With recent tragic event bringing the threat of fascist ideas and organizations into front view, we look back on anarchism as a direct challenge to these ideas.
People associated with class struggle anarchism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-syndicalism, and the like, love to say that anarchism really is a specific iteration of worker and class politics with a libertarian, anti-oppression edge. They hate to answer with more poetic renditions of what anarchism is, if only to be dumped into the “lifestyle” camp with post-leftists and primitivists. The reality is that it is as much a mindset and set of values as it is a specific politic coming out of the split in the IWA between Marx and Bakunin. The anarchist idea is one that goes to the heart of authority, challenging its illegitimacy and all forms of social hierarchy and oppression. In this way anarchism is fundamentally opposed to all forms of social stratification and bigotry, looking not just at its independent and personal forms, but also the social systems that put prejudice into systemic practice. Not only are we against racism, but also against institutional white supremacy. Not just opposed to sexism, but looking to smash patriarchy. Abhorred by homophobia, but also looking to overthrow heterosexist hegemony. Anarchism is the core urge to throw off the shackles of control, to share resources and community in equality, and to get rid of our masters politically, spiritually, and socially. The key values then return us to the most direct, and unmediated forms of social organization based on direct democracy, direct action, mutual aid, and solidarity. These tools are today used as forms of resistance and perseverance, but only through struggle will we form the basic social structures of a post-revolutionary society.
It is in every feature we see anarchism as the mirror opposite of fascism, the direct negation of everything it stands for. In this way anarchism, in practice, is anti-fascism, hopefully to be realized in a post-revolutionary society as well as an improvement to our current world.
Traditionally, Marxism is usually associated as the primary force standing at odds with fascism. Both the far right and the conventional far left enjoy this narrative as it gives them both legitimacy. For Marxists, it helps them draw on their past to give ever greater meaning to their own political legacy. The same is true of fascists, who often use the spread of Bolshevism as a historical double back to justify the excesses of interwar European fascist states. Marxism existed, as a revolutionary force that took their assumed base, the working class, and subverted what the aristocracy and ruling class thought should be a perpetual underclass. One of fascism’s core ideals, as presented by Mussolini, is “class collaboration,” which essentially means that all current classes are necessary. For this to be the case then the working class must gladly serve their role, as must their overseers in the ruling class. Class warfare then pulls as the threads of the caste system, where by there is a clear social hierarchy and the peasants and workers are not seen as capable of ruling society. Communism was then a counter agent, often associated with Jews, and thought of as the metastasized cancer of Western Civilization. This worked really well with communism existing on the far left of the political spectrum and fascism on the far right to create antagonisms, but no political distinction is this simple.
The post-WWII fascist and leftist narratives both moved based orthodox Marxism in similar ways. Today, fascists vaguely blame what they call “cultural Marxism,” a term only they use to describe socially left aspects of culture. One of the core anti-Semitic myths is that the Frankfurt School, which produced culturally focused radicals like Theodore Adorno, was secretly both an organization for Jewish ethnic interests and were so successfully subversive that their ideas have now begun to dominate not just the left, but the subconscious of Western culture as a whole. The idea here is then that the ideas of the Frankfurt School were secretly cooked up by Jewish intellectuals to create decadence, perversion, and relativism in otherwise straight and upright white men, and they are doing this to protect Jews from anti-Semitism. If they can destroy the sovereignty of white civilization by undermining their conservative religious values and then debasing their racial hegemony with third-world immigration of people of color, they can then subvert the white population’s aversion to the Jews as a parasitic class. Neatly put: they create dangerous ideas to destroy white people so that they will be safe and on top. While this idea sounds so insane as to need little denouncement, its position as an Illuminati type conspiracy theory has given it repeated resurgence in the Internet message-board collective basement of the far right. Not only does it make outrageous claims that could never be proven and have no ability to be true, but it fundamentally misses any of the key concepts, historical trajectory, and antagonisms of the Frankfurt School. What is more important, it really has bypassed the key role that anarchism has made as both its adversary and its ideological polar opposite.
Over many of the historic, and more recent, clashes with fascism, anarchism has played an incredibly key role in its defeat. This comes in part because of the history of anarchist movements erupting during the same crisis that often breeds reactionary movements, but also because it has a unique interest in seeing fascism smashed.
Today many are pointing out that anarchism, though often vaguely practiced and understood in first-world countries, has become the leading form of left or post-left political ideology. As Andrej Grubacic and David Graeber so eloquently state in Anarchism, or the Revolutionary Movement of the Twenty-First Century:
“It is becoming increasingly clear that the age of revolutions is not over. It’s becoming equally clear that the global revolutionary movement in the twenty first century will be one that traces its origins less to the tradition of Marxism, or even of socialism narrowly defined, but of anarchism. Everywhere from Eastern Europe to Argentina, from Seattle to Bombay, anarchist ideas and principles are generating new radical dreams and visions. Often their exponents do not call themselves “anarchists”. There are a host of other names: autonomism, anti-authoritarianism, horizontality, Zapatismo, direct democracy… Still, everywhere one finds the same core principles: decentralization, voluntary association, mutual aid, the network model, and above all, the rejection of any idea that the end justifies the means, let alone that the business of a revolutionary is to seize state power and then begin imposing one’s vision at the point of a gun.” (1)
There have been scores of volumes as to why anarchism has both diversified and been popularized from the 1980s onward, all of which we could never do justice here, but we have to see that this anarchist spirit is what is driving the movements of today. From the anti-globalization protests to mobilizations against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. From the massive Occupy movement to the uprisings of Black Lives Matter, the Marxist parties that once led America to the brink of revolution are almost completely irrelevant, and instead the anarchist spirit is spreading as the fundamental way that we can create a new world. The obvious reasons here is that the anarchist project is both always evolving and always headed to the root of the issue. It doesn’t just seek to just overthrow capitalism and the state, but all forms of hierarchy and oppression. This means that it is a constant ongoing process, and that it has the ability to evolve and change according to the personalities and cultures of those practicing. It is not steeped in rigidity like most determinism-infused Marxism, and its different strands, such as syndicalism, can act as complimentary strategic points rather than limiting ideological dogmas.
The other reality is that most people have already seen revolutionary Marxism, at least of the Leninist party variety, as an incredible failure. The most powerful “movement for liberation” became the most genocidal tyranny of the 20th century. It is this resulting beauracratic State Capitalist failure that almost destroyed the revolutionary left, and there are few who are willing to do Trotskyist backflips in logic to pretend that somehow it will be different next time. What we are left with is one revolutionary trajectory that is, though diversified, the only place we have to go to create a transformative alternative to the waves of reaction.
For any part of the anarchist vision to be made reality, from the local to the post-revolutionary, it requires a loss of fascism in equal measure. Every key element of anarchism sees fascism as its inverse, meaning that the goals can never exist simultaneously. While both the left-right paradigm and most criticisms of that paradigm are weak and not withstanding under scrutiny, one of the better of these would be the structure Nolan Chart, though we will need to redefine which corner each one has. We need to say upfront that this still does not accurately represent the role we see of anarchism in the political, but for discussion’s sake it helps to map out its relationship to other political tropes.
A more correct version of this chart might have Marxism and Liberalism in direct opposition while anarchism and fascism are in opposite corner as well. Anarchism is then seen as the mix of socialism and autonomy, which could also be interpreted purely as one of social freedom and social equality. By exact parallels, fascism is socially conservative and represents a strong state. The more apt description would be against equality and freedom or democracy. It would be more accurate to actually just put anarchism and fascisms at the very top and bottom corners, respectively, since they display the core extremes as represented here. The polarities would be extreme state communism on the far left, free-market minarchism on the far right, anarchism at the top and fascism at the bottom. This would then represent fascisms disavowal of free-market capitalism, but its respect for things like essential property rights and the right of private corporations over market sectors. From here you can go through and take specific ideological manifestations and place them accordingly, even though anarchism is ever changing and diverse enough to never fully be positioned on any political spectrum.
The simplest answer is a libertarian form of communism, but this really misses the core values at the center. Anarchism seeks to liberate us from oppressive systems of illegitimate authority and hierarchy, with the actors of this being the oppressed classes. In terms of economics, this means the working class taking the means of production in a form of stateless communism that is founded on the necessity of freedom and individual identity. It also means the confrontation of existing forms of social oppression, as well as the ongoing process of challenging new forms and subverting oppression whenever it comes up. The foundation then is that a free and healthy society is one that is fully socially and economically equal, where differences between people are no longer expressed through hierarchy, and an ongoing process of living lives with more direct control and less mediation is key. Anarchists believe that race, gender, and other identities as social constructs, as well as nation states that must be abolished in favor of internationalism.
In direct contrast, fascism and related ideologies is best expressed by the title of Tomislav Sunic’s book on the European New Right, ‘Against Democracy and Equality.’ They agree with radical traditionalist mystic Julius Evola when see stated that society is most healthy when stratified. They are against democracy, as they don’t see the masses as having the ability to rule. They are in favor of an upper controlling elite with aristocratic interests, as they believe that there is inherently a class best meant to rule. They believe in the pure rule of genetics over identity, where things like racial ethnicity as having a determining factor over internal qualities like temperament and intelligence. They believe in nationalism, where a set people have interests in each other rather than the rest of society. They are often also opposed to capitalism, but this is because they capitalism creates too much equality and takes the importance away from nation and race. They instead want to purposely re-enforce social stratification and separation instead of just allowing some measure of this to happen on its own, as is the neoliberal situation. They may or may not support totalitarian state measures, but they always support a form of social authoritarianism where a society has strict social mores set by elites whose interest is maintaining a social order.
The term fascism itself is rarely going to be used in these circles, as it has been permanently marred with its association with the Holocaust of the Third Reich. This new brand of the far right is also hardly historical re-enactors as they have modernized the ideas that birthed the interwar movements. The fascism of Italy, Germany, Romania, Austria, and Spain were all somewhat unique in structure, and there were hundreds of movements and ideologues that you never heard of because their version of these essential fascist ideas did not end up taking state power. Today the far right likes to separate itself from ‘fascism,’ which it sees as failed movements of the Second World War. Instead it has rebranded its ideas and modernized its goals and political programs, but the core ideas and values remain the same.
A great example of this rebranding has come from Counter Currents publisher Greg Johnson, who has fashioned himself a sort of “intellectual” of this far right brand. His publishing house, which is mainly made up of republishing tomes by people like Savetri Devie and Jonathan Bowden, has tried to establish a right-wing intellectual current similar to what they have in France. What he is calling the North American New Right, which is essentially just him publishing what he can after having to leave the Occidental Observer, is established on taking the core values of fascism away from its archaic political manifestations (2). As he laments in his key essay “New Right vs. Old Right,” he sees it as an important re-establishment of right-wing principles that only a fascist movement can.
“The true Right, in both its Old and New versions, is founded on the rejection of human equality as a fact and as a norm. The true right embraces the idea that mankind is and ought to be unequal, i.e., differentiated. Men are different from women. Adults are different from children. The wise are different from the foolish, the smart from the stupid, the strong from the weak, the beautiful from the ugly. We are differentiated by race, history, language, religion, nation, tribe, and culture. These differences matter, and because they matter, all of life is governed by real hierarchies of fact and value, not by the chimera of equality. The true right rejects egalitarianism root and branch. The true right has three species: traditional society, the Old Right, and the New Right. Every traditional society known to man is inegalitarian. All forms of traditional society have been destroyed—or are in the process of being destroyed—by modern, egalitarian, mass society. For our purposes, the Old Right means Fascism, National Socialism, and other national-populist movements, which are the pre-eminent attempts to restore traditional hierarchical social forms within the context of modernity. Fascism and National Socialism were not merely reactionary, rear-guard resistances to modern egalitarianism by partisans of corrupt hierarchies. They represented a genuinely revolutionary impetus to restore vital, archaic, hierarchical values within the context of modern science, technology, and mass society. Our ideal is a hierarchical society free of exploitation and injustice because the sole justification of political inequality is the common good of the body politic, not the factional good of the ruling stratum. So how does the New Right differ from Fascism and National Socialism? This is a vital question, because of the intense stigmas attached to these movements since the Second World War. The North American New Right, like the European New Right, is founded on the rejection of Fascist and National Socialist party politics, totalitarianism, terrorism, imperialism, and genocide.” (2)
This sums up the breadth of the movements in general. The coloring of each of these subsets tends to take on many of the aesthetics from which it is dissenting. The Traditionalist Youth Network, White Student Union, and Youth for Western Civilization use the grassroots student-organizing model, and often look more like more confrontational brown-shirts. The National Policy Institute, American Renaissance, Radix Journal, Occidental Quarterly, and VDare, when it applies, often looks and sounds more like the paleoconservative splits from the Republican Party. Institute for Historical Review, Mankind Quarterly, Counter Currents, and many others put on the vein of academic intellectualism. All of these share key ideas and social visions, while they rarely use the term “fascist” to describe themselves.
In many ways, these far-right movements are an effort to create a coherent right wing that is in opposition to the fractured ideologies of the mainstream right. They’re assessment of the lack of ideological consistency and true opposition to the left’s values is correct, and they instead want to develop something that has an “entirely different starting point,” as Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute and Radix Journal likes to say. What you will notice is that there is often a similar estimation of contemporary politics between anarchists and those on the far right in as much as the far right is completely willing to accept their own racism sexism, and homophobia, and is completely willing to estimate the issues with capitalism, globalism, and contemporary party politics in ways that are real and meaningful. The difference is where they fall on these things, not in the way that they interpret them. Many of the accusations that they throw at the far left, like the desire to destroy white hegemony and the nation state, are entirely valid and correct. The difference is that the left sees them as a positive while the right sees them as apocalyptic.
You can look at a number of social forms and goals and assign a sort of positive preference from anarchists and direct opposition from fascists. Equality, pervasive democracy, multiculturalism, a sexually liberated and diverse society, and the destruction of gender roles, are all core ideological principles of the anarchist project, as well as direct fighting points for fascists to target. Anarchism, as the furthest political point away from fascism, actually takes the elements that fascism abhors and finds its political footing on the most extreme version of that. So, fascism openly opposes democracy because it violates their self-avowed elitism. Anarchists, on the other hand, support direct democracy, which intends to hand the democratic process even more directly to the people. The far right strongly opposes equality seeing that people are not made that way. Anarchism goes one further and opposes every single form of hierarchy, from political structures to social relations.
It is in this direct contrast that we find the fundamental point about the battle between the two polar opposites: to fight for anarchism is to be implicitly anti-fascist. Success in the revolutionary anarchist sense would be the negation of every fascist goal so successfully that you create the purest form of their opposition. You cannot cohabitate with the far right since their ideological principles would mean to undermine every single element you look for, whether it is in projects for survival in the current world or projects that are for revolutionary implementation.
The only way that anarchists can win is if fascists lose in every conceivable way.
The history of modern revolutions is often the history of ideological civil wars where different sides represent ideological oppositions. Competing political factions vie for control, and we see that this point of pressure can often force the more extreme polarities of the political spectrum to mark these different parties. Though this doesn’t break down into the clean “anarchist vs. fascist” dichotomy, it does tend to take on a separation between the left and the right based on values, even if the political ideas are not always so well defined.
If we look to the 1917 Russian Revolution we see a history where the Menshevik majority, the direct-action focused Narodniks, and the anarchist populations heavily infiltrated the left insurrection. These factions headed even more to the left as the Soviets headed towards October, and the “white” forces doubled down on the traditional hierarchies of the Czar. While the more conservative Bolshevik’s ended up dominating the other factions and eventually purging them from the early days of Soviet Russia, there was a clear ideological split that affected the populations. Many people in the peasantry and working class shifted dramatically to a reactionary pro-Czarist position, often times defending what little privilege they still had.
The example of the Spanish Revolution of 1936 is possibly the most telling example of this ideological civil war in the 20th Century. The coup in 1936 from General Francisco Franco, with the support of the nationalist Fallange party and financial backing from Germany and Italy, overthrew the newly formed republic. Engaging in the civil war for the republic took as a coalition with the Abraham Lincoln brigade being the notable army of volunteers, many from the United States. The CNT, which had been directly clashing with Fallange forces for several years prior, began collectivizing land and industries into what many call the most comprehensive Anarchist social revolution in history. With the support of Stalin back communist forces they took on the fascist insurgency, only to have the Soviet armies turn on them to sell them out to state forces. This eventually weakened the revolution and allowed for Franco’s victory, but it saw as the countries political divides became a sharp line for how Spain was to end up. Catalonia ended up as the marker of Anarchist revolutionary forces against the fascist armies coming from the south, supported by a broad coalition of ideological forces that had some differences yet remained in unity on their fundamental values. (3) This period does not just mark anarchism’s position in challenge to European fascism, but really its most profound modern growth in theory and practice. The Spanish Revolution defined anarchism until the New Left, and still overshadows every current that has come later. It is through anti-fascist struggle it was able to realize the most key parts of a community transformation.
In the modern context, the street battles that have marked anti-fascism have been marked by movements such as Anti-Fascist Action and Anti-Racist Action, as well as hundreds of groups taking on similar positions and strategies. The primary component here is “physical resistance,” which has been an important point in shutting down the kind of resurgent nationalism. The conflicts have raged in European countries most apparently, which has a longer history of organized fascist currents, but in the U.S. this often has come into clashes with the KKK, skinhead gangs, and now many of the intellectual and culturally “alternative” fascist groups. The foundation of these movements has been on anarchist participation, often with ties to anarchist cultural and art subcultures, but always drawing from an anarchist tradition towards direct action problem solving. While non-violence remains a trend inside anarchist circles, it is the more nuanced “anti-violence” position that sees self-defense and removing racist elements as a primary vessel to actually rid a community of violence in the macro sense.
The modern conception of radical politics has seen a lot of issues in recent years as fragmented ideologies that lack full political analysis have dominated many conversations. Many have actually made calls for peace between the radical right and left based on the fact that they share mutual interest in the abolition of our current state and economic system, and that both are considered enemy terrorists of the state in the post-9/11 security infrastructure. The majority of these calls are coming directly from the right itself, which has a vested interested in blurring the lines between their ideological differences. There has even been a strong push on the right to absorb many of the radical ideas of anarchists, which often times appear outside the current left-right spectrum because anarchists hold such a fundamental critique of all elements of the current socio-political order.
The two forms this tends to take are with so called National Anarchism and Anarcho-Capitalism. Anarcho-Capitalism is one that many have encountered for years, which was proposed by Murray Rothbard in the 1980s as a way of co-opting and subverting their enemies on the left. While they utilize much of the libertarian language we know from individualist anarchism, the New Left, and even some legitimate left sources, they instead focus on absolving any state protections against unfettered capitalism. This is essentially tyranny to the purest degree, maintaining the coercive elements of capitalism without any of the state concessions that organizers have fought for, such as labor and housing restrictions. Many on the American libertarian side have created narratives about how this deregulated capitalism would actually break up monopoly and create diversified wealth, but this is based on pseudoscientific understandings of free market capitalism. In general, they have close associations with paleoconservatives and others on the fringes of the right that consort with racialist factions.
The first of these two is one of the more bizarre cults of syncretic paleogenisis that has come in recent years. Essentially coined by former National Front organizer Troy Southgate, National Anarchism draws on many of the anti-capitalist notions of Third Positionism to essentially create a “tribalist” ideology. This calls for a form of “pan-Anarchism” where by small tribal communities based on affinity replace the current associated order. Instead of being federated in a standardized anarchist conception, these communities would have only minor interaction and trade and could provide their own criteria for membership. In the rhetoric of the National Anarchists you will find that race and ethnicity is the defining characteristic they work with, and there is a strong anti-Semitic and anti-Feminist strain running through all of it. Because of its strange use of left wing imagery and social structures, it has gone under the radar for many anti-fascists until recently. They also often times put themselves as being anti-fascist as well, but their ideological framework still holds the exact same values about hierarchy, tradition, race, gender, and authority that even the most state oriented fascists do. Concepts like “racial holy war” still permeate their literature, as does this notion about the purity of “natural divisions” between peoples. Just being anti-statist does not make you an anarchist or give enough to make them allies.
The anti-statism of anarchism comes in the fact that the state is coercive and institutionalized violence in support of the current classes, both economically and socially. It is designed as a method for stratifying society through the use of force and, as a social form, will always do this. Anarchists oppose the state because of their opposition to this illegitimate authority and hierarchy, but not just because it is a dominant institution. Anarchists do not seek to abolish the state because it penalizes white nationalists or because it regulates the banking industry. There is a fundamental value set that drives this anti-statism.
If there is to be a long-term vision of success for anarchism then it has to be implicitly anti-fascist because it represents the open advocacy of every single element of society that anarchists seek to abolish. As we fight for different intersecting elements in society we need to see where those threats are, both from the immediate system and from the organized forces of reaction that will be challenging these victories on some fundamental level. Every victory that that is struck directly against fascism is a victory for the anarchist project since it undermines the enemies of these goals since anarchist values cannot be fully successful with any organized fascist presence.
We also must understand that the same popular classes for revolution are recruited from in both the far right and left, and we need to understand the split in consciousness that takes place in the white working class. Noel Ignatiev, known for his seminal book How the Irish Became White, writes as a part of the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation that anarchist struggle will also be paired on the flip side by a more militant fascist movement as the two are birthed out of the same forms of crisis.
“Alongside class struggle, it is to be expected that militant white-supremacist movements with anti-capitalist slogans would grow among the poorest and most alienated sectors of white society. The fascists are the vanguard of the white race; however, the big problem right now is not the white vanguard, but the white mainstream. Any anti-fascist struggle that does not confront the state reinforces the institutions that provide the seedbed for fascism. Moreover, every time the fascists are able to depict their opponents as defenders of the existing system, or mere reformers, they gain support among those whites that believe that nothing less than a total change is worth fighting for. An anti-fascist counter-rally where people gather to hear speeches, chant slogans, and shake their fists in rage is a display of impotence, and the more people who attend, the more they reveal their futility. Fascism and white supremacy will only be defeated by a movement aimed at building a new world. It is not enough to declare this commitment abstractly, by waving the red or black flag; it must be expressed in the content and forms of the struggle itself. How to do that is no easy question. But it is the question of the hour.” (4)
What is implicit here is that the most successful anti-fascist movement is to have a successful anarchist movement that is based more in material goals and movements than ideological baggage. The best fighting is going to be done on the ground and by creating a real viable alternative to racialism.
The implicit clash between fascism and anarchism is one of a myriad of reasons that organized anti-fascism is an important point of struggle. Fascists try to co-opt the idea of “radicalism” that the revolutionary left needs to develop a comprehensive revolutionary movement. Likewise, organized racists feed into violence against people based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender presentation, and other identities, all of which is an important intersection of confrontation for anti-fascists. In general, anti-fascists also have an impetus to fight because of the potential for organized reactionaries to literally push society backwards. All of these together gives a reason to challenge their presence that is tangible and meaningful.
Anarchists need to fight to empower revolutionary political ideas and to keep the process of working class organizing moving forward. Anything that undermines this process should be seen as a barrier to success, and fascist reactionaries will also try to take their ideas to the working class to undermine solidarity and class cohesion. Fascism is real and will crop up in times of crisis and turmoil, the same period that sees anarchism return to the mouths of people looking for a different way forward. Let’s remind them that fascism has no future.
Graeber, David & Andrej Grubacic. “Anarchism, Or the Revolutionary Movement of the Twenty-first Century.” com, May 14th, 2009.
Johnson, Greg. “New Right vs. Old Right.” New Right vs. Old Right. San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2013.
Resta. “The Spanish Anarchist lives for liberty, virtue and dignity.” Militant Anti-Fascism. Oakland: AK Press 2015. Pg 85-98.
Ignatiev, Noel. “To Advance the Class Struggle, Abolish the White Race.” A New World in Our Hearts: Eight Years of Writings from the Love and Rage Revolutionary Anarchist Federation. Oakland: AK Press 2003. Pg. 80.