Priscilla Obilana evaluates Antifa practices and gathers the opinions of politics professors and Antifa Ireland to find out more.
Fascism played a significant role in the 20th century and recently it has begun to raise its head once again and in response, so too comes Antifa, an anti-fascist movement, in fierce opposition. The situation, however, is not quite as straightforward as fascism versus anti-fascism, as those who are anti-fascist do not necessarily support Antifa. The main reason for this is Antifa’s violent means go against the morals of many anti-fascists. Antifa, a leftist organisation, faces criticism from leftists and the media due to the methods they employ. To determine whether the practices of Antifa are legitimate or useful, the University Observer spoke to Antifa Ireland and political professors in UCD.
Militant anti-fascism first came to the fore in Europe during the 1920s as a continent-wide movement whose practices involved revolting against fascism in countries like Italy, France, Spain and Germany. In relation to past fascist defeats, Antifa Ireland says, “Physical force is the only thing that has ever defeated fascism when it has been given space to organise.”
Contemporary critics do not see it that way, and they meet Antifa with disapproval and chastisement. Our generation has a clear reluctance to use violence as a means. We have been shown that non-violent methods can be powerful with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King being such figures that have proven that a tactic of peaceful resistance is highly effective. Concerns about violent methods being used to combat violent ideologies are often raised as it begs the question “Is it not hypocritical to combat violence with more violence?”
“Fascism is extremely weak in Ireland because of the successes of militant anti-fascism over many years.”
Antifa Ireland makes the point that “Fascism is a clear statement of intent to violence” and so must be met head on. This coincides with an observation made by UCD politics Professor Andy Storey: “Given the overt violence that is inherent in fascism, violence seems to me morally justified in opposing it.” Professor Graham Finlay, a lecturer in the school of Politics and International Relations, also notes that “many supporters of Antifa are not supporting violence as a goal in itself.” However, not everyone sees it that way, Professor Alexa Zellentin, also with the school of Politics and International Relations, says “Generally, I do not belief that even important ends justify all means that might work to achieve them.”
A commonly agreed viewpoint, by all interviewed, is that regardless of whether violence is needed to defeat violence or not, it does affect public support which is also necessary to acquire. Professor Finlay raises the point that sometimes violence can push potential supporters towards the opposition. “Whether pro-active attacks on fascist rallies and events leads to a reduction in their numbers or support will also vary from case to case” and “the white supremacists claim… it is attracting support to their cause.” Professor Storey adds “Violence that is disproportionate to the threat posed is not only morally problematic, it likely alienates popular support for anti-fascist action.”
In Ireland, an anti-fascist organisation was officially formed in 1991. Ireland has been relatively free from any major fascist uprising. Antifa Ireland says that “Fascism is extremely weak in Ireland because of the successes of militant anti-fascism over many years.” Fascism has, however, become a visible threat as of late. When asked about its possible future in Ireland, Antifa says “Fascism has no foothold in Ireland and it never will because of the actions of militant anti-fascists.” Paradoxically, Professor Finlay says, “we would be naïve to think that they are not active in Ireland” and Professor Storey thinking along the same lines says that fascism exists in Ireland “but not in a mass or organised way, not yet anyway.” It can be seen, Storey explains, through “racism and other fascist-style sentiments (such as hostility to asylum seekers, Muslims, etc.).” This was also noticed by Professor Finlay in “the public discourse surrounding multiculturalism, immigration and class in Ireland and the comments one hears in social media, comment sections and on the street.” Professor Zellentin summarizes it by saying “fascism is always a latent threat.”
“In democracies there are many ways to take a strong and visible stance against hateful ideologies that do not involve violence against persons or destruction of their property.”
However, there are many ways to be anti-fascist without being Antifa. As Professor Zellentin puts it, “in democracies there are many ways to take a strong and visible stance against hateful ideologies that do not involve violence against persons or destruction of their property. We should make use of them.” Professor Finlay suggests that the state should fortify itself against fascism all the more because, “The state’s mechanisms for reporting and redressing racist and discriminatory behaviour were seriously weakened during austerity with the closure of the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism and the cuts to the budget of the Equality Authority and its eventual merger with the Irish Human Rights Commission.”
While Antifa practices do have a history of success, showing that their measures are useful and in some cases necessary for the anti-fascists, be they Antifa or not, is vital to avoid distracting from the actual fight and to prevent disagreement among anti-fascists.