A lot of attention has been paid recently to “antifa,” but where does it actually come from? Historian Mark Bray has a new book out, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, to explain the history and present of anti-fascist organizing. He explains the various tactics, inspirations, and motivations for anti-fascists throughout the 20th century, and how that work pertains to today’s political moment.
The interviews I did with anti-racists from the late 1980s and early 1990s were unanimous in citing the origins of their organizing in contestations over the local punk scene. A lot of Europeans talk about anti-fascism as kind of a gateway drug for politics or as a first exposure to radical politics because of the immediacy of the white power threat in social scenes, community centers, punk shows, everyday life for youth. People that I spoke to in the US from a number of different places talked about this being a politics that was immediate, that mattered in their everyday life. I interviewed an anti-fascist from Denmark who emphasized that as a young person, combating capitalism was such a huge task, it was a global task. But being able to push a dozen neo-Nazi skinheads out of the scene was something that was achievable and tangible and immediate and super important in everyday life in a way that young people could feel like they were making a difference. The people that I spoke to said that by the mid-1990s, by the late 1990s anti-racist organizing in North America had largely been successful in marginalizing white power skinheads and pushing them out of the scene. To me, that is a huge accomplishment that needs to be on the record. If this were all laid out for mainstream pundits, I think they would still be dismissive of the importance subcultural scenes, in general, but I think that the whole anti-fascist politics takes seriously subcultural spaces as a way that they can promote politics more widely.
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