Jerry Barnett Rebutting "In Defense of Antifa"
Jerry Barnett (Libertarian-Left)
Mike Stuchbery (Liberalism)
What If We’re the Bad Guys? A Response to “In Defence of Antifa”
This piece begins with a nice summary of the origins of Antifa in Germany, as a largely communist street force set up to tackle the rise of fascism. However it misses one important - though admittedly obvious - fact. Antifa lost.
Convinced of their own moral superiority, and of being the one true solution to fascism, the German communists failed to reach out beyond their own political ideology and unite with mainstream socialists, social democrats and liberals to fight the greater threat of fascism. As a result, communist leaders found themselves imprisoned, tortured and executed by the Nazis. Had they heeded the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky’s advice to form a United Front against fascism, their battle may have gone more successfully.
From the communist perspective, the street battles were ones of good versus evil. And yet both sides had eschewed democracy, each deeming the other as being too dangerous, too inhuman to be tolerated in Germany. Although defence of Jews and other minorities was of utmost importance (and many Jews joined the communists for obvious reasons of self-preservation, German democracy - and with it reason and humanity - was ripped apart not just by the Nazis, but by their opponents who also saw liberal values as an obstacle rather than a solution.
Those German communists died as heroes, because at least they died fighting evil. But would Europe’s fate have been gentler if they had won, and invited Stalin’s armies westward? Stalin, after all, was a butcher of millions. For complex reasons, history has been kinder to him than to Hitler, and his face (ironically) adorns student posters in a way that Hitler’s never could.
As the writer of this piece himself makes clear in his mention of Rwanda and the Balkans, Nazism was just one instance of a broader and more primitive human problem. Humans have an unpleasant habit, from time to time, of turning into mobs which become murderous. Individuals within the mob have little idea of the bigger picture. Like individuals within flocks of birds or shoals of fish, each one does what seems sensible or normal at the time. This is why Germans were apparently so bewildered when the end result of the Holocaust was reflected back to them. They had surely participated in something good - how could they have done evil?
Rwandans seem to have responded with similar puzzlement, after the genocide that claimed 800,000 lives. Why did people hack their long-term neighbours to death in this blood frenzy? The people involved seem the least able to explain why they had done it. Again, in Cambodia, horrific levels of cruelty and murder were done - this time in the name of a warped breed of Communism. Again in China during the Cultural Revolution. Again in the Pacific at the hands of imperial Japan. There is no ideology that links these unspeakable brutalities, save for the primitive belief that we are better than them.
If we decide that Nazism is the thing that we need to defend against, then everything starts to look like Nazism, and every action becomes valid, because - well, look what they did last time. If we decide Communism is the true evil (as fascists often do), then the anti-communists find moral justification for killing whatever looks or sounds like a communist.
Humanity has crafted liberal solutions to human primitivism over thousands of years: human rights, free speech, democracy, due process, systems of checks and balances. These inventions are the last line of defence against whatever-name-we-choose-to-call-the-next-threat. Any ideology, however enlightened it sees itself, which attacks these things, is the real enemy of peace and human life. And the way to fight it is to defend all the more strongly these liberal values, not to stamp heads into the pavement.