Black bandanas. Black hoodies. Black ski masks, clear chemical safety goggles. Black gloves. Black power. Brown berets. Through a history of radical leftism, Antifa, or anti-fascist activism, takes direct action in order to combat oppressive structures.
In order to understand Antifa, you need to understand fascism: extreme right-wing nationalist ideologies rooted in Italian dictatorship over communities of marginalized people created during the era of genocidal, supremacist leader Benito Mussolini. Fascism directly promotes imperialism, traditionalism, totalitarianism, as well as capitalism. In a reaction to such a fast-growing movement, many Communist revolutionaries tried to counteract this spread through masked organized anarchy known as anti-fascism.
What is Fascism?
In the 1920s, when many labor movements began to gain speed, workers unions grew anti-fascist and communist in response to the Italian Fascist Party. The Antifa movements that exist today took flight when these workers began to engage in street combats with Nazi soldiers.
Post World War II, anti-fascists had to keep a low profile during the Red Scare, or an era when the U.S.S.R. and the U.S. were at hostilities and senator Joseph McCarthy made being associated with the Communist Party a punishable offense.
However, as far-right movements gained momentum in Britain in the eighties up to a point that fascists would carry out acts of violence on communities of ethnic minorities, the Anti-Fascist Action (AFA) organized to resist this oppression in 1986 in Liverpool. Many of these anarchists were backed by the Socialist Party, even though not initially so, as well as many Jewish groups and trade unions. Far-right fascists often decimated businesses owned by People of Color and intimidated staff along with other violence fueled by homophobia. In order to combat this horror, the AFA assembled and used militant anarchist tactics in order to push socialist ideals and injure fascists directly to ensure the safety of the targeted marginalized people.
Anti-fascists are often people with intersecting marginalized identities, with most Socialists and Communists existing in the Global South. Even in the west, many Antifa organizations were run by People of Color.
In 1966, two Black activists and leftists founded the Black Panther Party as a form of self-defense against anti-Black crimes and to push socialism into minority communities. This party was founded along the principles of Malcolm X in order to establish social equity along racial and gender-based lines. The Black Panther was adamant on suppressing U.S. police terror on black individuals, which even lead to the FBI trying to dismantle the party with psychological warfare.
As the 1920s influx of Mexican immigrants surfaced more racialized xenophobia from White Americans led to increased harassment. This harassment stemming xenophobia can also be seen today. The White community began to fear that this new wave of non-white immigrants was criminally inclined, and as a result, a group of Mexican youth leaders donned themselves in military-style apparel and formed the Brown Berets in the 1960s. As police brutality was still a paramount concern in many urban Brown and Black communities and just like the Black Panther Party, the Brown Berets informed the residents of these communities about anti-White Supremacy radicalization and also physically armed themselves with machinery to protest anti-Chicano police violence.
Recently, the Brown Beret has allied with Black Lives Matter and the Nation of Islam, dressed in brown military-style uniforms, including participants of all genders, in order to stand in solidarity against anti-Black crime and to combat systemic racism.
John Garcia, Modern-Day Brown Berets standing alongside Black Lives Matter: “Womyn hold up half the sky”
Brown Berets with the Black Panthers
International Center of Photography, Asian American Solidarity Through the Yellow Peril for Black Power
Blackpast.org, The Black Panther Party
The Black Panthers guarding the streets
The Brown Berets at attention
Today, Anarchists and Communists, often PoC, participate in Antifa action in order to directly incapacitate perpetrators of oppression. One of the most recent examples of this is during the Trump inauguration, where people participated in a form of Antifa called Black Bloc, or organized masked violence against privileged entities. These members of the Bloc torched a limousine, battled riot cops, and yes, punched Neo-Nazi Richard Spencer. As a result, Richard Spencer was silenced and the cause gained broad media attention, whereas the more peaceful protests did not.
Around the same time, fascist speaker and ex-Senior Editor of far-right magazine Breitbart, Milo Yiannopolous, was to speak at U.C. Berkley, which was canceled due to masked anti-fascist protesters. These protestors also participated in Black Bloc and helped deter Neo-Nazis, 4Chan trolls and other White Supremacist groups.
Medium, Berkley Antifa
Left Voice, Berkley Antifa
Modern-day activists still have to rely on mainly grassroots organizations in order to further their praxis and directly help benefit marginalized people who are being attacked. While analyzing many progressive or hot-button protests, it is easy to see that many of them take an anti-Fascist stance, marked by leftism, a lack of cooperation with the police, anti-imperialism, a strong anti-racist stance and occasionally masked demonstrations.
Compare mainstream activism to radical anti-fascist activism. Compare the treatment of Black women at the Ferguson riots to white women who took photos with the police and white house. Compare NOW which is an organization that is progressive and successful, but has excluded queer and trans women in the past to seem more digestible to mainstream media, to Incite!, an organization against violence towards women of color that has organized multiple protests and even a conference from its start in 2000.
Edward Crawford at Ferguson
Huffington Post, Ferguson Riots
So how can you get involved in Antifa action? For starters, cruise through upcoming events on Facebook or Twitter by reputable and active Antifa groups and send them a direct message asking how you can participate. Seek out networks and find out how to organize groups within your own area. Be careful of Antifa imposters that may seek to doxx or threaten the safety of activists by doing your own investigation and analyzing past events that the group has held. Do not participate in an independent or disorganized anarchism without a group or set purpose due to the treachery of personal and civilian safety. Remember that radical activism becomes remiss when it is not transnational, anti-State Violence, nor inclusive.
However, physical Antifa is not feasible for everyone, especially for people with disabilities or those with marginalized identities that cause them to be a direct target. Try and support and uplift organizations, movements, and publications that are there to showcase disenfranchised voices* and provide a safety net for those who choose to partake in physical Antifa. It’s important to keep in mind that Antifa is often more than just chaotic riots. It requires meticulous planning and strategic organization to best utilize a group’s strengths in order to combat far-right attacks. It’s important to keep the safety of already-marginalized people under further threats in mind.
*A list of resources for those interested:
VIDA: Women In Literary Arts
Grassroots organizations with a left, anti-fascist stance: