This is a guest blog by Midlands Antifascists
Saturday was not simply a crisis for anti-fascism, but for the politics of the left. Trade unionists (i.e. old white cis men) hearkening to bygone days of pitched mass street battles with the National Front to evince their credentials and vindicate their present withered courage, hinging upon the abstract of the fabled ‘critical mass’, appealing to a reactionary media expecting them to fairly represent our motives and tactics, affecting cooperation and cordiality with cops with a privileged absence of recognition of compounding structural oppressions. This culture not only defines but stultifies left struggle in Coventry and elsewhere, constraining its direction and restricting its capacities. Our objective should not be to hark back to and seek to resurrect the (illusory) glory of long perished trade union struggle, but to recognise its limitations, to recognise the reasons for its dissolution, to commemorate its victories and the historical role it contributed but also to conceptualize why it was insufficient, and why it always would be as long as it cohered solely around the axis of class. This is a movement haunted by spectres, clinging to the same framework of struggle despite the climate of oppression fundamentally and continuously shifting, and demanding adaption, not regressive and bureaucratic iterations of defective formulas of resistance.
We must not seek resurrection, but to kindle new vitalities, ignite new formats and potentialities for rebellion, strive towards new tactics and methods of organizing, reaching for new horizons and new futures. We must be defined not by nostalgia but by anger, by yearning, by longing. We must not simply seek to echo victories, but articulate new narratives, new modes of insurgence which engage with the conditions of oppression that mould peoples’ everyday experiences and realities. The consolidation of the trade union left around industrial labour is not reflective of this, but more of an orthodox Marxism which we do not have the courage to organize, imagine, venture beyond – what is the utility of historical materialism if we do not adjust our struggle to these conditions, if we do not resist the multitude of interacting hierarchies upon which these conditions have been constructed, if our current form of organizing is analogous to those which arose decades ago?
I’m not sure it’s useful to classify this: anarchism, autonomism, libertarian communism perhaps embody and raise some of the principles I believe we should associate around, yet only because of their praxis, only because they are premised upon a materiality, intuition and anti-oppression to which the vicissitudes of lived experience would already attune us. They are useful only because they are immediately apparent without the rigours of theory whose access is restricted by the very same privilege that reproduce conditions of oppression. Theory is useful only if it equips us for struggle: I think our movements forget people are already fighting, often for their survival, against police brutality, against fuel poverty, against destitution, every day, and we are disengaged from those people. If we seek the abolition of oppression and oppressive social relations we should collectively organize around, and in contestation of, those oppressions as terrains of resistance, connecting with and devolving power to the most marginalized. We should organize not simply as ‘workers’, but as people experiencing a myriad of oppressions, and as oppressors, as participants and beneficiaries of various oppressions, whilst ultimately orienting our struggle towards the state and capital as institutionally enforcing, reproducing and structuring themselves upon these various pillars of hierarchy. It’s not simply about multiple social constructions of identity ‘dividing the working class’, subsumed under class and irrelevant to the formation of resistance (and, often, even supposedly a compromise to unity), but rather as independent and interdependent sites of disadvantage and thus struggle.
These identities not only have material consequences compounding those of capital, but ramifications beyond the conceptualization of economic relations, in the erasure and appropriation of culture through ruthless conquest, persecution and estrangement, state surveillance and control, imprisonment and police brutality, the conscious suppression of non-normative expression (and the harm inflicted upon us if we do not), afflictions and anxieties which circumscribe our flourishing and autonomy, deportation and detention, sexual assault and rape culture – these are ramifications bound up in the exertion of hegemony by an array of interlocking social hierarchies, depriving us not only of material resources but dignity and agency.
In short, we cannot conceptualize these oppressions simply as functions of capitalism, existing only within its boundaries, but rather in and of themselves functionalising, operating elaborately within and beyond, interwoven and yet weaving. It is not about forging a working class movement that is not racist, not homophobic, not sexist, but waging a pluralistic, holistic and expansive struggle against all configurations of hierarchy, forming queer liberation struggles and feminist struggles that are class conscious and not class conscious movements that nominally reject other oppressions as simply resulting from capitalism, but as dynamics exploited by capital, mutually reinforcing and consolidating one another’s power and maintaining one another’s violence. We cannot homogenize the diversity, nuance and dimensions of our collective experiences and struggles under the reference point of class. Other categories are not simply distractions to working class unity, but significant in and of themselves, integral to how capitalism functions, and fundamental in influencing and fashioning our circumstances and experiences. They are not simply ‘divide and rule’ tactics constructed by capital, but possess a distinct agency of their own, serving to reproduce and reconstitute the framework of capitalism, each facets of a ruling ideology and dominant order which seeks to concentrate power and wealth in an elite minority.
Sexism, racism, homophobia, ableism etc are not simply factors of capitalism, but independent yet interacting formulas of domination. They are not barriers to simply diffuse in the process of class struggle, but to surmount on a self-organized, autonomous basis. Anything else dismisses their gravity, misunderstands how shared hardships and sufferings are not simply premised upon our subordination to a capitalist class, erases cultural identity and distinction, and is insensitive to internal power dynamics within the working class. We must not oppose these oppressions on the basis that they divide the working class: we must oppose them because they are fundamentally unjust and because they damage us. We must challenge them not only relative to class, as appendages to it, but within and beyond economic functionalities, as sites of unity, collective affirmation, healing, empowerment and eventual deconstruction: not as competitive, conflictual categories within an ‘authentic’ overarching mode of resistance, but a network of counter points around which to rally in order to maximize the potentialities of fightback on different terrains and varying fronts, complementing and connecting with one another in a textured, multi-faceted and broad-ranging effusion of anti-authoritarian and anti-capitalist solidarity.
Queerness, femininity, neuro atypicality, etc are not categories we must calibrate and resolve within the framework of class, fault lines we must tentatively tread within working class formations, differences to dismiss despite their consequences, trivial identities within a foundationally relational struggle, but sites of resistance in themselves, structural divergences from which defiance and insurrection can emerge on their own terms. The revolution is the eventual abolition of these constructs, the abolition of their designation, and the inferiority and subordination therein ascribed, but not of their difference in itself, only a transformation of the normality which stigmatizes them.
Anti-fascism cannot mean old white men assuming by appearance someone is a ‘sister’ after they issue a speech on LGBTQ issues, only to have the nuance and complexity of those issues relegated and simplified into a speech on how ‘we oppose any force which fractures the working class’, and forcing the speaker to hold up a sign stating ‘trans exclusionary: I am not a sister’. This is an erasure of who we are as queer people, as trans people, of a distinct war waged upon us every day which is contextualized and framed, of course, within class, but not encapsulated by it. It is omission of the fact that our expression and identification is policed, obstructed, and discriminated against at every opportunity – by employers, by family, by structures of power, and now by our supposed comrades? Our oppression, our hardships, our fear to be who we are will not be trivialized, will not be conceptualized as a distraction in a homogenous class war. The Palestinian struggle against the Israeli siege and occupation ought not be instrumentalized as an opportunity to sell more papers and conjure the semblance of anti-racism without any material commitment to struggle. Migrant rights should not simply be a political gambit for Left Unity to contest UKIP and conquer state power. We must not oppose other oppressions nominally, only in so far as they may impact class struggle. The left must mean more than this; it must mean a multiplicity of struggles to challenge the intricate formation of current material conditions. Anti-fascism must mean more than this. It must mean organizing beyond UAF, beyond the TUC, beyond bureaucratic organizations which replicate and reproduce many of the oppressive structures which constitute broader society, insulating themselves in spheres of white privilege which disregard outreach to Muslim communities, travellers, people of colour, as they did on Saturday. It must mean more than simply brandishing banners and performing resistance; more than nostalgic speeches about memories of confronting National Front among thousands of other communists; more than the ‘iron discipline’ of trade union voting processes in securing inaction and the predomination of privileged voices; more than centrality in the sphere of work and contesting oppression on no other front despite fundamental shifts in and social diffusions of spheres of production.
It must mean cautious alliances with trade unions, not permitting them to moderate and dictate the agenda of struggle, and a sustained commitment to dialogue, engagement and association with the community, especially those most marginalized and impacted by fascism. It must mean resisting the state and capitalist structures which collude with, enable and foster fascism – and recognizing that, even in the class struggle, trade unions and ‘parties of the left’ are not always on our side. It must mean comprehensively challenging all hierarchy. It must mean more than waiting for the ‘critical mass’ but taking direct action to stop fascists, despite the odds, and by whatever means necessary because we must, because we cannot and will not provide their venomous ideology an inch. It must mean more than throngs of white men wavering despite those odds being heavily in our favour on Saturday, nominally subscribing to the no platform tactic and yet, as always, willing only to practice theory when there is a guarantee of overwhelming numbers, whilst a women of colour with significantly more to lose audaciously steps on to the platform, and inspirationally articulates why we should be confronting the heinous racists imposing themselves on our town. It must mean a commitment to heeding and prioritising the voices of the oppressed.
Anti-fascism must mean an actualization of the relations, organizational methods and resistance we believe are necessary in defeating the socio-economic conditions from which fascism arises. It must be fundamental to radical left organizing and guide the formation of movements antithetical to the structures of fascism. The radical left and anti-fascism must draw upon one another: they are inextricably bound and integral to one another, not only theoretically but tactically. We must root ourselves and organize in communities, nurture intersectional solidarity against the plurality of oppressive structures, but – more than anything – reclaim our anger, and reclaim our courage, the type of courage the woman of colour who took to the platform expressed that day. Anti-fascism is a rallying point around which all oppressed people can cohere, an embodiment of everything we abhor, everything which menaces our existence as marginalized people, politically activated or no. But it is a beginning, not an end, to which we must expand into an array of struggles, movements and grassroots initiatives, a connection point to cultivate into robust bonds, networks and federations capable not only of community self-defence, but organizing oriented towards the abolition of state, capital and all hierarchy.
Anti-fascism and revolutionary left organizing must mean recognising our failures, adapting, and imagining beyond current formations. It must mean authentic and intimate interactions unmediated by bureaucracy. It must mean true connection, true compassion, and true solidarity, forged through struggle. It must mean solidarity as a weapon and philosophy, not simply a strategy.
It must mean appealing to no external force, but relying only upon one another to seize control of our own lives, to effect the future we envision – to not wait, but act.