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Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook Paperback – August 14, 2017
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“Focused and persuasive... Bray’s book is many things: the first English-language transnational history of antifa, a how-to for would-be activists, and a record of advice from anti-Fascist organizers past and present.”—THE NEW YORKER
"Insurgent activist movements need spokesmen, intellectuals and apologists, and for the moment Mark Bray is filling in as all three... The book’s most enlightening contribution is on the history of anti-fascist efforts over the past century, but its most relevant for today is its justification for stifling speech and clobbering white supremacists."—Carlos Lozada, THE WASHINGTON POST
“[Bray’s] analysis is methodical, and clearly informed by both his historical training and 15 years of organizing, which included Occupy Wall Street…Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook couldn’t have emerged at a more opportune time. Bray’s arguments are incisive and cohesive, and his consistent refusal to back down from principle makes the book a crucial intervention in our political moment.”—SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE
“Bray’s aim is to present an accessible genealogy of today’s militant anti-fascist movement… Antifa is written from a commendable place of engagement and provides a serviceable genealogy for militant anti-fascism in the present, and Bray’s often well-reasoned defense of controversial tactics should and will make the critics reflect. The book is at its best when criticizing the liberal view that official democratic institutions alone are sufficient to prevent a fascist seizure of power.” - Los Angeles Review of Books
"An excellent primer and essential reading."—COUNTER PUNCH
“Mark Bray does a great job detailing the movement’s growth in the U.S. and giving historical context to the antifa’s resurgence. Read the book if you want to learn even more…” —REVEAL NEWS
“[An] excellent introduction, which serves as a reasoned and passionate defense…Antifa: The Anti-fascist Handbook serves as an educational tool for those whose inclination is to support antifa because they oppose fascism and white supremacy, but remain on the fence... Bray’s concise and multilayered text is an essential aid in that task.” —COUNTER PUNCH
“Mark Bray’s Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook arrives as a timely and thoroughly researched primer on the movement’s philosophy and tactics...readers of “Antifa” can be assured of gaining insight on an increasingly visible and misunderstood group looking to keep the genocidal past from repeating.” —PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE
About the Author
Mark Bray is a historian of human rights, terrorism, and political radicalism in Modern Europe who was one of the organizers of Occupy Wall Street. He is the author of Translating Anarchy: The Anarchism of Occupy Wall Street, and the co-editor of Anarchist Education and the Modern School: A Francisco Ferrer Reader. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, Critical Quarterly, ROAR Magazine, and numerous edited volumes. He is currently a lecturer at Dartmouth College.
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Like another reviewer, I recently saw a discussion with the author on DemocracyNow. In order to avoid waiting for Amazon to carry it, I picked up the paperback edition locally. I haven't read it in its entirety yet, but I have skipped between a few chapters, and know enough at this point to strongly recommend this book, especially during these times of political strife in America.
Many of the 1-3 sentence critical reviews mention that this book is "anti-free speech," but that very suggestion is questionable, because the very concept of free speech as applied to fascistic political discourse is described in chapter five, titled '"So Much for the Tolerant Left!": "No Platform" and Free Speech.' There are also many criticisms by supposed reviewers that the book advocates violent actions by antifa, but, in actuality, there is a discussion on that, as well, in chapter six, titled 'Strategy, (Non)Violence, and Everyday Anti-Fascism.' Other reviews say that antifa is a terrorist organization, when antifa is neither terrorist nor an organization; a distinction made very clear and obvious to anyone who has actually read the book.
I'm about 15 pages into chapter six, and so far, it's mostly a rebuttal of Chenoweth & Stephan's "Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategy of Nonviolent Conflict." I've not yet finished the chapter, but so far, among other things, he's already clarified that the very definition of "nonviolent resistance" as described in that book largely ignores the violent realities of its examples. I'll provide an excerpt here, from pages 179-180:
"Nevertheless, data that ascribe such overwhelming superiority to nonviolent methods must of course be taken seriously if our goal is success and not merely scoring rhetorical points. Yet, as the activist/scholar Ben Case pointed out in ROAR Magazine, the terms of this debate are seriously muddled. For example, the data set that Why Civil Resistance Works uses defines "violent" movements in terms of warfare without "variables for any type of violent action that falls below the threshold for war." The "radical flank effect" that the data set cites refers to armed insurgencies but "has nothing to do with the effect of protesters breaking windows or scuffling with police." In this book and subsequent work from Chenoweth, movements like the First Intifada in Palestine or the Tahrir Square movement in Egypt are cleanly categorized as "nonviolent" movements because of the "primacy of nonviolent resistance," despite the fact that they involved fierce conflicts with authorities and opposition thugs that were far more violent than smashing a few bank windows on an empty DC street."
Bray then criticizes Chenowith's assertion that anti-fascist violence is counterproductive, rebutting the lack of historical context of the claim, and counters that the mere political success of the left is frequently enough to drive fascist recruitment. One very current example he uses is that the election of Barack Obama in 2008 ultimately led to the election of Donald Trump in 2016.
My advice for anyone considering purchasing this book is to find the author Mark Bray's recent interviews, either on DemocracyNow or elsewhere, as he largely summarizes some of the main points of the book, which the book elaborates on in great detail (450 citations). Again, the vast majority of the reviews you'll find of this book can be safely ignored. Each and every criticism levied against the book is already rebutted within its pages, which makes it obvious that the book's detractors haven't actually read it, and are concerned only with the fact that it challenges their preconceived notions. It's quite sad that they're afraid to challenge their beliefs on this matter.
I'll close with another excerpt from the book:
"In truth, violence represents a small though vital sliver of anti-fascist activity.
There are three main arguments that anti-fascists use to justify their occasional violence. First, [...] anti-fascists make a historical argument based on the accurate observation that "rational debate" and the institutions of government have failed to consistently halt the rise of fascism. Given that fact, they argue that they only hope to prevent a sequel is to physically prevent any potential fascist advance. Second, they point to the many successful examples of militant anti-fascism shutting down or severely hampering far-right organizing since the end of World War II. Third, fascist violence often necessitates self-defense - although anti-fascists challenge conventional interpretations of self-defense grounded in individualistic personal ethics by legitimating offensive tactics in order to forestall the potential need for literal self-defense down the line.
In other words, anti-fascists don't wait for a fascist threat to become violent before acting to shut it down, physically if necessary. As Murray from Baltimore ARA explained it,
You fight them by writing letters and making phone calls so you don't have to fight them with fists. You fight them with fists so you don't have to fight them with knives. You fight them with knives so you don't have to fight them with guns. You fight them with guns so you don't have to fight them with tanks."
Bray pulls no punches on the side he's taking or partisanship, however if you are interested in understanding many sides of the current climate it's an important read.
Don't agree with everything? That's fine what kind of book do you seriously expect to read where you agree with everything unless you come with no real thought of your own.
The first chapters are a history of the anti-fascist movement. This resembles nothing so much as a military campaign history, recounting the endless encounters and troop movements of nearly a century of anti-fascist struggle. It is the dreariest collection of acronyms and mentioning that I have read. Bray seems driven by a desire not to forget any chapter of Antifa, no matter how small, for fear of offending. To be fair, I think there is nothing duller than military histories that follow every company from battle to battle to battle. It’s not more interesting when it’s about political activism, even though it is important to me.
It would be far better to have an appendix listing the Antifa organizations or perhaps a graphic timeline. This is boring. It also makes it hard to see broad historical movement because we are awash in the minutia. Nonetheless, Bray makes the argument that Antifa was successful in making fascism “not worth it” and kept them at bay through the end of the 20th century.
In the third chapter, Bray covers more recent fascist and anti-fascist conflict – conflict the fascists are winning by changing their tactics and anti-fascists seem to be losing by not changing their tactics. We certainly see the results with Golden Dawn in Green, National Front in France, and the alt-right in the United States. Encouraged by the defective election of Donald Trump, Nazis are marching in the open and Antifa is standing up to them. From this history, Bray condenses five historical lessons to inform anti-fascist organizing.
The rest of the book is far more interesting. Bray wrestles with the many critiques of Antifa from free speech legalists and nonviolent direct action proponents. Some of his arguments are very persuasive and center on what Karl Popper called the Paradox of Tolerance. It’s kind of weird that Bray does not mention Popper at all since his argument echoes Popper’s argument that tolerating the intolerant leads to an intolerant society. It’s not that he does not reach to philosophy, he tackles John Milton’s Areopagitica asserting that Milton is wrong on the fact, Truth does not always win. If the first half of the book was half as interesting as the second, I would be far more enthusiastic about it.
I agree that there should be no platform for fascists. I don’t want the government to suppress their speech, but I do want anyone who gives them air to feel the swift reprisal of public opinion, of boycotts, public shaming, and economic punishment. If a university is committed to honest scholarship, they will never give air to fascists. There is no academic integrity in promoting lies. Academic freedom is expansive, but it must not expand to promoting racist, genocidal ideologies.
Bray is correct that fascism does not require a military coup to take power. Historically, it gained power much the way the alt-right is gaining power and the way Trump succeeded in being installed by the Electoral College and Putin. They get money and support from corporatists while recruiting working-class whites with racist blandishments.
As to violence, while I can understand the rationale, when he gives examples of nonviolent protesters who were protected by Antifa from fascist violence, I recall that the success of the civil rights movement was won by the moral contrast between the nonviolent resistance and the abuses and violence of the state. When that contrast is lost, can we win?
These are tough questions and I don’t know the answers. I think this book is a useful guide to some of the questions and to understanding how people in Antifa understand the dilemma – though there is no unanimity and Antifa members are divided on tactics, but they are united always, as we all should be, in opposing fascism.
As to all of us being Antifa, Bray makes that much more complicated. For him, Antifa is not just anti-fascist. It is also anarchic and anti-capitalist. For him, there’s no such thing as a liberal anti-fascist. As economic injustice creates space for fascist recruitment, he argues that anti-fascism must be anti-capitalist. This seems to come from the same false presumption that economic justice will solve racial justice, a fatal misunderstanding of how racism is how economic injustice is perpetuated.
I received an e-galley of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook from the publisher through Edelweiss.
Bray gives a decent interpretation of how free speech interacts with Antifa and what it means to 'no platform.' This book is especially good for liberals who are unwittingly assisting present fascist movements by creating a 'both sides are bad' narrative or peddling debunked ideas like 'horseshoe theory.' It is geared for a younger (millennial and earlier Gen X) audience that is pretty tech savvy from what I can tell. Bray does insert his personal opinion within the intra-antifa discussions on issues (free speech in particular) but is honest to point out that this is where that personal opinion comes in.
I only really skimmed a lot of this, but it seems good enough for me to read deeper later. I'll update at that time.
Also, the reviews are being brigaded by Trump fans.. so..... not a shocker.