Fascism can be difficult to define as all fascist movements do not include the exact same features. Fascism itself is based on the melding of antithetical ideas and contains internal logical inconsistencies (ie- elitist yet populist, being extreme right yet using the language and trappings of the left, revolutionary yet conservative, etc). Unfortunately the term has come to be used as a political epithet for any idea that is authoritarian, right-wing, or simply undesirable. This poses a problem for antifascists as we feel that it is important to use this term in as precise a manner as possible. To that end we utilize a definition of fascism which is based on a cluster of traits. While a movement may not have every single one, if it has a preponderance of these traits, we classify it as fascist.
RCA recognizes a number of characteristics of fascist movements:
Fascism is an ultra-nationalist ideology that mobilizes around and glorifies a national identity defined in exclusive racial, cultural, and/or historical terms, valuing this identity above all other interests (ie: gender or class). Fascism is marked by its hostility towards Enlightenment values and rationalism. The core national identity in Fascism is contrasted and enforced by the dehumanization and scapegoating of marginalized or oppressed groups, and the creation of a vilified “other”. Fascism is marked by its reliance on violence or threats of violence to impose views on others, and its propensity to create compliance through terror. It is anti-communist, anti-liberal, and anti-conservative. Fascism exalts “manliness” and expresses contempt for “effeminate” or “soft” values. Antisemitism and racism are primary facets of National Socialism and most other varieties of fascism. Fascism aims at a militarized society, and organizes along military or quasi-military lines. It has an authoritarian structure usually revolving around a single, charismatic leader. Fascist groups may have the facade of an efficient and dynamic organization, but in reality, power structures are arbitrary and ruthless. Fascists use anti-elitist, populist rhetoric to appeal to the “common man,” coupled with internal elitism and willingness to accept support from existing elites. Fascism glorifies a mythologized past as justification for its present ideological stances, and as a basis for future organization of society. It portrays the current social and political situation as one of dire decay brought about by decadence and corruption, this decline is generally attributed to a departure from the traditional values of this mythologized past. This nationalist narrative is infused with racist, xenophobic, homophobic, and misogynistic features. Fascism posits itself as both a revolutionary and traditionalist politic.
Don’t white supremacists and fascists have rights like everybody else?
No one has the right to threaten our community with violence. Likewise, we reject the “right” of the government and police - who have more in common with fascists than they do with us - to decide for us when fascists have crossed the line from merely expressing themselves into posing an immediate threat. We will not abdicate our freedom to judge when and how to defend ourselves.
Won’t antifa resistance only backfire by generating interest in them?
Resistance to fascism doesn’t increase interest in fascist views. If anything, liberals mobilizing to defend fascists on free speech grounds increases interest in their views by conferring legitimacy on them. This plays directly into their organizing goals, allowing them to drive a wedge between their opponents using free speech as a smokescreen. By tolerating racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, and xenophobia, so-called free speech advocates are complicit in the acts of terror that fascist organizing makes possible.
Shouldn’t we just ignore them? They want attention, and if we give it to them we’re letting them win.
Actually, fascists usually don’t want to draw attention to their organizing; they do most of it in secret, fearing (correctly) that an outraged public will shut them down. They only organize public events to show potential recruits that they have power, and to try to legitimize their views as part of the political spectrum. By publicly disrupting and humiliating fascists, we make it clear to them and their potential supporters that they are not in control and can’t wield the power that they glorify. Ignoring fascists only allows them to organize unhindered - a dangerous mistake. Better we shut them down once and for all.
Aren’t Neo-Nazis are irrelevant? Isn't institutionalized racism the real threat today, not the extremists at the fringe?
Our society’s institutions are indeed deeply racist, and our organizing must challenge and dismantle them. But the visibility of neo-Nazis and fringe fascists enables other right-wing groups to frame themselves as moderates, legitimizing their racist and xenophobic positions and the systems of power and privilege they defend. Taking a stand against fascists is an essential step toward discrediting the structures and values at the root of institutionalized racism. Plus suit-and-tie fascists are infiltrating positions of influence in academia and politics, giving them dangerous power to advance racist policies on an institutional level.
And fascists around the world are still terrorizing and murdering people. It’s both naive and disrespectful to their victims to minimize the reality of fascist violence. Fascists act directly to carry out their agenda rather than limiting themselves to representative democracy, so even small numbers can be disproportionately dangerous, making it crucial to deal with them swiftly.
Doesn’t stopping fascists from speaking make you just as bad as them?
Failing to stop fascists from speaking - that is, giving them the opportunity to organize to impose their agenda on the rest of us - makes you as bad as them. If you care about freedom, don’t stand idly by while people mobilize to take it away
Free speech means protecting everyone’s right to speak, including people you don’t agree with. How would you like it if you had an unpopular opinion and other people were trying to silence you? Isn't that censorship?
The First Amendment and related free speech laws protect citizens from state interference, not from criticism by the public. We point this out not because we care to validate a law-and-order analysis, but because it is a popular argument based on erroneous assumptions. Clearly, we do not have a powerful state apparatus at our disposal (we cannot imprison or fine our opponents for example) therefore the concepts of "censorship" and "free speech rights" are not in any reasonable way applicable. Moreover, our organization has always been clear that we do not call for any sort of government intervention regarding hateful speech. We aim to address issues of racist and extreme-Right organizing within communities, not to trust or engage the courts, or to ask for government action. We oppose calls to fight fascist movements through increases of state power, as this firstly treats the state as an allegedly neutral tool and conceals institutional racism. Furthermore, increases in state investigative and prosecutorial power against alleged “extremism” can facilitate crackdowns on protest and social change movements in general, which we oppose.
Venues, groups, and individuals make decisions about who they are going to give a platform to, who they are willing to organize with, and what ideas they are going to promote. Obviously, free speech does not mean venues have no choice but to book fascist bands, that every radical space is required to host white supremacist speakers, or that every group is obligated to allow bigoted members to join. If an organization or individual opts to align with fascism, they should be held accountable for that decision. Those that knowingly provide a platform or organizing space for fascists are not simply neutral conduits, hapless victims, or innocent bystanders. They have agency.
This is not a thought experiment or abstract debate. Actions follow ideas. We oppose fascists because of what they do, not what they say. We’re not opposed to free speech; we’re opposed to enacting an agenda of hate and terror. We target individuals and groups that are organizing along fascist lines. Their public events don’t exist to benignly express ideas, but to build the power they need to enforce their vicious world view.
The government and police have never protected everyone’s free speech equally, and never will; they systematically repress views and actions that challenge existing power inequalities. They spend hundreds of thousands of public dollars on riot police and helicopters to defend a KKK rally, but for a radical demonstration the same police will be there to stop it, not to protect it; just look at the evictions of the Occupy encampments, attacks on Earth First! actions, or countless other examples. Of course anarchists don’t like being silenced by the state, but we don’t want the state to define and manage our freedom, either. The First Amendment covers what laws Congress shall or shall not enact; it’s up to us to determine what we need to do to defend ourselves. Unlike the ACLU, whose supposed defense of “freedom” leads them to support the KKK and neo-Nazis, we support self-defense and self-determination above all. What’s the purpose of free speech, if not to foster a world free from oppression? Fascists oppose this vision; thus we oppose fascism by any means necessary.
The best way to defeat fascism is to let them express their views so that everyone can see how ignorant they are. Can’t we refute them more effectively with ideas than force?
People don’t become fascists simply because they’re persuaded by their ideas. Fascism claims to offer power to those who feel threatened by shifting social and economic realities. The fact that their analysis of these shifts are ignorant misses the point; do we need to cite examples of how dumb ideas have proved massively popular throughout history? From Italy to Germany to streets around the world today, fascists haven’t gained strength through rational argument, but through organizing to wield power at the expense of others. To counter this, we can’t just argue against them; we have to prevent them from organizing by any means necessary. We can debate their ideas all day long, but if we don’t prevent them from building the capacity to make them reality, it won’t matter. Only popular self-defense, not simply debate, has succeeded in stopping fascism.