I have had some interactions with Providence-based AntiFa groups and have even attended one of their counter-protests. I’ve got respect conceptually for their efforts but I simultaneously am very critical of their way of going about things.
First, the historical notion these formations subscribe to, claiming their antecedent is a postwar European vigilante group that developed in Germany, is frankly mistaken. The postwar AntiFa project was a militia movement given certain license and approval by the occupying Allied forces, France, Britain, America, and the Soviet Union. In contemporary contexts, AntiFa formations are instead positioning themselves as antagonists of the state. The prewar AntiFa project likewise had a substantial link to state power as militias with intimate connections to political parties holding office in Weimar Germany. Indeed, the prewar version’s example should be an important parable about building multi-tendency coalitions as opposed to staking ground in a sectarian pissing contest and, more importantly, the vital link that must be established between multi-party electoral politics and direct action protests.
Second, the suggestion that these groups have a connection with communities of color and their leadership, in my experience, has been sophistry used in order to justify self-righteous posturing. In late March 2017, BIPOC-led organizations did hold a counter-protest at the Rhode Island State House to challenge a MAGA rally held by the Republican Party and a washed-up shock jock. But in more recent months, the dynamic has been quite the opposite, with some BIPOC leaders advising non-engagement.
One individual in Providence, in a clear moment of both a) lack of any respect for the older generation of organizers, and b) a delusion of grandeur, went as far as trying to browbeat an older Black female housing organizer on Facebook by accusing her of doing “pig work.”
Three issues emerge from that one:
- If you think you are fighting any sort of racism by calling a Black woman a farm animal, even if it is a slur used to claim she is an infiltrator doing work for the cops, you’ve lost all grip on reality;
- If you are so delusionally self-righteous you think you have any right to accuse a Black woman organizer of being a plant for the boys in blue, you need to seriously revisit the basic reasons why you think what you are doing is even antiracist work to begin with;
- If those two issues themselves don’t scream to high heaven with problems for anyone, it is a laughable demonstration of one’s amateur grasp on protest politics to claim that Facebook or other social media venues are anything but a public venue that feeds data about protesters in a bulk fashion directly to the various police agencies. In other words, thinking you are doing legitimate covert work on social media demonstrates you are a delusional fool who is only play-acting a lame excuse for an adventure game.
Now here is the real issue.
Whether or not an individual AntiFa formation actually has a legitimate connection to BIPOC community organizations that include viable accountability, God knows that the blessed souls in ICE sure would love to claim such connections exist in order to justify sweeping crackdowns and raids in those communities! Words can and do have consequences (even when they are little more than slogans) so making such claims is doing a gigantic favor to any COINTEL-PRO agencies that have been hard at work since well before Trump got elected.
Let’s be clear, the security agencies nationwide on all levels have been in overdrive at least since Obama smashed Occupy Wall Street (and certainly since the rise of #BlackLivesMatter/Movement for Black Lives). We now have, thanks to both a leaked FBI document as well as public hearings acknowledging these documents, verified proof of this campaign against radicals, so-called “Black Identity Extremists.” This leaked memo was distributed by the FBI to police agencies on the state and local level across the country and was in production during the Obama administration, indicated by a notation on page 3 reading “Reporting in this intelligence assessment was derived primarily from FBI and law enforcement investigations and open source reporting—media interviews of subjects, subjects’ posting on social media accounts, and online news articles—deemed credible and reliable. The review of FBI investigations occurred between September 2014 and December 2016. The open source reporting was current as of 17 January 2017.” [Emphasis added]
Throwing these security agencies a bone by linking BIPOC organizers with public hooliganism exhibited by a bunch of suburban revolutionaries who have credit scores and the ability to very easily avoid serious repercussions for said misbehavior is the height of petit bourgeois posturing. Doing a favor for the police because of your self-righteous anarcho-fantasy ethics is not revolutionary, it is the complete opposite.
When the stakes are so high for frontline communities nationwide, these kinds of vigilante actions lacking accountability to BIPOC organizers can be invoked to justify state violence towards the very same communities that AntiFa groups claim to “protect.” I certainly grant that meek-and-mild pacific nonviolence liberals love to invoke as justifications for browbeating radicals is useless crap. But, in terms of actual liberation, the same can be said for this kind of behavior.
The point of genuine liberation struggles in American radical politics is the dismantling of structures and frameworks that promote the major tool of division among working people, namely racial capitalism, white supremacy, and imperialism at home and abroad. That inter-connected Hegelian triad is a long-term opponent and strategy needs to be measured, mature, and accountable to BIPOC organizers and their organizations in urban communities.
Otherwise there is a risk of instead perpetuating the very forces that AntiFa claims to oppose.