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Anti-fascism is opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. The anti-fascist movement began in a few European countries in the 1920s, and eventually spread to other countries around the world.
The historian Norman Davies argues in his book Europe at War 1939–1945: No Simple Victory that anti-fascism does not offer a coherent political ideology, but rather that it is an "empty vessel". Davies further asserts that the concept of anti-fascism is a "mere political dance" created by Josef Stalin and spread by Soviet propaganda organs in an attempt to create the false impression that Western democrats by joining the USSR in the opposition to fascism could in general align themselves politically with communism. The motive would be to lend legitimacy to the dictatorship of the proletariat and was done at the time the USSR was pursuing a policy of collective security. Davies goes on to point out that with Winston Churchill as a notable exception, the concept of anti-fascism gained widespread support in the West, except that its credibility suffered a serious but temporary blow while the USSR and Nazi Germany coordinated their wars of aggression in Eastern Europe under their Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.
In the 1920s and 1930s in France, anti-fascists confronted aggressive far-right groups such as the Action Française movement in France, which dominated the Latin Quarter students' neighborhood. After fascism triumphed via invasion, the French Resistance (French: La Résistance française) or, more accurately, resistance movements fought against the Nazi German occupation and against the collaborationist Vichy régime. Résistance cells were small groups of armed men and women (called the Maquis in rural areas), who, in addition to their guerrilla warfare activities, were also publishers of underground newspapers, providers of first-hand intelligence information, and maintainers of escape networks.
In the 1920s and 1930s in Germany, Communist Party and Social Democratic Party members advocated violence and mass agitation amongst the working class to first stop the Freikorps movements in immediate post-WW I Germany, and not long thereafter, Adolf Hitler's Nazi Party. Soviet revolutionary Leon Trotsky wrote:
"fighting squads must be created ... nothing increases the insolence of the fascists so much as 'flabby pacifism' on the part of the workers' organisations ... [It is] political cowardice [to deny that] without organised combat detachments, the most heroic masses will be smashed bit by bit by fascist gangs."
Among the anti-fascist organizations formed to counter the Nazis was the Rotfrontkämpferbund (English: Red Front Fighters' League), which was created in 1924. The Rotfront was a paramilitary organization affiliated with the Communist Party of Germany that engaged in street fights with the Nazi Sturmabteilung. Its first leader was Ernst Thälmann, who would later die in a concentration camp and become widely honored in East Germany as an anti-fascist and socialist.
From 1961 the East German Socialist Unity Party used the term "Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart" (German: Antifaschistischer Schutzwall) as the official name for the Berlin Wall, in sharp contrast to the West Berlin city government which would sometimes refer to it as the "Wall of Shame".
After German reunification in 1990, many anti-fascist groups formed in reaction to a rise in far-right extremism and violence, such as the Solingen arson attack of 1993. According to the German intelligence agency Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, the contemporary anti-fascist movement in Germany includes those who are willing to use violence. One of the bigger antifascist campaigns in Germany in recent years was the effort to block the annual Nazi-marches in Dresden.
In Italy, Benito Mussolini's Fascist regime used the term "anti-fascist" to describe its opponents. Mussolini's secret police was officially known as Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo (OVRA), Italian for "Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism").
In Italy in the 1920s, anti-fascists — many from the labour movement — fought against the violent Blackshirts and against the rise of fascist leader Benito Mussolini. After the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) signed a pacification pact with the National Fascist Party on 3 August 1921, and trade unions adopted a legalist and pacified strategy, members of the workers' movement who disagreed with this strategy formed the Arditi del popolo. The General Confederation of Labour (CGT) and the PSI refused to officially recognize the anti-fascist militia, while the Italian Communist Party (PCI) ordered its members to quit the organization. The PCI organized some militant groups, but their actions were relatively minor, and the party maintained a non-violent, legalist strategy. The Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni, who exiled himself to Argentina following the 1922 March on Rome, organized several bombings against the Italian fascist community.
Italian liberal anti-fascist Benedetto Croce wrote Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, which was published in 1925. Another notable Italian liberal anti-fascist around that time was Piero Gobetti.
Between 1920 and 1943, several anti-fascist movements were active among the Slovenes and Croats in the territories annexed to Italy after World War I, known as the Julian March. The most influential was the militant insurgent organization TIGR, which carried out numerous sabotages, as well as attacks on representatives of the Fascist Party and the military. Most of the underground structure of the organization was discovered and dismantled by the Organization for Vigilance and Repression of Anti-Fascism (OVRA) in 1940 and 1941, and after June 1941, most of its former activists joined the Slovene Partisans.
During World War II, many members of the Italian resistance left their houses and went to live in the mountainside, fighting against Italian fascists and German Nazi soldiers. Many cities in Italy, including Turin, Naples and Milan, were freed by anti-fascist uprisings.
Slovenes (in Italy and Yugoslavia occupied by Italy)
In Italy, the first anti-fascist resistance emerged within the Slovene minority in Italy (1920-1947), who the Fascists meant to deprive of their culture, language and ethnicity. The 1920 burning of the National Hall in Trieste, the Slovene center in the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Trieste by the Blackshirts, Benito Mussolini who, at the time, was yet to become Duce, praised as a being a "masterpiece of the Triestine fascism" (capolavoro del fascismo triestino...). Not only in multi-ethnic areas, but also in the areas where the population was exclusively Slovene, the use of Slovene language in public places, including churches, was forbidden. Children, if they spoke Slovene, were punished by Italian teachers who were brought by the Fascist State from Southern Italy. The Slovene teachers, writers, and clergy were sent to the other side of Italy.
The first anti-fascist organization, called TIGR, was formed in 1927 in order to fight Fascist violence. Its guerrilla fight continued into the late 1920s and 1930s when by the mid-1930s, already 70.000 Slovenes fled Italy mostly to Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) and South America.
The Slovene anti-fascist resistance in Yugoslavia during World War II was led by Liberation Front of the Slovenian People. The Province of Ljubljana, occupied by Italian Fascists, saw the deportation of 25.000 people, equaling 7.5% of the total population, filling up Rab concentration camp and Gonars concentration camp and other Italian concentration camps.
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In Spain. large-scale anti-fascist movements were first seen in the 1930s, before and during the Spanish Civil War. The republican government and army, the Antifascist Worker and Peasant Militias (MAOC) linked to the Communist Party (PCE), the International Brigades, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM) and Spanish anarchist militias, such as the Iron Column, fought the rise of Francisco Franco with military force. The Friends of Durruti, associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), were a particularly militant group. Thousands of people from many countries went to Spain in support of the anti-fascist cause, joining units such as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the British Battalion, the Dabrowski Battalion, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Naftali Botwin Company and the Thälmann Battalion. Notable anti-fascists who worked internationally against Franco included: George Orwell (who fought in the POUM militia and wrote Homage to Catalonia about this experience), Ernest Hemingway (a supporter of the International Brigades who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls about this experience), and radical journalist Martha Gellhorn.
Spanish anarchist guerrilla Francesc Sabaté Llopart fought against Franco's regime until the 1960s, from a base in France. The Spanish Maquis, linked to the PCE, also fought the Franco regime long after the Spanish Civil war had ended.
Antifascistisk Aktion (AFA) is an anti-fascist group founded in Sweden in 1993. AFA's Activity Guide advocates violence against neo-Nazis. Some in the mainstream media have labelled them left-wing extremists. An editorial in the tabloid newspaper Expressen argued that the label anti-fascist was misleading, because of the organization's methods, such as stealing the subscriber list of the National Democrats newspaper, and threatening the subscribers. Other critics say the group does not respect freedom of speech, because some members have attacked fascists and other nationalists.
The rise of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s was challenged by the Communist Party of Great Britain, socialists in the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, anarchists, Irish Catholic dockmen and working class Jews in London's east end. A high point in the struggle was the Battle of Cable Street, when thousands of eastenders and others turned out to stop the BUF from marching. Initially, the national Communist Party leadership wanted a mass demonstration at Hyde Park in solidarity with Republican Spain, instead of a mobilisation against the BUF, but local party activists argued against this. Activists rallied support with the slogan They shall not pass, adopted from Republican Spain.
There were debates within the anti-fascist movement over tactics. While many east end ex-servicemen participated in violence against fascists, Communist Party leader Phil Piratin denounced these tactics and instead called for large demonstrations. In addition to the militant anti-fascist movement, there was a smaller current of liberal anti-fascism in Britain; Sir Ernest Barker, for example, was a notable English liberal anti-fascist in the 1930s.
1970s and later
In the 1970s, fascist and far-right parties such as the National Front (NF) and British Movement (BM) were making significant gains electorally, and were increasingly bold in their public appearances. This was challenged in 1977 with the Battle of Lewisham, when thousands of people disrupted an NF march in South London. Soon after, the Anti-Nazi League (ANL) was launched by the Socialist Workers Party (SWP). The ANL had a large-scale propaganda campaign and squads that attacked NF meetings and paper sales. The success of the ANL's campaigns contributed to the end of the NF's period of growth. During this period, there were also a number of black-led anti-fascist organisations, including the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism (CARF) and local groups like the Newham Monitoring Project.
The SWP disbanded the ANL in 1981, but many squad members refused to stop their activities. They were expelled from the SWP in 1981, many going on to found Red Action. The SWP used the term squadism to dismiss these militant anti-fascists as thugs. In 1985, some members of Red Action and the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement launched Anti-Fascist Action (AFA). Their founding document said "we are not fighting Fascism to maintain the status quo but to defend the interests of the working class". Thousands of people took part in AFA mobilisations, such as Remembrance Day demonstrations in 1986 and 1987, the Unity Carnival, the Battle of Cable Street's 55th anniversary march in 1991, and the Battle of Waterloo against Blood and Honour in 1992. After 1995, some AFA mobilisations still occurred, such as against the NF in Dover in 1997 and 1998. However, AFA wound down its national organisation and some of its branches, and by 2001 it has ceased to exist as a national organisation.
There was a surge in fascist activity across Europe from 1989–91 after the collapse of communism. In 1991, the Campaign Against Fascism in Europe (CAFE) coordinated a large militant protest against the visit to London by French right-wing leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen. This sparked a surge in anti-fascist organisations throughout Europe. In the UK alone, in 1992 a number of left-wing groups formed anti-fascist front organisations, such as a re-launched ANL in 1992, the Socialist Party's Youth against Racism in Europe YRE, and the Revolutionary Communist Party's Workers Against Racism. A number of black-led organisations, along with the Labour Party Black Sections and the National Black Caucus, formed the Anti-Racist Alliance in 1991, which eventually became the National Assembly Against Racism.
In 2001, some former AFA members founded the militant anti-fascist group No Platform, but this group soon disbanded. In 2004, members of the Anarchist Federation, Class War, and No Platform founded the organisation Antifa. This predominantly anarchist group has imitated AFA's stance of physical and ideological confrontation with fascism.
Although there were fascist elements in the United States (Friends of New Germany/German American Bund, Father Coughlin) in the 1930s, there was no strong fascist movement and so no strong anti-fascist movement.
During the United States Red Scare after the end of World War II, the term "premature anti-fascist" came into currency to describe Americans who had strongly agitated or worked against fascism, such as by fighting for the Loyalist side in the Spanish Civil War, before fascism was seen as a proximate and existential threat to the United States (which only occurred generally after the German invasion of Poland and universally after the attack on Pearl Harbor). The implication was that such persons were communists or communist sympathizers whose loyalty to the United States was suspect. However, historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have written that no documentary evidence has been found of the U.S. government referring to American members of the International Brigades as "premature antifascists"; FBI, OSS, and United States Army records used terms such as "Communist", "Red", "subversive", and "radical" instead. Haynes and Klehr indicate that they have instead found many examples of members of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade and their supporters referring to themselves sardonically as "premature antifascists".
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Antifascist resistance.|
- ‘Fascism or Revolution !’ Anarchism and Antifascism in France, 1933–39
- "Anti-Fascist Action 1985–2001"
- Gilles Dauve/Jean Barrot on liberal anti-fascism
- "Bash the Fash: Anti-Fascist Recollections 1984–1993"
- Interview from Beating Fascism: Anarchist Anti-Fascism in Theory and Practice
- "Intellectuals and Anti-Fascism: For a Critical Historization" New Politics, vol. 9, no. 4 (new series), whole no. 36, Winter 2004
- Liberal anti-fascism page at Red Action
- Remembering the Anarchist Resistance to fascism