I’m getting a little tired of the whole antifa vs alt-right thing at the moment and am in the mood to move on, however, in fairness, I wanted to acknowledge that since my last post there has been a considerable increase in the commentary from the left critical of antifa violence. A certain discomfort with the violence and intimidation on the part of a sector of the left has been growing over the past few months. In the wake of Charlottesville and the recent antifa behavior in Berkeley – which was so outrageous that even the usual mainstream media outlets were unable to sustain the “clash of extremists” meme (although a number initially tried), let alone the even more preferable (to them) claim of “neo-nazi violence” – dissenting voices on the left have become more widespread.
While most of the objections still focus on the arguing that antifa violence is strategically ineffective, alienating potential supporters and allowing the detestable deplorables to assume the role of victims, etc(1), a few actually condemned the acts in themselves(2). Even before the Berkeley events Noam Chomsky had called antifa behavior “often wrong in principle” and after the events he was joined by others, including Chris Hedges, who argued in How ‘Antifa’ Mirrors the ‘Alt-Right’ that the black bloc and the alt-right share “the same lust for violence….”
Carl Boggs, long-time left scholar and activist, went even further, arguing against the left’s propensity to attempt to silence offending voices in a Counterpunch article The Strange (and Tortured) Legacy of “Free Speech”
“The irony is that while the [Free Speech Movement] and its heirs did everything possible to expand the realm of free speech, new social forces – extreme identity groups, Antifa – want to restrict or deny freedoms.”
Boggs and others have also questioned the focus on what remains an extremely marginal movement (the alt-right) by a movement which essentially gave a pass to the Obama administration and the Democrats in general:
Antifa screams about racism and fascism on the right, which of course exists, while ignoring those same tendencies – not to mention warmongering – among liberal Democrats.
Let us be very clear. The white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville, hate-filled and repugnant as their goals may be, are not the ones responsible for the U.S. wars on Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. … If we truly want to challenge racism, oppression, and inequality, we should turn our attention away from the few hundred marchers in Charlottesville and towards the real sources and enforcers of our unjust global order. They are not hard to find.
Still others have raised the concern that the silencing of “fascists” creates a precedent dangerous to the left itself. A couple of articles by Nathan J. Robinson at Current Affairs (Thinking Strategically About Free Speech And Violence and Response to A Critique on Free Speech and Violence) raise this point while also attempting to (obviously uncomfortably) straddle the “it’s wrong”/”it’s ineffective” fence.
In spite of all of the above, several critical factors remain largely unaddressed:
- For all of the hand-wringing over antifa violence, there has been very little discussion of the parallel process in which large tech corporations did their own no-platforming of various alt-right voices and even attempted to further persecute a number of individuals, often with the direct encouragement from the left. While an occasional voice has raised an “if it can happen to them, it can happen to us” concern, few on the left have really objected to this radically new and far more chilling example of censorship directly by corporate power, unmediated by state involvement and largely immune from democratic protections. Claims by the antifa and others that free speech rights only apply to protection from government censorship serve to legitimize this.
- The essential unity (regardless of tactical differences) of virtually the entire left – from the most moderate to the likes of the Revolutionary Communist Party (“Refuse Fascism“) and various antifa – with the vast majority of the ruling class on the issue of the alt-right ought to at least give the left pause to consider whose interests are really being served by all of this.
- In spite of the radicalism of its rhetoric, the antifa movement, along with the rest of the left, is motivated by an agenda fundamentally identical (at least on the day-to-day level) to that of the ruling class – mass immigration and multiculturalism. As I’ve argued previously the left has been mobilized as shock troops in the elite’s war against Trump’s nationalist deviation (however half-hearted) from this. Talk of the threat of fascism only serves to further legitimize this political subordination of the left to the ruling class.
(1)The examples are endless at this point, with all kinds of takes on the subject. I particularly enjoyed several by Unrepentant Marxist Louis Proyect for example, who gives us multiple updated versions of the SWP’s “ultraleftism or mass action” line we all loved so much back in the day: Peter Camejo on fascism and ultraleftism and Antifa and the Perils of Adventurism, among others, along with his latest Could Punching Nazis Have Prevented Hitler From Taking Power – all with his usual mixture of common sense and post-Trotskyist dogmatism. (I particularly like his grouping of posts on the antifa ultraleft in a category titled “black bloc idiots.”)
(2) Nancy Pelosi, who only very marginally counts as being on the left, said after the Berkeley events:
“Our democracy has no room for inciting violence or endangering the public, no matter the ideology of those who commit such acts. The violent actions of people calling themselves antifa in Berkeley this weekend deserve unequivocal condemnation, and the perpetrators should be arrested and prosecuted.”