What happened to Anarchism?

A critique of American Antifa


I just wrote and published a long essay that I’ve been terrified of putting out into the world, regardless of how true it is.

It became too long for Substack (there is a character limit for emails after which the message becomes clipped), so I instead posted it at A Beautiful Resistance.

It’s about anarchism and American Antifa, and it’s absolutely something I doubt I’d have had the courage to write without all your support for me here at From The Forests of Arduinna. That being said, if I were a drinker, I’d be drinking right now to not be so fucking scared of likely backlash.

Here is a short excerpt of the essay:

What changed in 2015 was the beginning of Donald Trump’s presidential candidacy and the rise of the “alt-right.” Suddenly, anarchism was back in vogue, but it had a new name: Antifa.

Antifa has quite a lot of similarities to Black Bloc. Antifa doesn’t really exist anymore than you can say that Black Bloc anarchists really exist, yet neither of these statements are fully true. Anyone can be Black Bloc just as anyone can be Antifa, but I can assure you that the anarchists who were forming a Black Bloc in the protests I participated in were very often the same ones each time. We also knew who were the “leaders” of those groups, the ones who were always directing the general movements of the Bloc and making the tactical decisions on when to mask up and when to unmask and blend back in to the crowd.

Antifa is the same way. Antifa has leaders who will of course disavow until the end of their days that they are leaders. Regardless, it is the same groups and same people making the same calls to action, and those groups are headed by the same small group of people each time. Each Antifa Twitter account calls itself a collective, but in each case it’s just two or three people (and often just one person) issuing the proclamations.

Here it’s also worth noting that the infamous article published by Quillette two years ago, as well as Andy Ngo’s work “exposing” Antifa isn’t as false as many Antifa-associated people would have you think. Antifa operates on many series of personal relationships and associations between “nodes.” Those nodes—or really just people— are often working as journalists and self-avowed researchers, while also working closely with Antifa organizers and sometimes as organizers themselves (for instance, running Antifa social media accounts or websites).

It’s also worth noting that Antifa is hardly the first kind of anti-fascist organizing in the United States, but rather a kind of rebranding and co-option of earlier modes of organization. Every Marxist group in the United States (including the Revolutionary Workers Party, The International Socialist Organization, the Socialist Alternative, and the Freedom Socialist Party) organized actions against Nazis and white supremacist groups well before Antifa arose, and often their community calls brought in anarchists such as myself. Antifa, on the other hand, organized less against such larger threats and more against bands like Death In June, using threats and property damage to scare business owners and promoters rather than drawing from organizational strength (because they had none).

The point here is that Antifa is a specifically anarchist organizing tactic, rather than a general leftist one. While other leftist groups saw opposition to fascism as a natural outgrowth of their opposition to capitalism, Antifa’s only purpose is in its name: anti-fascism.

This, of course, leads to all kinds of ideological problems. Socialist groups identify fascism as an immune response of the capitalist order, and have concrete ways of determining whether a movement is fascist or just reactionary. Antifa, lacking a larger political framework, can draw only from its core anarchist ideology for such identification. And of course by the time Antifa fully arose in the middle of the last decade, anarchism had become so intertwined with liberal “anti-oppression” ideology that fascism and oppression became synonymous.

The rise of Trump and the alt-right tied this ideological knot for them, while simultaneously giving anarchists something to make them relevant again. The sudden popularity of alt-right thinkers Richard Spencer and Milo Yiannopoulos—themselves riding the coattails of Trump’s nationalist rhetoric—provided exactly the kind of heroic crisis anarchists desperately wanted. Suddenly, there were “fascists” to fight, just like in Catalonia.

Except of course Trump was never a fascist, and neither really were any but a very small handful of the Alt-Right luminaries. What they were was something else entirely, an illiberal force which rejected the anti-oppression framework that anarchists had for years internalized. That same anti-oppression framework now had a new name: intersectionality, or social justice, or what we now call “wokeness.”

Trump and the Alt-Right both rode upon a wave of populist opposition to the cultural and social effects of anti-oppression moralization. This cannot be understated: despite how much we might generally agree with the goals of social justice and anti-oppression work, it was all becoming really fucking ridiculous. The extreme and unhinged nature of anti-oppression work provided exactly what both Trump and the Alt-Right needed for their popularity as well, becoming a kind of shadow twin of the social justice absurdities for which Antifa became the ultimate champion.

Here’s the link for the essay.

And thanks for reading me.