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Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook

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As long as there has been fascism, there has been anti-fascism—also known as "antifa." Born out of resistance to Mussolini and Hitler in Europe during the 1920s and '30s, the antifa movement has suddenly burst into the headlines amidst opposition to the Trump administration and the alt-right. They could be seen in news reports, clad all in black with balaclavas covering their faces, fighting police at the presidential inauguration, and on California college campuses protesting right-wing speakers…

Simply, antifa aims to deny fascists the opportunity to promote their oppressive politics—by any means necessary. Critics say shutting down political adversaries is anti-democratic; antifa adherents argue that the horrors of fascism must never be allowed the slightest chance to triumph again.

In a smart and gripping investigation, historian and former Occupy Wall Street organizer Mark Bray provides a one-of-a-kind look inside the movement, including a detailed survey of its history from its origins to the present day—the first transnational history of postwar anti-fascism in English. Based on interviews with anti-fascists from around the world, Antifa details the tactics of the movement and the philosophy behind it, offering insight into the growing but little understood resistance fighting back against the alt-right.

289 pages, Kindle Edition

First published August 29, 2017

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About the author

Mark Bray

70 books71 followers
Mark Bray is a historian of human rights, terrorism, and political radicalism in Modern Europe who was one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street. His work has appeared in The Washington Post, Foreign Policy, Critical Quarterly, ROAR Magazine, and numerous edited volumes. He is currently a lecturer at Dartmouth College.

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Profile Image for Jason Gordon.
56 reviews121 followers
January 3, 2018
A word of warning to those who want to read this book: do not watch the television interviews. They do not do the book any justice whatsoever.

Here are a number of things I liked about the book:

1). It provides a comprehensive history of anti-fascism in the Western world. When the book discusses anti-fascism in America, it places it squarely in the anti-racist resistance against the Jim Crow South (which is indeed a fascist regime). Mark Bray also discusses anti-fascism in the West in the context of the music scene -- particularly punk rock's resistance to fascists and 'skinheads' trying to infiltrate their scene. I have to admit that I did not know that the original image of the skinhead was inspired by the rude bwoy image of reggae (a far cry from the modern image of a skinhead currently associated with white supremacy or white power movements). What I particularly liked was that Bray was honest enough to acknowledge that anti-fascist resistance in Europe was quite complicated and messy than is otherwise believed. What's normally believed is that the communists were universally opposed to fascism. However, this is partially true. The rank and file members of the communist party were very much opposed to fascism and confronted fascists in ways that incurred the ire and disapproval of the leaders of the communist parties (who thought fascism was merely another iteration of right wing politics). Bray also points out that political squabbles between anarchists, communists, and social democrats also rendered anti-fascist opposition less effective than it otherwise could have been.

2). The book answers the question is it ok to punch a Nazi? Here Bray acknowledges the fact that this event was twisted by the media to encompass all of anti-fascist resistance. Bray rightly points out that much of the resistance is non-violent and there are debates within the antifa movement about what resistance to fascism would look like. In these debates, concerns about the machismo of violence are addressed as well as concerns about violence overtaking the movement and being the only form of antifascist resistance. As far as using violent tactics to confront fascists, Bray argues that such tactics must not be viewed in the abstract, but in their particular contexts. What I particularly enjoyed was that Bray presented the contexts where violence was successful and where it was not. The takeaway here is that a diversity of tactics are necessary when opposing fascism.

3). The link between fascism and whiteness as a political ideology. The final chapter (Whiteness in indefensible) gives a great primer into race as a political technique used by those in power to control the unruly. Race is the child of racism -- a tool used to implement it. In this chapter Bray does make mention of the fact that fascism is no aberration, but Western colonialism brought home. He also makes mention of the fact that white supremacy and the political concept of whiteness is one of the main pillars of fascism. While Bray is kind enough to cite sources that argue this point, it isn't fleshed out in this short chapter.

Which brings me to my criticism of Bray's book. The criticism I have is Bray's reluctance to define fascism. Bray states that he is reluctant to do so because fascism is a moving target and the fascism found in today's alt-right is rather new and different from classical fascism. Bray also cites strategic concerns in his reluctance to define fascism. According to Bray, one shouldn't wait for an exact replica of Mussolini, Franco, or Hitler to anticipate a fascist threat. The reluctance to define fascism is rooted in the idea that anti-fascist resistance should be aware of and anticipate new forms of fascism. Bray's concern is that adopting rigid definition of fascism may lead to inactivity when it comes to antifascist opposition. I'm not sure if Bray is familiar with Robert Brady's The Spirit and Structure of German Fascism, but the definition of fascism found in that work is sufficient enough to capture both classical fascism and the fascism found in the alt-right.

Brady argues that fascism contains three distinct features:

Monopoly capitalism

Brady explains Hitler primarily as an intensification of capitalism to the monopoly point. Here state power was used to resolve the contradictions of capitalism in favour of the business elite (after masses were mobilized to bolster said state power).

Fascists believe that there is no such thing as the individual that the state, or in modern variations the corporation, is supreme. Fascism is predicated on the idea that there are no theoretical limitations to the invasion of privacy. This idea is used to eliminate the notion of the individual and mobilize people in the interests of the state so that they can better respond to 'military threats' and economic issues. This is the totalising aspect of fascism.

The authoritarian part of it is quite obvious.

Like the Nazis, Richard Spencer appropriates the language of the left to launch a criticism of capitalism. However, Richard Spencer does not make the wealthy a scapegoat. The likes of the alt-right and Spencer scapegoat black lives matter, immigrants, etc. Notice that the scapegoating is a mechanism used to resolve class contradictions in favour of the business elite -- in this case taking the mark off of those in power. Hitler scapegoated the Jews in similar ways -- rendering them responsible for the disastrous effects of capitalism as well as the growing appeal of Bolshevism.

There is a key difference between the alt-right today and classical fascism. Fascism is usually funded by elite interests to crush a viable labour force. Today there is no viable labour force and the fascism that we see is coming from below. It is interesting to note that the alt-right is growing in a context similar to that of Nazi Germany (in the midst of an economic crisis where the standard of living for white males is dropping precipitously). The movement we're seeing today, interspersed with elements of fascism, is a response (in my view) to a lack of meaningful politics and meaningful political alternatives.
Profile Image for Conor Ahern.
657 reviews189 followers
June 29, 2020
When I first picked this up, this was my "Eat, Pray, Love" on the subway: what do the two have in common, you ask? Well what better way to get your groove back than frolicking through India and Europe giving fascists whatfor!

Just kidding. They do not (I assume) have anything in common; rather, I felt some embarrassment
about being seen reading it on the subway, and so would contort my hands in such a way that it would be near impossible for anyone to read the cover. Partially this is because the "movement" has been discredited as some sort of left-wing false equivalent of the pallid, amoral, virginal, keyboard-warriors of alt-right. But mostly because I had an image of antifa as black-clad paramilitants, spoiling for bloodshed and this contrasted sharply with the jaunty scarves and light, lambswool sweaters I've been wearing during this uncommonly balmy winter we've been having.

For the most part the shame was directed from without--liberal colleagues would snicker, raise eyebrows, roll eyes, etc., the typical dismissiveness that the center-left trains toward the left. And perhaps some of you reading this feel the same way. But I think this really just goes to show how successful conservative voices are at manipulating narratives to bestow false equivalencies.

Part of it also owes to the left's ineptitude when it comes to branding: as I'm sure you all know, "Antifa" stands for "anti-fascism." This is a pretty reasonable position to take, especially given the previous century of violence kindled in fascist conflagrations. But I don't think the general public really does know that, and so the group needlessly forfeits its crucial historical legacy.

When I reserved this book I personally was most interested in the "no platforming" issue. Perhaps it's my time spent working for the ACLU, but I'd always taken the Millian/Jeffersonian approach to free speech: any idea should be tolerated and allowed to live or die on its own merits. I would tell people that it's the one thing the United States does better than other countries, and our gift to the world.

Post-Charlottesville I really had to reevaluate this position, and I remember having a conversation about the incompatibility between First Amendment rights and Second Amendment rights the day before the ACLU changed its position to no longer represent free speech claims if the claimants were armed (I support their change of heart, despite supporting strong free speech rights). Additionally, we have to wonder whether free speech principles require a platform for ideas that have been thoroughly debunked already, which raises the question of whether idiots such as Milo Yiannopoulos are owed one for what amounts to Flat Earth "ideas" about women, trans people, immigrants, Muslims, etc.

But where does that leave private assembly? The idea of free speech under the First Amendment tends to be poorly understood by the public; in reality, it only applies to government censorship, which is why there's no Constitutional issue when some celebrity says something idiotic and then the public, exercising its speech through its dollars, decides to boycott that product until the celebrity bonehead endorser is dropped from the sponsorship deal. So this is why there is no issue when a private university disinvites someone purely on the content of their speech, or why fascists are free to meet in their own homes and discuss the most vile ideas, organizing anything they want short of open insurrection. When we talk about those types of free speech, we are talking about the "value" of free speech, which is one of many liberal values that we all (or almost all) claim to cherish. But because there is no legal/Constitutional component, this value merely rests in equipoise with other liberal values, such as: the importance of voting and representation, welcoming of diversity, the equality of all people, representation by the people, safety and ability to earn a living, etc. These are things that fascists oppose for all but a minority of the population. And so fascist ideas will always exist where there is free speech, even as free speech will always be threatened to the extent that fascist ideas are not kept in check in the theoretical world. Hence: antifa.

The question of how much non-violent intervention (glitter bombing, throwing ballbearings upon march routes, drowning out fascist messaging with song, threatening the job security of fascists, etc.), coercion, doxxing, and violence is necessary, and in what proportions, is the thorny one. As an important caveat, it is critical to mention that liberal values and governmental failsafes utterly failed to prevent fascism before, and so the idea that the government or people's good will should save us is painfully naive. But the gnashing of teeth comes about because we worry, rightly, over the slippery slope when we (again rightly) seek to quell fascist rhetoric and action.

And here I think is the best thing I took away from the book: not a complete, absolutist prohibition on violence, not an exact formula for conquering fascism, but rather one historical truth, which is that antifa exists only as a reaction to creeping fascism. It has never taken over a government, and it has never mushroomed into a PC police state. And just as we don't wring our hands and decide not to fight forest fires because oh-my-god-what-if-it-gets-out-of-control-and-we-end-up-with-firefighters-putting-out-our-campfires, we have no reason to believe that antifa poses any threat outside of the immediate metastasis of fascism that it forms in reaction to.

So please read this book. The first half is somewhat dry history, but the second is practical, interesting, and thought-provoking. And for the love of god educate and push back on those, especially on the left, who have a knee-jerk skepticism about this complex and important phenomenon, because we live in precarious times.
Profile Image for Charles Haywood.
497 reviews725 followers
January 18, 2021
More than twenty years ago, as a very young man, I traveled in Ukraine. In one place, the local authorities were excavating a mass grave from the 1930s. Hundreds of skeletons, men and women, many with flesh and clothes still attached, had been laid out on wooden platforms, for attempted identification before reburial. If you looked, it was easy to see the cause of each person’s death—a square hole in the head. Why square? Because the Communists had hammered in a railroad spike. Why does this matter? Because what screams from every page of this book of Antifa apologetics is that the author, Mark Bray, and his compatriots, today’s direct ideological successors of those murderers, want to do the same to you.

Bray, who works as a “part-time lecturer” at Rutgers University, and who was a sometime organizer of Occupy Wall Street back in 2009, published this book in 2017. No surprise, he claims relevancy for his book based on a supposed surge in fascism due to Trump’s election. But it was only this past summer, with the rise of Antifa to prominence during the nationwide BLM-led Floyd Riots, that this book really became relevant. It is the only book-length treatment of modern organized left-wing violence directed against the Right, and although it is tendentious in the extreme, reading it is very instructive. (I bought it used, naturally, so that Bray didn’t get a cent from my purchase.)

My first purpose is to understand the violence generated by Antifa. I mean not the fact of violence itself, which (and what should be the immediate response to it) is a tactical question, not difficult to understand. What I want to explore is the thought that drives that violence. And then I want to comprehend how that violence is organized, how it is funded, and how it interlocks with the broader Left ecosystem of today. Bray’s book, the goal of which is to justify the works of Antifa, not to man but to his political allies who have yet to fully publicly embrace violence, is a useful place to start this exploration, though we will have to go well beyond it.

The author begins, as we can all agree is necessary, with a definition of fascism, which he says is “difficult to pin down.” He endorses a lengthy definition offered by Robert Paxton, a historian of Vichy France: “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” This may be a good description of 1930s and 1940s fascism, or it may not be, but no matter, since Bray never recurs to any aspect of this definition. Rather, in practice throughout the book, fascism is implicitly, and often explicitly, defined as any effective opposition to whatever the demands of the modern Left are at any given time. And the more effective opposition is, the more fascist it is.

To his credit, Bray admits this. He seems personally offended by dissembling about his real goals, yet realizes it is necessary, which gives his book a schizophrenic feel. We should reject needing a “finely-tuned” analysis of fascism, he tell us. We should understand the term is actually “a moral signifier that those struggling against a variety of oppressions have utilized to highlight the ferocity of the political foes they have faced.” The key is “solidarity with all those who suffer and struggle.” In other words, the only thing is the victory of the Left, and anyone who opposes that, is fascist.

As I say, this is a book of apologetics, directed primarily at normies. (Keith Ellison, the former Congressman who is currently the Attorney General of Minnesota, was famously photographed endorsing this book.) The chief hurdle Bray faces in this endeavor is that he completely endorses the violent silencing of all opposition to the Left, yet knows that sells poorly in normie America, and to normies, you look bad when your own supposed definition of fascism centers on how fascists “abandon democratic liberties” and use “redemptive violence,” yet both those are the core of your own self-definition. Bray wrote this book in an attempt to square this circle. He doesn’t succeed, because not even God can square a circle. The result is instead protean word salad, where Bray returns again and again to halfheartedly trying to show that Antifa is something other than merely joint action to violently suppress all opposition to the Left, and fails. Then he gives up, and admits his project.

We will step backward into history in a moment, but the Left here, by opposition to which fascism is defined, is the modern Left—just as radical as the 1930s Communist-dominated Left of the West, but having little in common with it other than its basic premises and utopian vision. The focus today is any form of supposed “oppression,” which, as the late Roger Scruton pointed out, is the bedrock of all modern leftism. Although the modern Left pays lip service to economic oppression, the almost sole focus of the 1930s hard Left, there is no actual concern whatsoever in this book for the urban “worker,” much less the rural proletariat in flyover country, or the struggling lower-middle and middle class. Despite frequent obligatory references to “the workers,” what comes through loud and clear is that Antifa, just like the modern Left as a whole, is a movement of the elite, not the proletariat. Bray uses as the meat of much of his book anecdotes and quotes taken from Antifa pseudo-soldiers around the world; none of them, as far as can be determined, is a worker in the traditional sense. Almost certainly most or all of them are upper-middle class in background and work, if they work, in some nonprofit-type job aligned with their politics. Bray is part of the fraternity, as he gladly admits, and his own background is, naturally, of this type.

The author begins with the past. He is very offended that historians have treated anti-fascist movements since the 1930s as “marginal,” and that not a single academic book has been written about them in eighty years. Rather like the Freemasons retconning history to show how very relevant they have been since Hiram Abiff, Bray tries to show how various fringe leftist groups since 1945 have all been part of a loose-knit pursuit of the ultimate goal of total Left domination. To this end, we are first given a somewhat confused, but generally accurate, if highly selective, history of Europe between 1900 and 1945, as it relates to militant left-wing movements. Spain in the 1930s gets a lot of ink—Bray accurately points out that Franco was not by any definition a fascist, but he doesn’t understand that when Franco took over the Falange, it was to make it Francoist, not to make Francoism fascist, and that his idea that Franco’s Spain was fascist as a result is silly. But of course it’s not silly, if you realize that “fascist” means “effectively opposing the Left”—Franco was the master at that, which is why he is so hated today by the global Left, even though he died nearly fifty years ago.

Bray next spins his wheels trying to show Antifa was relevant, or even existed, after 1945 until well into the twenty-first century. He fails, being reduced to sputtering about Enoch Powell and Jean-Marie Le Pen. Yes, in the late 1960s and through the 1970s, Left political violence was very prominent (though who remembers the Red Brigades today?), but it was directed at the mainstream political establishment, not the Right, which in Europe and America was essentially non-existent (except for Italy, where there was an operating extreme right-wing that fought back against the Left). Still, it was during this period that the “black bloc” street fighting tactics used by Antifa today developed, a combination of monochromatic dress designed to conceal individual identities, various forms of armor, and coordinated assaults using a front-line of more sympathetic people, often women, backed by weapon-wielding men (though as we’ll see, there is no real toughness there). The phalanx, of course, has long been known to be an effective method of ground assault, and is even more so against those who are forbidden to fight back effectively, and concealing identity has long been known to be useful both to avoid the consequences of one’s actions and to encourage violence, since it accelerates the mob mentality Gustave Le Bon analyzed in The Crowd. In the context of Western democracies, where governments are broadly on the side of the Left and so will not mow them down with machine guns, the black bloc was a genius turn.

However, none of these people from past decades have anything to do with today’s Antifa, despite Bray’s attempts to draw out a hidden line. Flailing away, Bray gives us endless pages talking about fights over the past three decades among skinheads and soccer hooligans brawling in punk rock clubs and around stadiums. None of this has real political content; it is all simply the bad behavior that young men get up to in any society where their drives and talents are not recognized and channeled. It’s an updated (and deracinated) version of Martin Scorsese’s Gangs of New York. You can see this from an anecdote Bray tells—how some “Nazi” skinheads were persuaded to become “Antifa” skinheads. This is a very old phenomenon, young men switching from Communism to the far Right, and vice versa. It is a symptom of search for meaning and purpose in the world, nothing more, with no political meaning whatsoever.

In America, Bray traces modern Antifa back to the late 1980s Minneapolis group Anti-Racist Action. Supposedly they were organized to fight the Klan, but it’s quite clear this was just another fringe group formed out of the skinhead music scene, looking for meaning and a bonding mechanism. (When Bray refers to nonexistent “major Midwest Klan rallies in the 1990s” being the spur, you know the lies are multiplying.) In an exception from the general rule, this group was well organized and politically somewhat adept, and spread to other music scenes in a few other urban areas, in a decentralized and somewhat splintered manner. (They did have “four points of unity,” including “reproductive freedom,” again showing zero concern for the actual economic concerns of the workers they professed to admire.) But none of this was of any importance or relevance at all for decades, and it all received the public notice it deserved, which was none—although, to be sure, allies sympathetic to these far-left types were spending these decades seizing all the levers of American power. There just wasn’t any role for or relevancy of Antifa in those decades; the Left was steadily winning everything it wanted, and a few skinhead types searching for personal meaning were of no importance, whatever their personal delusions of grandeur.

All this changed in 2008, as the arrow of history began to waver in its leftward travel. The catamite Right suddenly lost much of its relevancy, and the Tea Party arose. Although it was quickly and successfully destroyed, it heralded the new age of the Right, as the Republican Party began to fragment, and effective opposition to the Left’s march through the institutions appeared on the horizon. Right-wing political movements grew even more in Europe, sometimes based around economic and class concerns, sometimes based on opposition to unbridled immigration and the crime and cultural destruction that overran countries in its wake. To Bray, of course, all these effective movements are literal Nazis—what they say is beside the point, because he knows they are Nazis, because they must be Nazis, according to Bray’s ideology. Most of all, the mainstream Left began to fear that something more was needed to maintain and extend their grip on power—a fear that reached fever pitch in 2016.

Having trudged through this history-by-anecdote, we now get to the meat of this book, which is its apologetics. Bray’s goal is to justify any level of violence necessary to accomplish the goal of total Left victory. He prefers this to be calibrated, for public relations reasons, and to begin with as much suppression of Right speech without actual killing as possible. His case study for this is the Antifa riot that prevented Milo Yiannopoulos from speaking at Berkeley in early 2017. Yiannopoulos’s sin was being effective at organizing the rising Right, that is, people other than Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, among the young. Bray offers a kaleidoscopic array of justifications for why not only Yiannopoulos, but anyone who is “fascist,” that is, anyone who does, or might, effectively oppose Left power, should be denied any freedom of speech, through unlimited violence if necessary. First, Mussolini and Hitler gained power legally, so that risk is present today in America, at least until full Left hegemony is attained. Second, nobody took Mussolini and Hitler seriously until it was too late; that mistake should not be made again. Third, rank-and-file leftists are more finely attuned to the dangers of fascism than their supposed leaders, so anything they do must be endorsed (as must also be anything endorsed by their leaders). Fourth, the Right has learned to use propagandistic imagery in the same way as the Left; this cannot be permitted, because it is effective. Fifth, “it doesn’t take that many fascists to make fascism,” so any silencing of a fascist is a major victory, justifying the action.

Thus, Bray states explicitly he rejects free speech as a value. “Instead of privileging allegedly ‘neutral’ universal rights, anti-fascists prioritize the political project of destroying fascism and protecting the vulnerable regardless of whether their actions are considered violations of the free speech of fascists or not.” What is “vulnerable”? Well, the only example of the danger of Yiannopoulos given is that when he arrived on a campus, “a trans student named Barbara was so terrified she fled campus for a day.” Also, Nazis! They’re everywhere!

You see, “free speech” doesn’t exist. “Black Lives Matter protests have been brutally suppressed.” (He gives no example of this fantasy.) . . . . [Review continues as first comment.]
Profile Image for Kunal Thakker.
11 reviews2 followers
June 16, 2020
This entire book tries, and fails, to justify anti-social and violent behaviour as a form of ‘self-defence’ to fascism by changing the definition of ‘self-defence’ to ‘offensive tactics in order to forestall the potential need for literal self-defence down the line.’

There is an element of paranoia to the ANTIFA ideology as the author labels anybody he disagrees with as a ‘fascist’ without actually exploring their views and providing evidence of specific examples of policies or opinions that can be considered ‘fascist’.

This should be no surprise when the author is so bitterly opposed to the idea of free speech that he is unwilling to listen to the views of his opponents to the extent that he condones the use of loud noises to literally ‘drown’ out their voices. How do you know that President Trump and Brexit supporters are fascist if you don’t even analyse what they say?

It’s clear that his understanding of Trump’s policies don’t go any further than clickbait headlines and short video clips taken out of context, as in his example of Trump supposedly calling Mexican immigrants ‘rapists’. Anybody who has seen the full speech will know that Trump is specifically referring to the Mexican gang MS13 that adheres to the motto: “kill, rape, control”. A google search and a willingness to listen to a counter-argument will debunk almost every example of modern fascism in this book.

So even if you are sympathetic to the Marxist cause, and you believe that fascists should not be allowed to peacefully voice their opinion, you don’t even have any real fascist targets.

The author seems to suffer from the cognitive bias of binary thinking, often known as black or white thinking. He doesn’t understand that the morality of political concepts are often dependent upon where they lie on a spectrum. This is evident in how he doesn’t distinguish between the type of arrogant extreme expansionist nationalism of the Nazis, and the moderate patriotic nationalism of Trump, where America looks to confidently compete in fair competition against other self-interested nations. Nationalism can be compared to the concept of self-esteem, where extreme nationalism is comparable to narcissism and moderate nationalism can be compared to a healthy sense of self-esteem. You can’t help others if you don’t look after yourself first.

If you are somebody who believes in tolerance and democracy then this book should concern you as the author unashamedly admits that these are things he is against. There is a narcissistic superiority complex about ANTIFA that believes its ideology is above the ‘free market of ideas’, and that one rule should apply to them and another to everybody else. This isn’t my interpretation of Bray’s ideas because he actually admits this on multiple occasion throughout the book.

When the average person hears the term “anti-fascist”, they wouldn’t really think twice to question whether or not it’s a noble cause, but being opposed to something ‘evil’ does not automatically make you ‘good’. Communism is a totalitarian ideology and has resulted in the regimes of Stalin, Mao and the Kim Dynasty, amounting far greater horrors than even fascism. Hitler was an anti-communist. This does not make Hitler ‘good’. In the same way, anti-fascists are not ‘good’ because they also advocates of communism.

Essentially this book is a tool to indoctrinate people who lack the ability to think critically. Anyone who understands the importance of addressing two sides of the debate, who can raise an eyebrow when assumptions are made with no evidence will find every single argument in this book to fall flat on its face. It is an immoral narcissistic unashamedly violent ideology and President Trump was correct to designate ANTIFA as a terrorist organisation.
Profile Image for Leo Robertson.
Author 38 books435 followers
May 4, 2018
The partisan approach had limited appeal.

I didn't know that anti-fascists think of themselves as disbanding once the fascist problem is taken care of. That would be cool, because it would support a "they started it" argument. But because I know the author would like to promote anti-fascism, I'm not inclined to believe him (at least every time) when he says in his narrative that anti-fascist action is the reason for fascists disbanding. Or even that the fascists did disband. The author admits they could always "crop up" again, but who's to say they went away?
"Look! Fascists! I thought you said antifa got rid of them."
"Cropped up didn't they ;););)"

It's like when Greenpeace tried to troll those Shell exploration ships in the Arctic Sea. Shell didn't find the oil reserves there economically viable so they didn't bother extracting anything--but Naomi Klein was like, "We did it, gang!"
I bet that principle applies here more than the author would admit.

Bray addresses reservations that regular people would pick the wrong targets, define fascism poorly and attack the wrong people. He says, "Oh most antifa members are more politically educated than your average."
Is that so! Yeah because I didn't quite understand why that police horse was racist. Must be some political nuance a layman like me was missing.
Just as the right may say that a single act of home terrorism by an immigrant is one too many, why wouldn't we say a single injury to an undeserving individual at the hands of antifa is reason for antifa to disband? That argument could be made.

Anti-fascists more educated on political nuance. Is that why they go after Jordan Peterson (grr bloody neo-Marxists), Milo Yiannopoulos, Ben Shapiro? With weapons? Fascism? Fascism? Perhaps that's one of the convenient instances in which the author would say, "Oh well the ones that go after them,they're not antifa." Actually, it isn't: he supports bashing Milo, a guy whom the alt-right cannot be bothered with. "A-And anyway, antifa isn't an organisation!" Well they're undefinable when they don't do something you like—but what exactly are you then promoting? This isn't a history of an undefinable group who sometimes did things.

But hey: I don't know what the answer is. Antifa is one such proposal but since I distrust this narrative so heavily, I'm still clueless as to how effective it is.

There was a professor of history
who explained to his class every misery
of our human state:
1 war is man’s fate;
2 hate pays for hate;
3 all help comes too late;
4 our lives don’t relate;
but why this is so stays a mystery

- William H. Gass, The Tunnel

"RIP, racist horse." - Me
March 27, 2019
"Never Again!"

I've linked a very lively interview at the bottom of this review between the author of this book Mark Bray, and journalist / author Chris Hedges on his show On Contact. As the reader might imagine, it was on Antifa, political violence and the current climate in the American political hemisphere. My conclusion after watching the debate was unexpected. Frankly, despite being a big fan of Hedges, I felt his experience in war zones as a foreign correspondent - and the subsequent difficulty he faced afterward from being in such environments - had created a binary way of him seeing the topic (ironically binary, black and white ways of viewing the world being something Hedges really made me aware of through his work) and as a result, had blinded him from considering the multifaceted shades of grey this issue contains. I would encourage readers to watch it and decide for themselves.

In opposition, I felt Bray defended the topic quite well, and as a result, his clear knowledge on the subject interested me enough to pick this up at a book fair in London soon after.

Ultimately, I'm glad I did read this text, as Bray does a really good job of balancing the 200 or so pages of The Anti-Facist Handbook with a brief rundown of the history of Anti-fascist resistance, addressing common arguments against Antifa tactics, as well as strategies used by various segments of the movements around the globe. It's by no means an exhaustive work on the topic, as Bray states himself in the introduction, but his effort on this still packs a hell of a punch, and he really hits his stride when combating arguments made against the movements over the years. It's pretty hard to make sweeping claims after reading this.

I won't go into how I feel specifically about the topic, but if anyone decides to read this book in full, then I can state I stand pretty close to Bray regarding the nuances, and shades of grey each situation poses for those who take a stand against far-right figures. It doesn't always mean violence. Believe me, after you've read this, you'll understand that fact too.

Profile Image for TR Peterson.
60 reviews22 followers
September 18, 2017
A good overview of anti-fascist movements over the years up to and including Antifa in the US today. The author also looks at arguments about violence, free speech and no platforming as well. He clearly outlines how liberal notions of free speech are not ones that Antifa adheres to and why. It is written from a pro-Antifa perspective which one may or may not agree with but you do get a very clear understanding of their views and where they come from. A very timely book. 4 of 5 stars.
Profile Image for Roxana.
30 reviews20 followers
July 20, 2018
This is a must read for those who take the struggle against capitalism, patriarchy, transphobia, and racism, seriously. After tracing the history of fascism and antifascism throughout Europe and, to a smaller degree, the US, Mark Bray points to five historical lessons:

1)Fascist revolutions have never succeeded. Fascists gained power legally.

2)To varying degrees, many interwar antifa leaders and theorists assumed that fascism was simply a variant of traditional counterrevolutionary politics. They didn't take it seriously enough until it was too late.

3)For ideological and organizational reasons, socialists and communists leadership was often slower to accurately assess the threat of fascism, and slower to advocate militant antifa responses, than their parties rank and file memberships.

4) Fascism steals from left ideology, strategy, imagery, and culture.

5)It doesn't take that many fascists to make fascism.

He then responds to common criticisms and misconceptions about antifa.
In regards to free speech, Bray writes, "Instead of privileging allegedly "neutral" universal rights, antifascists prioritize the political project of destroying fascism and protecting the vulnerable regardless of whether their actions are considered violations of the free speech of fascists or not," (p.144). He describes how important "free speech" is to the US government when faced with movements, such as the Black Panthers and BLM, that threaten their hegemony and which suffered under acute repression, surveillance, assaults, and murder at the hands of the authorities. Bray points to ways in which people already disqualify "universal" and objective free speech to those who are undocumented, incarcerated, and during times of war, etc..He also points to Citizens United which perfectly illustrates the tension between "free speech" and big money. Antifa refuse to "pin their hopes for the freedom and security of humanity on processes of public discourse that have already shown themselves to be fallible," after the failure to stop fascism in the past century through legal means (p.148). Antifa are not against free speech in the abstract, they are against those who use their (contested) right to promote genocide or to question people's humanity.

In regards to the "slippery slope" and the "who decides" argument, Bray answers that this question should not be understood in abstract. "Efforts to deny a platform to fascists did not emerge from random individuals suddenly deciding that they disagreed with fascists and therefore wanted to silence them. Rather, they grew out of the historic struggle, often waged in self-defence, of movements of leftists-jews, people of color, Muslims, queer and trans people, and others, to make sure that fascists do not grow powerful enough to murder them," (p. 156). Bray points out how, historically, antifa organizing declines as local fascist organizing declines so there is no group of people who organize and decide to shut others down all those who disagree with them. It just doesn't happen. The liberal alternative is to let free ideas, police, and government to prevent fascism. This has failed on notable occassions. Bray says the more convincing "slippery slope" argument that actually does have historical evidence is to say, "that allowing fascism to develop and expand runs the documented risk of sliding into 'totalitarianism'," (p.158).

Bray also confronts the issue of mass movements vs. militant antifascism: "Rather than imposing what is essentially an electoral mindset of appealing to the lowest common denominator in relation to the fascist threat, antifascists prioritize working with marginal communities to neutralize any potential threats, whether it's popular with 'the majority' or not,. This perspective is especially important in antifascist work given the historical fact that those who have suffered the most under fascistic regimes have not had the backing of most of the rest of society," (p.202).

Other important lessons from this book were:
-Most of the organizing done by antifascists is non-violent (making calls, leafleting, protesting, etc). Antifa believe in a diversity of tactics.
-The vast majority of antifa are revolutionary socialists. "Antifascism is a pan revolutionary left politics applied to fighting the Far Right."
-Antifa recognize the need to transcend subculture politics by building popular movements. It is extremely common to find antifa who are also involved with organizing around workplace issues, immigration, etc..
-Most importantly, Antifa is necessary, but it is not enough. We need to put forth a revolutionary alternative that can create a new world in the shell of the old.
Profile Image for Kate.
Author 1 book27 followers
June 21, 2020
Ok, so I read this.. And what did I learn... well, that they actually like to be the "shut it down Left" and consider it not only a compliment, but their responsibility, to be known as those who drown out, dox, shame and censor any and all voices with whom they disagree. Their excuse is that if free speech hurts someone's feelings, then free speech is bad and needs to be silenced.
Profile Image for Tonstant Weader.
1,185 reviews66 followers
September 27, 2017
I wanted to read Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook by historian Mark Bray because I am conflicted by Antifa. On the one hand, every human being who aspires to morality and decency must be anti-fascist. On the other hand, violence other than in self-defense is an immoral tactic. It is also strategically wrong. However, I wanted to understand how they perceived this moral dilemma.

The first chapters are a history of the anti-fascist movement. This resembles nothing so much as a military campaign history, recounting the endless encounters and troop movements of nearly a century of anti-fascist struggle. It is the dreariest collection of acronyms and mentioning that I have read. Bray seems driven by a desire not to forget any chapter of Antifa, no matter how small, for fear of offending. To be fair, I think there is nothing duller than military histories that follow every company from battle to battle to battle. It’s not more interesting when it’s about political activism, even though it is important to me.

It would be far better to have an appendix listing the Antifa organizations or perhaps a graphic timeline. This is boring. It also makes it hard to see broad historical movement because we are awash in the minutia. Nonetheless, Bray makes the argument that Antifa was successful in making fascism “not worth it” and kept them at bay through the end of the 20th century.

In the third chapter, Bray covers more recent fascist and anti-fascist conflict – conflict the fascists are winning by changing their tactics and anti-fascists seem to be losing by not changing their tactics. We certainly see the results with Golden Dawn in Green, National Front in France, and the alt-right in the United States. Encouraged by the defective election of Donald Trump, Nazis are marching in the open and Antifa is standing up to them. From this history, Bray condenses five historical lessons to inform anti-fascist organizing.

The rest of the book is far more interesting. Bray wrestles with the many critiques of Antifa from free speech legalists and nonviolent direct action proponents. Some of his arguments are very persuasive and center on what Karl Popper called the Paradox of Tolerance. It’s kind of weird that Bray does not mention Popper at all since his argument echoes Popper’s argument that tolerating the intolerant leads to an intolerant society. It’s not that he does not reach to philosophy, he tackles John Milton’s Areopagitica asserting that Milton is wrong on the fact, Truth does not always win. If the first half of the book was half as interesting as the second, I would be far more enthusiastic about it.

I agree that there should be no platform for fascists. I don’t want the government to suppress their speech, but I do want anyone who gives them air to feel the swift reprisal of public opinion, of boycotts, public shaming, and economic punishment. If a university is committed to honest scholarship, they will never give air to fascists. There is no academic integrity in promoting lies. Academic freedom is expansive, but it must not expand to promoting racist, genocidal ideologies.

Bray is correct that fascism does not require a military coup to take power. Historically, it gained power much the way the alt-right is gaining power and the way Trump succeeded in being installed by the Electoral College and Putin. They get money and support from corporatists while recruiting working-class whites with racist blandishments.

As to violence, while I can understand the rationale, when he gives examples of nonviolent protesters who were protected by Antifa from fascist violence, I recall that the success of the civil rights movement was won by the moral contrast between the nonviolent resistance and the abuses and violence of the state. When that contrast is lost, can we win?

These are tough questions and I don’t know the answers. I think this book is a useful guide to some of the questions and to understanding how people in Antifa understand the dilemma – though there is no unanimity and Antifa members are divided on tactics, but they are united always, as we all should be, in opposing fascism.

As to all of us being Antifa, Bray makes that much more complicated. For him, Antifa is not just anti-fascist. It is also anarchic and anti-capitalist. For him, there’s no such thing as a liberal anti-fascist. As economic injustice creates space for fascist recruitment, he argues that anti-fascism must be anti-capitalist. This seems to come from the same false presumption that economic justice will solve racial justice, a fatal misunderstanding of how racism is how economic injustice is perpetuated.

I received an e-galley of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook from the publisher through Edelweiss.

Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook at Melville House
Mark Bray author site

Profile Image for Corvus.
568 reviews151 followers
October 21, 2020
This book is not only an important and well researched brief history of antifa, it is also entertainingly written. Sometimes books like this, though containing excellent information, can get dry. This one definitely is not. So if you are a person who is honestly interested in this topic, please ignore the reactionary far-right reviews by fragile people who think fascism is somehow on the same playing field as anti-fascism. People who are pro racism and genocide are not the same as people who fight racism and genocide. This book covers all of these bits of information from tactics, different groups and sometimes conflicting belief systems, different thoughts and people on the right wing spectrum, feminist and lgbtq organizing to fight patriarchy within movements, free speech invocations by people happy with how this country consistently robs others if free speech, the role of antifascists in fighting historical evils many right wingers claim to oppose, and so on. If you actually want to know a little bit about antifa (mostly in the west) and related organizing, this is a great option.
Profile Image for Laya.
107 reviews19 followers
June 14, 2021
Beautiful Read. The logical (counter)arguments regarding antifa, especially were a joy to read. Although, it is mostly about anti-fascism in first world countries, the points discussed in this book do have relevance outside it.
Profile Image for Scott Holstad.
Author 22 books61 followers
December 21, 2020
These days? An absolutely essential book. Necessary, especially in 2020 America. Because most Americans haven't been exposed to historical fascism the way Europeans have, most don't have an accurate, complete or in some cases any understanding at all about this very dangerous movement, let alone its textbook (or playbook) tactics and techniques that are nearly always virtually identical, starting with a Goebbels-styled propaganda blitz, complete with massive amounts of lies, disinformation, fear-mongering (always of some evil, fearsome "other" -- immigrants are usually good targets, as are Jews, minorities, the disabled and mentally ill), the point being to creative divisiveness, mistrust -- especially in the "mainstream" (or any) media -- but even in one's neighbors, co-workers, others who are different in culture, religion, politics, convincing the people they are victims who have been wronged by others, initially outside the state, later inside the state, thus creating a need for a strong, centralized leadership led by a strong(man) autocrat, typically excellent at "hiding" their fascist tactics, plans, goals etc., until it's too damn late. ALL of which we've experienced under Trump. Fascists always also promote violence -- again, check -- and pick out their perceived most dangerous "foe," nearly always antifascists who have been around as long as fascism officially has (since 1919), NOT because they are "fascists" or terrorists themselves as fascists ALWAYS claim in labeling their enemies exactly what they are to turn the public, especially liberals against them. In this case Antifa, which is NOT an organization like the KKK, many Neo-Nazis or Spencer's official Alt Right organization, but an IDEOLOGY, a commitment on the part of those who care about the dangers posed to freedom and peoples being targeted by racists, white supremacists, white nationalists, etc., and I'll wager the majority of Americans have never heard that word or term five years ago, but now because the fascists led by Trump, and spurred on by the mainstream media AND liberals who should be grateful there are people willing to lay their lives on the line to protect THEM from future concentration camps and gas chambers. I've seen nothing but bullshit claims by hypocritical liars like the "Proud Boys" (what idiot came up with that name?), other similar group AND various Dems, progressives, liberals screaming about the evil "fringe left" and Antifa itself -- as though there's an official organization with an office, mailing address, hierarchy, officers, etc. -- like the liberals and the Alt Right have -- and especially how violent Antifa "terrorists" are because they go around stabbing poor defenseless patriotic white separatists. It's infuriating! The thing is, not only do the Trump sheeple believe them, but the naïve witless liberals -- who are being targeted for "extermination" as several Proud Boys proclaimed at their recent Washington DC gathering -- yet I challenge anyone to do their due diligence and find how people organizing temporarily under the antifascist "Antifa" termed umbrella work vs how white christian nationalists work. Just go back four years and research. The Nazis always claimed "Antifa" terrorists try to and/or succeed in "stabbing" them, which I guess legitimizes in their view going all over the communities more heavily armed than the US military.

Let me explain a few things, and these examples don't necessarily come from this book, but would be historically supported. Antifascists typically gather together historically to DEFEND themselves, their communities, and legitimate protestors from harm, sometimes lethal, on the part of fascists, historically very well documented, so much so that I feel I needn't say anymore more than Mussolini's Black Shirts, Hitler's Brown Shirts, Mosely's Black Shirts, the atrocities in the Balkans during the 1990s -- which will always be the end result of unchecked fascism unless their movements are crushed -- and when our president literally says on national tv that his rabid Proud Boy followers should not Stand DOWN, but instead Stand Back and Stand BY, he is telling his own type of Black Shirts to be ready to kill his and their opponents, just like they've been dying to, just like their predecessors have, and while people on television worry about a potential "civil war" and will violence happen while crucifying this mysterious evil "Antifa," the facts are that antifascists deemed "militant," because they are only a small portion of such movements since the majority try to provide educational materials, look up info on known white nationalists and "Doxx" them to embarrass them into quitting their movements, and peacefully protesting on the whole. While there are armed leftists, they can't remotely compete with the firepower and the willingness of the right (no longer fringe right), and most do not carry arms to protests, OR even knives -- UNLIKE the fascists. Traditionally, they have carried non-lethal defensive weapons such as shields, some body army, and historically batons for protection. So let me ask you, how many confirmed stabbings or murders have been committed by proven antifascists under the Antifa label in the US over the past four years (if ever)? I haven't recently looked this up, but last I recall it was possibly one, if that. Meanwhile, to use a famous example that our president refused to condemn, at Charlottesville, the infamous act was when a white supremacist drove into a crowd of protestors (this tactic has been tried and/or used elsewhere by them), killing a young woman? Any remorse? No. Any publicity about the SEVEN antifascists who were stabbed at this same rally by Alt Right white christian nationalists -- as opposed to zero of them by "Antifa" terrorists? Hell no! Wonder why? I don't. What about the claims over the past year or so by these violent racists that Antifa terrorists are gathering by the hundreds of thousands to attack their marches, scared to death because there are only thousands of well armed, assault gun carrying white supremacists, so naturally they need police protection. And how many more antifascists have been stabbed at these events? What about confirmed stabbings of these Alt Right fascists?

(Here's a handy fact checking article about this very topic: https://theconversation.com/fact-chec.... One section states,

"Overall, however, data show that Antifa activists have been involved in relatively few violent incidents compared to white supremacists, who have conducted at least 40 lethal attacks since 2018 according to the Department of Homeland Security."

Yeah, do your homework. In an area not far from me, a small community had a small number of peaceful, mostly older, anti-Trump citizens who scheduled a protest at their county courthouse which would have entailed maybe 40 people, most of them retired, none armed or dangerous, and it was national news when over 1,000 white supremacists came from all over the region, including other states, armed to the hilt, to make sure these people remained peaceful and legal and to keep others safe -- from white haired people with canes facing thousands of guns. Police protection. Fuck no! Standard, no matter where fascists are. In this same little county, this little group tried to schedule some three more tiny little protests, and had to cancel each -- and their constitutional rights fascists and racists are always screaming leftist "fascists" are denying them re free speech, gathering publicly, etc -- because they actually received numerous public threats made as promises that hundreds more would come, armed, to "keep the peace" (there would have been noting but peace if those asshats hadn't shown up!), and for the final one, they received public messages made available to everyone that if these few dozen people gathered with their signs, there WOULD be shooting and they would be the targets.

I have a lot more to say on the subject, but I'll just say this -- I'll be damned if my family, uncles, cousins fought, bled, sacrificed all on foreign beaches to free millions of people being tortured and killed by insane genocidal fascists AS WELL AS trying to keep the rest of the world safe from these evil monsters, only to find some decades later, flags bearing Swastikas being planted in American soil, if not eventually American political buildings and agencies! I'd rather die first, and anyone wishing to follow a Hitler lover, giving up their freedoms and slaughtering their countrymen over political differences in AMERICA, are simply traitors guilty of the worst of treasons, deserving of the punishment traitors once got in this country. This is not necessarily the best book I've read on this topic -- there's another couple I think are a bit better, one of which is Jason Stanley's How Fascism Works -- but this book IS a great starting point and I urge anyone who still cares about democracy, freedom, the future of America and Americans -- not just of one certain color -- to read this, ingest the info, ponder it and act according to one's own beliefs because this is likely the most dangerous time in our country's history, and it's antifascists who are currently the only line of defense between what Trump allegedly plans to unleash -- even if he could hold the "Trumpites" back -- and I'm not sure that would be possible -- and/or until others unite to defend themselves, their neighbors, this country from insane lunatics living in a different, warped toxic and lethal universe. Could not be more recommended!
Profile Image for Ian Beardsell.
230 reviews24 followers
June 16, 2021
I saw this sitting on the shelf in my local library and thought to grab it. I'm definitely sympathetic to anyone who is against Fascism, and I hoped to learn more about the Antifa movement and perhaps what all the controversy is about.

The book started off with the author making an attempt at defining Fascism, which I felt could have used some filling out. If we are going to define something to fight against, we had better do a very thorough and precise job. The general framework and some basic historical facts from European history in the lead up to WWII were reviewed, but I felt I didn't come away with a solid understanding of the definition. It seemed unfinished...

Mark Bray then launches into a somewhat detailed, perhaps close to arcane, overview of the groups involved in protesting Fascism before, during and after WWII, but the narrative just did not hold me. Perhaps I was just not in the "right mood" for this book, but I had difficulty keeping track of the various individuals, groups, and dates of action as Bray swung from country to country from the 1920s to 1990s in a chapter or so.

I might try reading this book again later, because I definitely think standing up to Fascism is as important now as ever, especially when it seems to be creeping back into Western politics with Trumpism and the corruption of the US Republican Party. However, I came away from the first third of the book just feeling confused and none the wiser about properly recognizing Fascism and the approaches for a democratic society to deal with it. If this is how activists within Antifa explain their actions, it is no wonder the general public is somewhat confused.
Profile Image for David.
425 reviews
December 27, 2020
In one of the 2020 presidential debates, Trump stated that “Someone’s gotta do something about Antifa...” Knowing little about Antifa, this came to me as a challenge to look closer at who and what Antifa is, and if we should fear Antifa. While it’s not the endpoint, what better place to begin than the Antifa Handbook?

Who is Antifa and what is its purpose? In short, Antifa is anti-fascism. Antifa is not a unified organization but rather a movement; it lacks any hierarchical leadership structure and instead is an array of autonomous groups and individuals coalescing around an anti-fascist agenda. The author notes that Antifa rises and falls in lockstep with fascism—when fascism rears its head, Antifa rises in responds, and when fascism recedes, so does Antifa. It doesn’t have any other political purpose, although those involved in the movement may have their own political objectives.

What are their methods? According to Bray, the vast majority of anti-fascist tactics involve no physical violence. Anti-fascists conduct research on the far right. They dox them, push cultural milieu to disown them, pressure bosses to fire them, and demand that venues cancel their shows, conferences, and meetings. But it is also true that some of them punch Nazis in the face and don’t apologize for it. “In truth, violence reflects a small though vital sliver of anti-fascist activity.” Three factors that anti-fascists use to justify their violence: (1) rational debate and the institutions of government have failed to consistently halt the rise of fascism, so they hope to physically prevent a sequel of a fascist advance; (2) militant anti-fascists activity has proven to be a successful means in shutting down far-right organizing; and (3) Fascist violence often necessitates self-defense. But the Antifa agenda doesn’t begin with violence as the first choice. As one anti-fascist put it, “You fight them by writing letters and making phone calls, so you don’t have to fight them with fists. You fight them with fists, so you don’t have to fight them with knives. You fight them with knives, so you don’t have to fight them with guns. You fight them with guns, so you don’t have to fight them with tanks.”

How do they justify their actions? In the past, fascists have been the source of unspeakable atrocities and fatalities numbering in the millions. At the entrance to the Dachau concentration camp is a monument with the words “Never again” written in several languages. Antifa’s objective is to make sure of that. Bray notes that fascist revolutions have never succeeded, instead, fascists gain power legally. Historically, fascism has gained entry to the halls of power not by smashing down the gates, but by convincing the gatekeepers to politely swing them open. We cannot rely on rational debate to stop fascism—it did not stop it in Germany or Italy. Governments do not take fascism seriously enough until it was too late. Therefore, based on historical precedence, anti-fascists are not content to let fascist movements die on the vine and instead intend to actively and directly stop it themselves.

Where to draw the line? And it is this last point that begs the question, “To what extent should we allow fascist freedom of thought, expression, and assembly?” Antifa’s answer is “none”. From their perspective, the safety and wellbeing of marginalized populations is the priority. Anti-fascists value the free and open exchange of ideas; they simply draw the line at those who use that freedom to promote genocide or question people’s humanity. They argue that everyone has their exceptions to free speech, whether obscenity, incitement to violence, Copywrite infringement, press censorship during wartime, restrictions for the incarcerated, or ads for smoking cigarettes.

True as that may be, waiving the right to free speech may be Antifa’s most challenging assertion. As Kevin Drum put it, “Whenever you start thinking these are good reasons to overturn, by violence or otherwise, someone’s invitation to speak, ask yourself this: ‘Who decides?’ Because once you keep people from speaking, you concede the right of somebody to make that decision. And that someone might eventually decide to shut down Communists, or anti-war protesters, or gays, or socio-biologists, or Jews who defend Israel, or Muslims. I don’t want anyone to have that power. No one else on the left should want it either.”

It there a genuine Antifa threat? The book may or may not resolve a reader’s opinion about the ethical appropriateness of Antifa’s mission and tactics. But there is one last question that the book does not ask or attempt to answer, a question related to Trump’s quest to have Antifa designated a domestic terrorist organization: Is Antifa truly a threat? A dispassionate answer is not likely to come from either Trump or author Mark Bray, but there is objective information available at the non-partisan Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). With respect to the recent violence that emerged at some of the BLM protests, their research indicated that that the vast majority of looting appeared to come from local opportunists with no Antifa affiliation or political objectives. Most were common criminals. At a broader level, of 893 terrorist incidents in the United States between January 1994 and May 2020, right-wing terrorists perpetrated 57% of all attacks and plots during this period (particularly those who were white supremacists and anti-government extremists). In comparison, left-wing extremists orchestrated 25% of the incidents during this period, followed by 15% from religious terrorists, 3% from ethnic-nationalists, and 0.7% from terrorists with other motives. In analyzing fatalities from terrorist attacks, religious terrorism has killed the largest number of individuals—3,086 people—primarily due to the 9/11 attack. In comparison, right-wing terrorist attacks caused 335 fatalities, left-wing attacks caused 22 deaths, and ethno-nationalist terrorists caused 5 deaths. Viewed in this context, the threat from Antifa-associated actors in the United States is minuscule.

Thus, while Antifa doesn’t fall in the same category as Boy Scouts, statistical analysis doesn’t support the claim that Antifa is a significant threat to the general populace. The handbook instead describes a movement and objectives that respond to a fascist threat that history tells us is potentially catastrophic. And if Antifa is not a genuine threat, what about fascism itself? Is there a credible fascist threat today? A direct study of fascism is a topic for another book, and my next review.
Profile Image for James Klagge.
Author 14 books80 followers
December 31, 2017
I found this book at a propitious time, shortly after I got back from the counter-protest to the alt-right rally in Charlottesville in August. That was my first experience with antifa. This is an excellent book to learn about antifa--although it is not an unbiased report. In fact it is written by an antifa sympathizer who is also a "scholar" of the movement. The author draws on many personal interviews with antifa activists to supplement a careful history and survey of the movement. But the book also advocates for resistance to fascism.
Antifa is a label for a wide variety of groups that actively resist manifestations of fascism around the world. It is not an organization to which groups belong. Perhaps you could say "antifa" is more an adjective than a noun. In Charlottesville there were no groups calling themselves antifa, but there were at least two groups, Redneck Revolt and IWW (Industrial Workers of the World), who fit the bill. I would characterize antifa as groups who are willing to engage in violence to resist fascist behavior. In Charlottesville Redneck Revolt members carried wooden poles and semi-automatic rifles. The only violence I witnessed was a clash between a small group carrying confederate flags and a larger group of RR. An RR member swiped a flag and made off with it, another RR member got snatched trying to grab a flag and a melee ensued with those on both sides whacking each other with poles. It lasted a couple minutes. The flag bearers were outnumbered and retreated. This was a manifestation of the antifa slogan of "no platform" for fascists. When fascists try to spread their message, antifa will try to disrupt that. Thus, they can be seen as opponents of free speech for fascists. They will also try to disrupt fascist gatherings. This is what happened in Charlottesville. The alt-right had permission to use Emancipation Park as a gathering place for their demonstration at noon. Antifa groups arrived earlier and occupied the space and wouldn't leave. That led to various clashes, and the police dispersed the demonstration before it began. The antifa succeeded in the sense that they did not allow the alt-right an unimpeded platform for spreading their message.
It might seem wrong to shut down free speech when it is just speech. I think I believe that. But antifa see speech as just the first step in a dangerous slippery slope toward worse, so they resist as early as they can (p. 141): "Since the future is unwritten, and fascism often emerges out of small, marginal groups [as it did before WWII], every fascist or white supremacist group should be treated as if they could be...Hitler's first stepping stone." One antifa put it this way (p. 169): "You fight them by writing letters and making phone calls so you don't have to fight them with fists. You fight them with fists so you don't have to fight them with knives. You fight them with knives so you don't have to fight them with guns. You fight them with guns so you don't have to fight them with tanks." We all know the poetic lament:
"First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a communist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me."
In response to that, when Trump's Muslim travel ban was announced, antifa protesters proclaimed (p. 207):
"First they came for the Muslims, and we said 'Not This Time Motherfuckers!'"
As for my own experience of the antifa groups in Charlottesville, I have to say that I was glad that they were there. The police notoriously did not keep the peace, and it seemed very much to me that what peace there was stemmed from the deterrent effect of the aggressive and armed antifa. That is not how I will engage fascism, but I appreciate that at least in that context, the antifa were what allowed me to engage fascism the way I did.
Profile Image for Lucas.
133 reviews25 followers
September 9, 2018
To be honest, I was expecting a somewhat more intellectually sophisticated defense of Antifa actions and philosophy. The book displays too few new contents, and I feel free to skip several parts that presented some well-known facts about the twentieth century.
I was more interested in the Antifa views regarding free speech and violence. The argument for violence is grounded in the historical fact that on several occasions fascists used the current legal system to take power. I think this argument compelling but may be the reasons that lead to this situation could be discussed in greater detail. Could not we create a legal system more effective against fascism? Instead of display physical aggression against small mobs, could we improve our legal system and make it less permissive to radical groups?
The discussion regarding the free speech was one of the worst arguments I saw in my life. It's clear to me that the point made by Bray can be accepted only by a convicted communist.

This book doesn't work for me. I am still interested in a thoughtful discussion on the ethics of use violence against radical right-wing movements in a democratic society. So, I will welcome any recommendation on this subject.
Profile Image for Madeline.
515 reviews19 followers
April 19, 2021
Let me start by saying I wanted to like this book. If I were politically any further left I’d have to start calling people comrade.

My issue is this: the book is just inaccessible. The dry academic position Bray takes completely isolated me. The historical research, while well synthesized, was bland and honestly, draining. I’ve read so many historical papers (I literally have a history degree), and just could not bring myself to invest anything other than superficial energy into this book.

The second half of the book picked up, with some practical information about everyday fascism and small steps you can take, but by this point, I had completely lost interest.

Super, super disappointing.
Profile Image for rose.
77 reviews
February 12, 2018
Sometimes this book wanders too much for me. It feels like it gets caught up in examples and loses the narrative thread. But here's the thing: it poses a lot of the same questions and responses I feel like I've been dealing with for 4.5 years of graduate school studying social movements. I don't feel as if I have more answers than I did before reading it (though I do have a better sense of organizing, both geographically and historically); instead, I feel less alone in my critiques of the public and academic misunderstandings (and misrepresentations) of anti-fascist work.
Note: I read this for a research assistantship I was granted that seeks to understand modern organizing better.
Profile Image for Jackie.
304 reviews6 followers
March 29, 2019
This book is tight as fuck. It starts with a history of anti-fascist movements, which includes Jewish WW2 veterans physically breaking up meetings of fascists who said they didn't burn up enough Jews in the camps, all the way to current deplatforming efforts. There are so many efforts that shut down fascists its incredible. The author also breaks down arguments made against violent efforts not working (they have and do) and the ways it's disingenuous to say antifascist are anti-free speech. This book gave me hope that people are more powerful in the face of awfulness than it sometimes feels.
Profile Image for Dave.
256 reviews32 followers
November 30, 2017
This probably shouldn't be called a "handbook." It's not so much a how-to thing as it is an explanation to an audience that's unlikely to join in. That's fine though. I think most people interested in this book would rather it be that way. Antifa's been in the news a lot lately and it's been misrepresented to the point of being treated as the name of one activist group when it's really just a way to describe many diverse groups who oppose fascism. A lot of these groups are explicitly anarchist or socialist or anti-capitalist, and a lot of them are willing to use violent tactics, but working in some way to prevent/end fascism is the only real requirement for being called antifa. When it comes to understanding this diversity I think this book does a good job, just don't expect a step by step strategy guide for revolution or something.

It's pretty scary how stupid most of the discussions about this topic are in the media. I hear so many people saying things like "if you use violence then you're just as bad as they are" and "antifa are the real fascists." The Left has just been so relentlessly bombarded with these naïve messages about what it is to be "the good guy" that they can't even consider the possibility that well thought out arguments won't reach the types of people who voted for Donald Trump. You can use all the statistics and visual aids that you want to but if the audience you're talking to isn't using reason then it doesn't matter how clear and eloquent you make yourself. The difference between good people and bad people isn't IF they fight or IF they hate but WHY they fight and WHAT they hate. And being tolerant of everything isn't necessarily a good thing when you take it to the ridiculous extreme of tolerating intolerance. Intolerance is essentially what fascism is and that is why being intolerant of it shouldn't be equated with other forms of intolerance. It's one thing to allow small groups to avoid certain crowds when they have weird beliefs but when they explicitly state a desire to hunt down and kill anyone who doesn't share their beliefs or their ancestry then they need to be treated as a threat. Not doing so is like using cultural diversity as an excuse for protecting imperialist cultures that destroy other cultures. It makes absolutely no sense!

The Right's criticisms, not too surprisingly, are even more ridiculous. They scream about freedom of speech despite being the ones most guilty of trying to restrict it. Trump bitches about how the "liberal media" should be charged with slander for criticisms that are mostly accurate while he abets the Right's blatant lies about Obama's birth certificate, spreads propaganda about the supposed threat liberals are to police (they've actually been safer under Obama's presidency than any time in the last few decades), claims Obama is the one responsible for the national debt crisis (the deficit fell precipitously for most of his presidency, leveling off at about the same point it's been for decades before Bush let it explode, and Trump is already showing signs of raising the deficit himself), pushing conspiracy theories about Antifa being the masterminds behind the Las Vegas shooting massacre (claiming it was a false flag attack to demonize guns, even though most antifa groups aren't against gun ownership) and countless lies about the Clintons that aren't even worth getting into. They also inaccurately use words like "socialist", "communist", "terrorist", "anti-Semite", "thug", and "freeloading parasite" to describe left wingers while decrying the supposedly unfair use of the word "fascist" for themselves (Fascism is defined in my dictionary as "a government system characterized by nationalism, regimentation, rigid censorship and suppression of opposition." Maybe you can still argue that we're not quite there yet but can anyone really deny how blatantly these scumbags are trying to push us in that direction?).

There are a lot of assumptions on the Left that need to be challenged too: the idea that "free speech" should be protected at all costs, that democracy is the only way to run a free society, that there's no rational reason for law abiding citizens to arm themselves, that new scientific knowledge justifies the atrocities of modern technology and globalization, that good inevitably will prevail over evil... Most of their philosophy at least sounds nice compared to the insanity of the Right but it's still based more on faith than reason. I just can't stand hearing things like "Antifa is a gift to the extreme Right" from Noam Chomsky and others. I understand the argument that the Left would be outgunned in a physical struggle but that's sort of the problem. We're choosing to be defenseless in order to stay consistent with a bullshit philosophy. It doesn't take much for the Right to play victim anyway. Any little anecdotal incident results in Fox News claiming that the entire Left has declared war on all conservatives. ANYTHING! Do you really think you can prevent every bit of backlash against groups like the KKK from those whose lives are threatened by them? These incidents don't play into their hands any more than a refusal to fight does. I would argue that these hate groups are mainly gaining power because they feel so comfortable out in the open at this point. In any sane society you should feel terrified of letting others know that you consider black people and gays to be subhuman or that you don't give a shit about destroying the environment for future generations. Similarly, if your job is to protect polluters and white collar criminals from their indignant victims while ruining the lives of people who use cannabis then you shouldn't be comfortable letting anyone know that's what you do every day. You should be terrified of the consequences for such disgusting behavior. The fact that they're so comfortable just shows how ineffective and nonthreatening mainstream activism has become.

Sometimes it just seems like part of the entropy of the universe that evil always wins. They have the advantage of not having to be scrupulous with their decisions. Being responsible requires a lot more careful thought and procrastination before acting, which makes it impossible for the good guys to get as much done as those who just follow their whims without considering consequences. I wouldn't say that this justifies us ignoring all scruples but we should at least reevaluate some of our assumptions about what makes us the good guys. I'm personally of the opinion that most of our effort should go towards the root cause of these problems: the economic system's imperative to grow. The pressure for infinite growth is what led to so much hate, as well as so many other problems, and what continues to fuel it. Mark Bray points out himself that hate groups see huge surges in recruitment during economic downturns, when people are frustrated and easily misled into blaming some easy target. Men who are out of work and feeling pathetic and desperate are particularly susceptible to adopting these hateful philosophies, finding them to provide some sense of purpose in their lives and somewhere that they can feel they belong. There are a lot of alternative economic systems that would limit these pressures. Of course this doesn't mean that we'll just all make this decision and wake up tomorrow in a better world, or that some sort of green socialist system for the whole world should even be the ultimate goal. It will take time for things to change and therefore the types of tactics described in this book will still be necessary to defend those who are most threatened. Totally rejecting all "violent" tactics will only make us less effective. It's basically like fighting an enemy with one arm tied behind your back. Anyone who doesn't understand that should definitely read this book, as well as others like Deep Green Resistance, This Nonviolent Stuff'll Get You Killed, A People's History of the United States, etc.
Profile Image for Shrivatsan Ragavan.
73 reviews7 followers
October 4, 2020
Whoever said that a bunch of leftists in a group is nothing but an echo chamber, has probably never been in a room with more than one or two leftists. As someone who loves debating political ideologies on multiple platforms, I am well aware of the myriad differences in opinions across the left political spectrum. If I had a penny for every time a fellow left-leaning person told me that my ideas are stupid, I'd probably qualify to be bourgeoisie by now. I bring up all this because these are things that are well understood by the author in this book. As much as the pearl-clutching conservatives would like to paint Antifa as some extreme left organisation, hell-bent on censoring everything and everyone, things cannot be further from the truth.

Antifascism is rather an idea and one of those rare instances where everyone on the left, whether they're communists, socialists or anarchists, agree with one another. While there may be unity in decrying the evils of the fascist right when it comes to the methodology of acting against it, the differences of opinions rise yet again. This book then is an attempt to document the historical context of antifascist movements across the world and highlight some of the current global efforts to combat the far right as the world continues to face growing momentum in conservative ideologies.

The history of anti-fascist action is not something that one can readily pick up and understand. As a reactionary movement to the emergence of racist and fascist groups, Antifa tends to crop up sporadically throughout the 20th century, making it difficult to document a through-line in history. Mark Bray's attempt here is much needed and valiant one. From the pre War movements in the 1930s to the recent resistance to neo Nazi groups in America and Europe, the historical tale of Antifa is well researched, if possibly incomplete, one.

The second aspect of this book deals with the multiple questions that have arisen, especially in recent times, regarding the means through which Antifa combats hate and bigotry. Even within antifascists, disagreements persist when it comes to things like the use of violence and the curbing of absolute free speech. Mark Bray gives even-handed attention to all sides of the argument and leaves the conclusion up to the readers on what the right thing to do is. True to the title, the book also includes handy tips and things to remember for those wanting to get in on the action and act as a bulwark against the rising tide of the far right.

At this point in the review, it should be needless to say that this book is not going to change the minds of those who have already decided that "Antifa are the real fascists" or other such juvenile drivel. If, on the other hand, one is open-minded and curious to learn the multiple facets of antifascist action, then this book is mandatory reading in my opinion.
Profile Image for Zoë Birss.
779 reviews17 followers
February 27, 2018
Though it reads as hastily written (basing most of the history on popcorn accounts from very few sources, especially from the music scene) and incomplete (missing almost all history of antifa resistance outside of Western Europe and the United States) this book is still probably the most comprehensive and in depth report on the history of antifa action as a popular movement that has yet been gathered. It is interesting reading, especially for anyone interested in the rise of skinhead culture during the second wave of punk. It is encouraging for anyone who wants to take seriously the threat of neofascist groups today.

I was glad to find the author confront the issue of violence in antifa action. Though his perspective was a little more liberal than I would have preferred, he does argue for tolerating a diversity of tactics, and judging each action rather than the method itself. His careful tone here will likely make the book more accessible to the curious reader first introduced to the history. I would have appreciated a little more about the philosophy of how targeted, intentional violent acts can be a useful tool in this struggle in particular.

Helpful too would have been a section outlining exactly what fascism is and how it can be identified in different contexts. For example, how do we know that a government or culture is beginning to show signs of fascism before we see white dudes in polo shirts shouting in the streets with tiki torches. By not being precise in his use of the word fascism, the clarity in describing anti-fascism is also muddied.

In truth, I hope that we can one day read a longer and more complete account of antifa organizing that includes more examples of people of colour outside of Western Europe and The United States. South America has stories that would be relevant, as would Eastern Europe. But for a start in getting the story of antifa into the mainstream, this book does its job. I will definitely be getting a copy for myself, and for my union's library.

Trade Paperback, First
Melville House Publishing, September 2017

Four Stars

February 24-27, 2018

Profile Image for Michael.
103 reviews10 followers
December 16, 2017
This is a really good book for anyone unfamiliar with Antifa, especially those who think they just appeared with the rise of Trump. The first part of the book deals with the general history of Antifa from the Western perspective and provides an explanation of why it was formed, what kind of people formed it, and what they wanted to accomplish and how. It really helps to provide a legitimacy to a movement that is frequently belittled and misunderstood in the press. I especially enjoyed Bray's tie in to punk and the tensions that arose between facists and antifacists in the scene.
The second part of the book pays particular attention to reviewing and answering the objections that commentators and laymen have whenever they are presented with Antifa action and ideology, and answers the question "is it ok to punch a Nazi"?
I really enjoyed this section, not for the least because with the holidays coming up, I'm sure I'll have to present them to Fox News loving relatives.
The final part of the book is about what actions you can take to help with Antifa resistance. It's important that Bray goes to great lengths to say that militant action is not the only role in antifa orgs, and focuses on activities such as community organizing, pamphliteering, online monitoring of facist groups, etc.
Ultimately, an informative and easy read that leaves you with enough knowledge and resources to research more and/or get involved.
Profile Image for J.
6 reviews
September 5, 2017
You get what it says.

Antifa is a history of the Anti-Facist movement and puts into perspective the history, politics and organizing behind it. It gives a stronger context of its place in past and current politics and answers many current questions being asked of Antifa and gives some perspective on what free speech means in a greater context.

Bray pulls no punches on the side he's taking or partisanship, however if you are interested in understanding many sides of the current climate it's an important read.

Don't agree with everything? That's fine what kind of book do you seriously expect to read where you agree with everything unless you come with no real thought of your own.
Profile Image for Christopher McQuain.
237 reviews15 followers
November 19, 2019
On a certain "literary" level, I found that this book could've used an editor (or a more stringent, hands-on one), along with that disappearing luxury, a basic copy editor (misspellings, weird punctuation, word-choice redundancies all abound....). It's not as well-written or -organized as it could be. On the other hand, virtually no other book has the claim to urgency, and consequent justification for having been rushed out (in early 2017), that this one does. And that sense of urgency, along with scads of vital information and inspiration and some very finely calibrated polemics and argument, is fully present. A most worthwhile and important read.
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