Antifa is misreading the history of anti-fascism

Today at the Daily Beast history professor Ronald Radosh warns that Antifa has been misreading the history of anti-fascism. As Radosh describes it, anti-fascists spent much of their energy fighting with more moderate socialists on the left and wound up laying some of the groundwork for Hitler’s rise to power:

Antifa’s attitude is the same taken by the German Communist Party (KPD) before Hitler’s ascension to power. The German Reds had the slogan “After Hitler, Us,” and used their energy and propaganda not against the Nazis, but against the mainstream socialists, organized in the Social-Democratic Party (SPD).

Calling the SPD “social fascists,” the Communists argued that to give them any credibility would fool the working classes into supporting them when in fact the SPD’s opposition to an immediate communist revolution meant that the Nazis would win power…

Antifa members should read historians of Nazi Germany, like Laurie Marhoefer of the University of Washington, who writes that anti-fascist street fighters who greeted a Nazi rally with violence thought that they had won by disrupting a rally and fighting its speakers back in 1927. They sent a message that “Fascism was not welcome.” But instead, “events like the rally in Wedding [a Berlin district] helped the Nazis build a dictatorship.” The Reds got media attention, but it led to escalating street violence, all of which helped the Nazis, who painted themselves “as the victims of a pugnacious, lawless left.”

Leftist violence in the 1930s in Germany led many to support the Nazis in the hope they would put an end to the continuing street brawls and violence.

Radosh makes clear that we are not living in the equivalent of 1930’s Germany. President Trump is not Hitler and is not in (or close to being in) a position of absolute power. Also, the people Antifa is beating up are as likely to be reporters as neo-Nazis.

Antifa already contains the seeds of its own destruction. Their violence will create a backlash. Already, they have gone from inspiring glowing comparisons to Americans invading on D-Day to widespread condemnation. After a few short weeks of public attention, authorities are discussing labeling the group a gang. The federal government, which caught on months ago, is treating them as domestic terrorists. That downward slide is going to continue unless the group stops and renounces violence.

But Antifa won’t stop because violence is fundamental to their ideology. They are not liberals. They do not believe in free speech for those they casually label “Nazis.” The group will continue to act on its beliefs. And the backlash from people disgusted by their behavior will also continue.

My hope, as a conservative, is that Antifa keeps showing up and doing what they do, not because I want to see police or others hurt but because that’s the quickest route to putting an end to them and the discredited ideology they represent.