Left and Right

Antifa and its Origins

By John M. Vella, The American Conservative

Antifascism: The Course of a Crusade, by Paul Gottfried (Northern Illinois University Press: 2021), 216 pages.

In this sequel to his 2016 book Fascism: Career of a Concept, Paul Gottfried turns his attention to antifascist critics and movements from the years immediately after the Great War up to the present day. The reader will learn that the contemporary treatment of fascism by self-described antifascists like Antifa is very different from how Marxist and liberal critics responded to the ideology and its adherents in the first half of the 20th century. Today the fear of fascism is used as a political weapon by the post-Marxist left to bully their politically disadvantaged critics. It is a form of indoctrination that serves to reinforce official orthodoxy. “Fascism became,” writes Gottfried, “the favored term of political scolds and those who sought to trample on the historical liberties of those who offended them.”

To accomplish this political purpose, fascism is defined broadly to include those who have no ideological connection to its original historical meaning. No longer “firmly anchored in time and space,” fascism has become “a ubiquitous, continuing danger to democratic societies” and a term “wielded by the powerful…in such a way as to silence pesky dissenters.” Those who identify as antifascists today are not expressing a coherent worldview but rather “a collection of sentiments and attitudes” that amount to “a statement against the Western past.” The antifascist left is pushing the ruling class farther in the direction it is already moving: “toward transforming Western countries into multicultural societies, erasing the remnants of a reactionary historical past, and assuring popular acceptance of nontraditional lifestyles.”

The antifascist left smears their “fascist” opponents with the Nazi and anti-Semitic label. However, fascism and Nazism are not identical. Latin fascism, writes Gottfried, was not defined by extreme racism against Jews and Slavs or by a totalitarian state apparatus that was characteristic of the Third Reich. “It is difficult for me to see how the Nazi orgy of killing was simply a variation of Latin fascism or similar in character to something as anodyne as Austrian clerical fascism.” Mussolini’s embrace of German-style anti-Semitism in 1938 was a dramatic departure from longstanding fascist practice. Despite his authoritarianism, Il Duce was considered a leftwing reformer until his alliance with Nazi Germany. Members of his cabinet were vocal critics of Hitler. Only a couple years earlier, Jewish refugees from Germany were given asylum in Italy. Even some Eastern European Zionists “venerated” Mussolini for providing a nationalist blueprint for a future Jewish state. Early supporters of the fascist movement included Jewish members of the Italian bourgeoisie. Mussolini’s mistress was a Sephardic Jew.


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