an essential check on official power but as an impediment to the majority will.”

NZ Herald

Back To The Future. How Bad Can It Get? Prepare For Economic Nationalism – Kurt Huebner. 

2016 was already quite miserable in so many respects; 2017 promises to get even worse. Looking at the chamber of horrors President-elect Trump is putting together and assuming that he will indeed prove at any price that he is the maverick President he promised to be during the campaign, then Washington D.C. will turn into the capital of evil, kind of.

The scripts for a policy turn from forms of neoliberalism to economic nationalism are already drafted – not only in the US but also across Europe. At this point, economic nationalism is only openly active in Hungary and, one can argue, in the making in Poland. In most European societies, economic nationalism has not yet arrived and, so far, is the hymn of populist opposition parties alone. An optimistic scenario could make the case that this will also be the state of affairs during 2017. The victory of Alexander Van der Bellen in Austria’s presidential election is the lightning rod for ways in which political populism and economic nationalism can be stopped from becoming official policy. Others make the point that this outcome should be seen as an exemption from the emerging populist trend, and that the Freedom Party in Austria may benefit from Van der Bellen’s victory as voters will be stick to their policy preferences when it comes to general elections where the victor has real power to make political and policy changes.

Let me outline my nightmare scenario. It probably needs no further terrorist attack on Nice or Berlin lines to make the Party for Freedom (PVV) led by Geert Wilders the strongest party in the Netherlands in March. The PVV may not win a majority but will be in position to form a new government that will leverage on the widespread rejection of the EU in general and of the Euro in particular. The path will be prepared for a referendum in 2018 about membership of the Eurozone, and during 2017 a PVV-led government will start to introduce those parts of its project of economic nationalism that can be put in place by pure national decision-making.

Encouraged by this victory and supported by the lack of alternative political offers from the left, voters in France will eventually make Marine Le Pen their first female President, and thus prepare the ground for a true shift towards economic nationalism that will change the French Republic as well as 60 years of European integration. The Euro will be put to a referendum, and at the same time a President Le Pen will start with her moves to protect French workers from international competition. Anti-Islamist policies will provide the public support for this project of path change. In Italy, we will see political fights between the European Council and the Italian government about dealing with the ailing banking industry. The attempt to circumvent strict EU rules will only add fuel to the anti-EU fire, and a snap election eventually will see the Five Star Movement emerge as the strongest party. Economic populism and strict anti-Euro sentiments will prevail and Italy will join the queue of countries who want to give up the Euro.

All those developments will generate second thoughts in Germany – one of the most EU-friendly countries – and will turn the campaigns for both Chancellor Angela Merkel as well as for the Social Democrats into a delicate balancing act as voters see that the country is losing all its European partners and may be left as the sole net contributor to a shrinking EU. The European pillar of Germany’s political economy will gradually crumble. As soon as March, negotiations with the UK about the details of the divorce will heat up, and the Commission strategy of putting a high price on the exit-option will run into difficulties as the fault lines in the EU are getting worse. The more countries question the Euro and the EU, the lower the price for the UK – and the less attractive the project of European integration becomes.

These internal developments come hand in hand with the challenges posed by the dramatic policy changes in the US. The Trump administration will interpret the sliding exchange rate of the Euro as a further proof of European mercantilism and retaliate with trade policy measures that put export-oriented economies like Germany and the Netherlands under intense external pressure. Retaliation will become the policy of the day. All this will result in a disintegration, at the global as well as at the regional level. The emerging trade and currency war will be a further push towards economic nationalism (if any were needed).

Fortunately, all this need not happen. Voters may come to their senses. Evidence may return to become the base for political decisions. Political alternatives for dealing with the implications of twenty years of forms of neoliberalism may emerge. I keep on dreaming…

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Kurt Huebner is Professor of European Studies and the Jean Monnet Chair at the Institute for European Studies at the University of British Columbia, Canada.

Social Europe