The interview presented below is a full and un-edited email-based exchange with Antifa International. They aim to take up the “worldwide fight against fascism and racism” by sharing and networking information and people against those deemed fascistic threats. They were very honest and open during our conversation and we very much appreciate the time they spent speaking with us about their movement. Again our interviewees remained anonymous, but we are certain that these people can speak for Antifa with reasoned authority.
What would you say are the underlying philosophies/principles that guide Antifa?
The basic principle of anti-fascism can be best summed up by the saying "Respect Existence or Expect Resistance." Antifascists want people to be able to live their lives without fear of reprisals or threats or violence because of their ethnicity, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, or migration status. And we're willing to stand up to anyone that would make those threats.
What is the difference between a local Antifa chapter and Antifa International?
Antifa International is a specific anti-fascist social media collective, with members in five different countries. Antifa, short of anti-fascism, is a broad-based, non-sectarian movement opposed to fascism. Anti-fascists often form local Antifa crews to help achieve the goals of anti-fascism in their own communities. Our own collective (Antifa International) is focused mainly on spreading the news about actions taken by Antifa crews around the world and supporting their work.
From your experience, what is the most common ideological bend of your members and why do you think that is?
Have to begin with correcting you on a very common misconception: Antifa as a whole doesn't have "members" per se. It's a movement, not a singular organization. If you are a) opposed to fascism and b) willing to do something about it, that's all it takes to be Antifa!
There are a huge array of Antifa crew and groups around the world with each individual or group having its own ideological bent (or none at all!). But anti-fascism can't be claimed by any specific political ideology - it's a big tent, open to just about anyone that meets a) and b) above.
Speaking about our own small collective, probably most of its members came to anti-fascism through anarchism.
Do you ever find that the way Antifa is structured (decentralized and autonomous chapters) leads to problematic interpretations, mistargeting, and excessive and/or unjustified action?
Good question. Because anti-fascism is a movement and not an organization (much like environmentalism or feminism as two examples), there is no overarching authority dictating the tenets of anti-fascism. There have been disagreements between different Antifa groups over tactics, etc. but overall we trust each other enough to take it as a given that a local Antifa crew will likely know what works best where they are. So overall, we think the decentralized, autonomous nature of the anti-fascist movement is probably a much bigger strength than a weakness. In fact, it's been a continuing source of amusement for us to read fascist and extreme right posts declaring that they've "found the leader of Antifa!"
How does Antifa screen potential members to make sure they are not government agents, mentally ill, or otherwise hold beliefs that are in conflict with the groups underlying ideology?
Again, Antifa is a broad-based movement with thousands of autonomous groups operating worldwide, so it would be impossible to give an answer that matches with how every Antifa crew operates. Generally speaking, most Antifa crew we know use very common-sense vetting to keep bad people out. A person who joins an Antifa crew who turns out to be detrimental to the objectives of anti-fascism will be found out in a short time and is unlikely to be welcomed in Antifa circles going forward.
One note here: anti-fascists generally don't stigmatize people living with mental illness. Like any movement, organization, or institution found in broader society, there are many anti-fascists living with mental illness that have and continue to make significant contributions to our movement.
Why does Antifa seemingly give a pass to the crimes of the far left (i.e., China, Cuba, North Korea, Venezuela, etc.) while exclusively focusing exclusively on the far right?
This question strikes us as a bit of a red herring logical fallacy. As we've said, anti-fascism is focused on opposing fascism, full stop. That doesn't mean that individual anti-fascists do not oppose human rights abuse wherever they may occur; just that anti-fascism by definition is opposed specifically to fascism. Calling out Antifa for "giving a pass" for unspecified "crimes" committed by leftist countries is like calling out Amnesty International for not doing anything about climate change or Greenpeace for not doing work in support of LGBTQ+ rights or Manchester United for losing a cricket match.
Also: last year, our collective documented over 300 incidents of fascist and far-right violence that resulted in 113 murders and more than 400 people injured (see our post: https://Antifainternational.tumblr.com/post/181646122463/2018-the-year-in-fascist-extreme-right-violence). Those attacks happened in our towns and cities and the people harmed were our families, friends, classmates, co-workers, and neighbors. In some cases, the victims were fellow anti-fascists. There is a greater urgency to take action when fascists and bigots call for, encourage, or organize for the removal or extermination of people in our own communities. What's interesting is how few conservative or far right people seem willing to step up and do anything to stop this violence. Maybe the real question to ask is why are they so unwilling to do or say anything when people in their own communities are hurt or killed by fascists? Why is the right so willing to say "the fascist attacks happening where I live aren't my problem, so I'll just leave it up to Antifa to deal with?" Why do they instead welcome fascists in their spaces and condemn the people trying to stop them?
What is the greatest fascist threat to humanity today and how is Antifa addressing it?
That's a tough question, and not one that every anti-fascist would agree on. It's possible to argue that the greatest fascist threat is the one that is the most imminent threat to people's lives, but it's difficult to know which specific fascist or fascist group that could be at any given time. Or, it could be argued that the greatest fascist threat is the mainstreaming of fascist ideology through "dog whistle" terms like "illegal immigrants" and "cultural Marxists" and "globalists" (the latter two deriving from Nazi code words for Jews). Or it could be the wholesale removal of human rights protections from people targeted by fascists - such as the most-recent moves by Trump to revoke civil rights protections for transgender people.
So given that as a movement we probably don't all agree on what the single greatest fascist threat is currently, it's very likely that we'll keep doing what we've been doing for nearly a century now, which is to take on the fight against fascism in whatever way we're able to, in the hope that hundreds of thousands of anti-fascist actions will be spread across the spectrum of threats posed by fascism.
In Mark Bray’s ‘Antifa: The Antifascist Handbook’ he repeatedly denotes Antifa as being ‘illiberal’, where would this illiberality lead once all fascists were defeated? What would that society look like?
Fascism has only been around for about 100 years, so it's probably not hard to conceive of a world without fascists in it. A post-fascist society might look like society 100 years ago. Or maybe any post-fascist society might look like Germany, Italy, Japan, Spain, or Chile after the fascists regimes that once governed those countries were vanquished. Very broadly, a post-fascist society would be one where people could live their lives without fear of being dehumanized, deported, injured or killed because of their religion, ethnicity or race, gender or sexual orientation, (dis)abilities, or immigration status. Once we get to that, we'll be happy to join in an ideological debate with others about what a perfect world would be like. (BTW, we thought Mark Bray's book was a very thorough introduction to anti-fascism and would encourage anyone genuinely interested in the movement to read it!)
If the far-right fascists are not to be trusted, then, from the perspective of an average person, why would the far-left radicals be any different?
That might be a better question to ask far-left radicals specifically instead of anti-fascists. We don't believe that there is anything especially radical about opposing fascism - remember that most of the world joined forces to do just that in the 1940s! Another way to look at it might be to examine who the far-right and the far-left think are the root of problems in the world and compare that to one's own lived experience. The far rightbelieve that migrants, LGTBQ+ people, religious or ethnic minorities, or people with disabilities are the cause of our problems. The far left believe that the absolute wealthiest people in society are the cause of our problems, or that the economic and political systems themselves are to blame. Should we trust the far right - who are asking to turn on our own friends, family, and neighbors? Or should we trust the far left - who are telling us that the people that make money off of ourlabor and rent and try to profit from our desire for education or from our need to access health care are working against our own interests?
We find it hard to see billionaires as allies with working-class white people. But when we see a family fleeing war and seeking a safe place to raise their kids and get on with life, we find them far more relatable.
Is there anything you’d like to add?
In case anyone out there is interested in learning more about anti-fascism, we are on all of the major social media channels and invite them to reach out to us. We have a post about how to contact local Antifa (or start your own local crew): https://Antifainternational.tumblr.com/post/138607486119/looking-to-join-your-local-Antifa And we have another post listing 30 anti-fascist actions just about anyone could take on where they live: https://Antifainternational.tumblr.com/post/175437159827/30-Antifa-actions
Thanks for giving us this opportunity to talk about Antifa!