Antifa: A Modern Boogeyman

No matter where you get news these days, it seems that the term “Antifa” is everywhere. But where did it come from? And what is the contemporary definition of being anti-fascist?

ANTIFASCHISTISCHE AKTION

The history of “Antifa,” shortened down from Antifaschistische Aktion began in the late 1920s and early 1930s within the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). The original KPD party was strongly aligned with the early Soviet Union party of Stalin, where “fascist” was used interchangeably to describe a capitalist society. Eventually, the term became ubiquitous with the KPD, where the term fascism was seen as the final stages of capitalism.

The KPD had a long history of opposing the Nazi party known as the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (it should be noted that Adolf Hitler’s definition of “socialist” or “socialism” was not our contemporary understanding or definition of a system that replaces or supplements a capitalist economy, but instead a way to socialize — to create — the volksgemeinschaft, or the people’s community, a homogeneous Aryan nation). Later on, after a brawl between Nazis’ Harzburg Front and Iron Front, the Unity Front was established, which was renamed to Antifaschistische Aktion. Unfortunately, by 1945, many of the areas of civil society had ceased to function and many in the Communist party as well as Social Democrats had been murdered. It was at this point that the original 1920s and 1930s KPD Antifa began to fracture apart, repulsed by the policies of Stalin, and the Antifa that has become a symbol for the Left was formed.

Historian Gareth Dale described the movements that coalesced in the wake of the Nazi regime in “Like Wildfire”?

Of all sectors of the population, it was industrial workers in the major towns that showed the greatest immunity to Nazism. Many trade unionists and socialists were able to maintain their traditions and beliefs, at least in some form, through the Nazi era. A courageous minority, including some 150,000 Communists, took part in illegal resistance. Wider layers avoided danger but were able to keep labour movement values and memories alive amongst groups of friends, in workplaces and on housing estates.

These groups were often called Antifaschistische Ausschüsse, Antifaschistische Kommittees, or Antifaschistische Aktion — “Antifa” for short. As Loren Balhorn describes:

They drew on the slogans and orientation of the prewar united front strategy, adopting the word “Antifa” from a last-ditch attempt to establish a cross-party alliance between Communist and Social Democratic workers in 1932. The alliance’s iconic logo, devised by Association of Revolutionary Visual Artists members Max Keilson and Max Gebhard, has been since become one of the Left’s most well-known symbols.

These groups focused on everything from activism — such as decrying the 12 years of Nazi education and socialization which had annihilated many young people’s class consciousness and proletarian values — to hunting down Nazi criminals and Nazi party leaders (called “Werewolves”).

While many Antifa groups were still dominated by the KPD, local groups looked to learn from earlier mistakes and build a “non-sectarian labor movement bridging divisions,” pushing back against the brutal capitalist measures of Nazism, and calling for an egalitarian economy.

Leftist policies, such as nationalization of industry, were popular in the post-war anti-fascist movement. One committee declared:

The will to merge into a powerful political party lives in the hearts of the millions of supporters of the once warring German workers’ parties as the most meaningful outcome of their shared suffering. This desire is deeply etched into all of the surviving prisoners from the concentration camps, prisons, and Gestapo institutions.

Antifascist rally at Buchenwald concentration camp, 1945

These organizations had some success but remained outside of the powerful Allied hegemony, ultimately eroding their effectiveness and impact on the consolidation of power.

A NEW THREAT

A few years ago, American law enforcement, from local to federal, were briefed by the NSA on a new terror threat called “Antifa.” Before this, these briefings had largely been about foreign terror threats, such as Al-Qaeda, but were based on the information provided by the Verfassungsschutz (Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution), the German security agency. This relationship had developed when years prior the NSA struck a deal with the Verfassungsschutz which provided them with a new piece of software: XKEYSCORE — one of the most powerful and alarming tools of mass surveillance in the US and across the world. According to the Intercept:

The NSA’s XKEYSCORE program, first revealed by The Guardian, sweeps up countless people’s Internet searches, emails, documents, usernames and passwords, and other private communications. XKEYSCORE is fed a constant flow of Internet traffic from fiber optic cables that make up the backbone of the world’s communication network, among other sources, for processing.

Collected communications not only include emails, chats and web-browsing traffic, but also pictures, documents, voice calls, webcam photos, web searches, advertising analytics traffic, social media traffic, botnet traffic, logged keystrokes, computer network exploitation (CNE) targeting, intercepted username and password pairs, file uploads to online services, Skype sessions and more.

Slide from a 2008 NSA presentation about XKeyscore, showing a world map with the locations of XKeyscore servers

At the time, the head of the Verfassungsschutz was Hans-Georg Maaßen, who became famous during the 2018 Chemnitz protests, when thousands of neo-Nazis were caught hunting people who appeared to be “foreign.” Despite the ample amounts of footage, Maaßen “questioned whether there was any credible evidence for such ‘hunts’, and stated that his security agency had in fact not seen any such evidence. Maaßen offered no reason for questioning the widely accepted narrative of what had happened in Chemnitz.”

Shortly after this controversy, Maaßen was caught in yet another scandal when Maaßen presented himself as a victim of a “radical left-wing” conspiracy in the German government. Shortly thereafter, he was placed in early retirement.

Unfortunately, this has not been the first time the Verfassungschutz had been caught in a far-right scandal. Years prior, the Verfassungschutz were caught destroying evidence of their involvement in the NSU (a far-right German neo-Nazi terrorist group) scandal, in which neo-Nazis bombed immigrant owned business and executed people who did not appear to be white.

Since Maaßen’s departure, he has been caught making headlines for his involvement in personal meetings with members of the German far-right parties on how to avoid prosecution by his former agency.

THE RISE OF THE ALT-RIGHT

Unfortunately, the US media has taken much of this information from US government agencies as credible and has elevated those who run in white nationalist circles that espouse this misinformation.

Worse, as many members of the modern German Neo-Nazi party circulate their ideas online in places such as 4chan and 8chan (removed from Google search results due to hosting child pornography, mass shooter manifestos, and Nazi content), white nationalist actors and young white men have mingled with these groups, circulating memes and groupthink across social media platforms.

This new group, which calls itself the “alt-right” is described by Angela Nagle in Kill All Normies as a group…

…preoccupied with IQ, European demographic and civilization decline, cultural decadence, cultural Marxism, anti-egalitarianism and Islamification, but most importantly, as the name suggests, with creating an alternate to the right-wing conservative establishment, who they dismiss as ‘cuckservatives’ for their soft Christian passivity and for metaphorically cuckholding their womenfolk/nation/race to the non-white foreign invader.

Alt-right personalities and tech algorithms have amplified these viewpoints over the years, which have then in turn been utilized by neo-Nazi terrorist cells, such as Atomwaffen (“atomic weapons”), a group which “distinguishes itself by its extreme rhetoric, influenced by the writings of a neo-Nazi of an earlier generation, James Mason, who admired Charles Manson and supported the idea of lone wolf violence.”

One such example of alt-right writings in the US being utilized to the benefit of neo-Nazi groups was the infamous article by Andy Ngo’s publication the Quilette, “The Journalists Writing About Antifa Are Often Their Cheerleaders,” which circulated the names of 15 journalists who were later targeted by Atomwaffen. Andy Ngo has since appeared on CNN as a “photojournalist” and the NYT has called him a “conservative journalist,” legitimizing his viewpoints of an Antifa boogeyman across modern media.

Among the majority of the modern Left, the concept of an organized antifa still remains a parody of the sentimentality and absurd priorities of performative politics and mass media, with comments such as, “I am the CEO of Antifa AMA,” ironic Facebook groups of anti-fascist Juggalos, and scathingly sarcastic commentary of online culture.

But unfortunately for the rest of the population, the manufactured memes and illegitimate talking points frequently appeal to old-fashioned racism, McCarthyism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry, whether intended to be clever parody of inane hysteria or not.

THE RISE OF MODERN FASCISM

From Wikipedia: Benito Mussolini (left) and Adolf Hitler (right), the leaders of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany respectively, were both fascists

Fascism, as a political ideology, has not changed much since its first appearance in World War I. While no one can come to an agreed upon definition of fascism, the core tenets are a fondness for dictatorships, police, the military, and capitalism; aggressive imperialist foreign police; toxic masculinity; belief in the atomic family; and racism and/or social Darwinism, usually guised in dog-whistles about “Western culture” or “the white race.”

These characteristics did not die in the 1940s however. In the 1980s, under the guidance of the Reagan administration (a President that is amusingly most famous for his “Evil Empire” speech), it would make a re-appearance. Elliot Abrams, the Assistant Secretary of State for Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs, committed many of the most inhumane acts of US foreign policy from the past 40 years, including funding death squads and funding the overthrow of Central and South American governments. The Intercept retells one particular act of barbarism in El Salvador:

Moreover, the Salvadoran regime continually engaged in acts of barbarism so heinous that there is no contemporary equivalent, except perhaps ISIS. In one instance, a Catholic priest reported that a peasant woman briefly left her three small children in the care of her mother and sister. When she returned, she found that all five had been decapitated by the Salvadoran National Guard. Their bodies were sitting around a table, with their hands placed on their heads in front of them, “as though each body was stroking its own head.” The hand of one, a toddler, apparently kept slipping off her small head, so it had been nailed onto it. At the center of the table was a large bowl full of blood.

Since then, many countries — US included—have drifted ever-closer to fascist policies, albeit not in title. Almost ubiquitously, we can observe bolstered police and military forces, increased military intervention overseas, never-ending wars in the Middle East, and gutted regulations from multinational banking organizations (causing the economic crisis of 1986–1995 as well as 2007–2009).

All of this has been done at the cost of social safety nets, economic equality, combating poverty, mental health, and democratic institutions. The effects of which can be seen globally, from increasing global unrest to a healthcare system that leaves doctors and nurses fighting a pandemic in garbage bags while police show up to protests dressed as a video game protagonist.

Regardless of the name, fascism is at its heart a brutal, uncaring, and merciless ideology that not only should be opposed, but must be actively fought against if we are to dream of a better, kinder, more equitable world. If that makes me an anti-fascist, so be it.

--

--

--

Love podcasts or audiobooks? Learn on the go with our new app.

Recommended from Medium

Why Are Sunken Ships Disappearing In The Java Sea?

America’s Last Emperor: Duel

What If Names Mattered?

Absorbing the intense murals of Northern Ireland’s troubled divide

Swamy’s Café

Despite discrimination and drought, Punjabi Americans farm on

Green Spaces in Chicago

Today in True Crime History: March 28

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Kristen Fuller

Kristen Fuller

More from Medium

Climate Change is a Class Struggle: How Capitalism Destroyed the Planet (Part 2)

Please Envy Our “Democracy”

🦋 Is Chinese democracy democracy?

Don’t Look Up, dear Children of Dune