Adam Buick's Correction to “Antifa – A Betrayal of Anti-Fascism”

Adam Buick (Anarcho-Socialism)


Jerry Barnett (Libertarian-Left)


It is difficult to find anything to rebut as all the contributors are agreed in criticising and opposing Antifa’s tactic of employing physical force to prevent views they object to being expressed. Even the one defence of them in effect damns them with faint praise by arguing that maybe their hearts are in the right place. So this is not a rebuttal but a correction on a factual matter as I agree with Jerry’s criticism of Antifa’s activities.

The correction concerns the earlier wave of anti-fascism in Britain which he says Antifa has betrayed. He refers to the rise (in the 1970s) and fall (in the 1980s) of the National Front. In 1977 an organisation to oppose the NF called the Anti Nazi League (ANL) was set up (see: ). Though not as crazy as Antifa, it pursued the same tactic of using physical force to prevent the NF and others it designated as “Nazis” (a worse term of abuse than “fascist”) from expressing their views at public meetings as well as confronting them on the streets.

That this tactic of physical force censorship was a controversial issue at the time is evidence by contemporary articles. For instance, this from 1980:

“The claim made by the ‘Anti-Nazis’ that they are defending freedom by preventing the National Front and similar organisations from holding meetings is absurd. Free speech can only exist when it is open to all and it cannot be defended by those who in fact abolish it. Not only does political violence not preserve existing democratic rights, it positively weakens them by creating a situation in which the authorities may restrict or ban many forms of political activity. This much is certain: the chances of getting the socialist case across in such an atmosphere of intolerance will be considerably lessened. The only way to deal with fascists is to demolish their obnoxious, anti-working class ideas at every turn. We would welcome any opportunity to confront them in open debate before an audience of working men and women. We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from this because we are confident of the workers’ ability to understand the socialist case and of our own ability to present it. Of course, this will not sound exciting enough for leftist hot-heads looking for trouble, but whatever the right method of dealing with fascists may be, theirs is absolutely wrong.” (“The Best Way to Oppose Fascism”, Socialist Standard, December 1980. ).

The bulk of those who supported the ANL, as at the “Rock Against Racism” events Jerry mentions, would essentially have been expressing their legitimate opposition to racism and would not necessarily have agreed with the ANL leaders’ censorship tactic. In any event, the arguments against the elitism, paternalism and undemocratic practices of Antifa also apply to the Anti Nazi League of yesteryear, even if Antifa aims to censor a wider range of views than they did.