Anti-fascism is a political movement in opposition to fascist ideologies, groups and individuals. Beginning in European countries in the 1920s, it was at its most significant shortly before and during World War II, where the Axis powers were opposed by many countries forming the Allies of World War II and dozens of resistance movements worldwide. Anti-fascism has been an element of movements across the political spectrum and holding many different political positions such as anarchism, communism, pacifism, republicanism, social democracy, socialism and syndicalism as well as centrist, conservative, liberal and nationalist viewpoints.
Fascism, a far-right ultra-nationalistic ideology best known for its use by the Italian Fascists and the Nazis, became prominent beginning in the 1910s while organization against fascism began around 1920. Fascism became the state ideology of Italy in 1922 and of Germany in 1933, spurring a large increase in anti-fascist action, including German resistance to Nazism and the Italian resistance movement. Anti-fascism was a major aspect of the Spanish Civil War, which foreshadowed World War II.
Prior to World War II, the West had not taken seriously the threat of fascism, and anti-fascism was sometimes associated with communism. However, the outbreak of World War II greatly changed Western perceptions, and fascism was seen as an existential threat by not only the Communist Soviet Union but also by liberal-democratic America and Britain. The Axis powers of World War II were generally fascist, and the fight against them was characterized in anti-fascist terms. Resistance during World War II to fascism occurred in every occupied country, and came from across the ideological spectrum. The defeat of the Axis powers generally ended fascism as a state ideology.
After World War II, the anti-fascist movement continued to be active in places where organised fascism continued or re-emerged. There was a resurgence of antifa in Germany in the 1980s, as a response to the invasion of the punk scene by neo-Nazis. This influenced the antifa movement in the United States in the late 1980s and 1990s, which was similarly carried by punks. In the 21st century, this greatly increased in prominence as a response to the resurgence of the radical right, especially after the election of Donald Trump.
With the development and spread of Italian Fascism, i.e. the original fascism, the National Fascist Party's ideology was met with increasingly militant opposition by Italian communists and socialists. Organizations such as Arditi del Popolo and the Italian Anarchist Union emerged between 1919 and 1921, to combat the nationalist and fascist surge of the post-World War I period.
In the words of historian Eric Hobsbawm, as fascism developed and spread, a "nationalism of the left" developed in those nations threatened by Italian irredentism (e.g. in the Balkans, and Albania in particular). After the outbreak of World War II, the Albanian and Yugoslav resistances were instrumental in antifascist action and underground resistance. This combination of irreconcilable nationalisms and leftist partisans constitute the earliest roots of European anti-fascism. Less militant forms of anti-fascism arose later. During the 1930s in Britain, "Christians – especially the Church of England – provided both a language of opposition to fascism and inspired anti-fascist action".
Michael Seidman argues that traditionally anti-fascism was seen as the purview of the political left but that in recent years this has been questioned. Seidman identifies two types of anti-fascism, namely revolutionary and counterrevolutionary:
Seidman argues that despite the differences between these two strands of anti-fascism, there were similarities. They would both come to regard violent expansion as intrinsic to the fascist project. They both rejected any claim that the Versailles Treaty was responsible for the rise of Nazism and instead viewed fascist dynamism as the cause of conflict. Unlike fascism, these two types of anti-fascism did not promise a quick victory but an extended struggle against a powerful enemy. During World War II, both anti-fascisms responded to fascist aggression by creating a cult of heroism which relegated victims to a secondary position. However, after the war, conflict arose between the revolutionary and counterrevolutionary anti-fascisms; the victory of the Western Allies allowed them to restore the old regimes of liberal democracy in Western Europe, while Soviet victory in Eastern Europe allowed for the establishment of new revolutionary anti-fascist regimes there.
Anti-fascist movements emerged first in Italy during the rise of Benito Mussolini, but they soon spread to other European countries and then globally. In the early period, Communist, socialist, anarchist and Christian workers and intellectuals were involved. Until 1928, the period of the United front, there was significant collaboration between the Communists and non-Communist anti-fascists.
In 1928, the Comintern instituted its ultra-left Third Period policies, ending co-operation with other left groups, and denouncing social democrats as "social fascists". From 1934 until the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, the Communists pursued a Popular Front approach, of building broad-based coalitions with liberal and even conservative anti-fascists. As fascism consolidated its power, and especially during World War II, anti-fascism largely took the form of partisan or resistance movements.
In Italy, Mussolini's Fascist regime used the term anti-fascist to describe its opponents. Mussolini's secret police was officially known as the . During the 1920s in the Kingdom of Italy, anti-fascists, many of them from the labor movement, fought against the violent Blackshirts and against the rise of the fascist leader Benito Mussolini. After the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) signed a pacification pact with Mussolini and his Fasces of Combat on 3 August 1921, and trade unions adopted a legalist and pacified strategy, members of the workers' movement who disagreed with this strategy formed Arditi del Popolo.
The Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGL) and the PSI refused to officially recognize the anti-fascist militia, while the Communist Party of Italy (PCd'I) ordered its members to quit the organization. The PCd'I organized some militant groups, but their actions were relatively minor, and the party maintained a non-violent, legalist strategy. The Italian anarchist Severino Di Giovanni, who exiled himself to Argentina following the 1922 March on Rome, organized several bombings against the Italian fascist community. The Italian liberal anti-fascist Benedetto Croce wrote his Manifesto of the Anti-Fascist Intellectuals, which was published in 1925.[page needed] Other notable Italian liberal anti-fascists around that time were Piero Gobetti and Carlo Rosselli.
Concentrazione Antifascista Italiana (Italian Anti-Fascist Concentration), officially known as Concentrazione d'Azione Antifascista (Anti-Fascist Action Concentration), was an Italian coalition of Anti-Fascist groups which existed from 1927 to 1934. Founded in Nérac, France, by expatriate Italians, the CAI was an alliance of non-communist anti-fascist forces (republican, socialist, nationalist) trying to promote and to coordinate expatriate actions to fight fascism in Italy; they published a propaganda paper entitled La Libertà.
Between 1920 and 1943, several anti-fascist movements were active among the Slovenes and Croats in the territories annexed to Italy after World War I, known as the Julian March. The most influential was the militant insurgent organization TIGR, which carried out numerous sabotages, as well as attacks on representatives of the Fascist Party and the military. Most of the underground structure of the organization was discovered and dismantled by the (OVRA) in 1940 and 1941, and after June 1941 most of its former activists joined the Slovene Partisans.
During World War II, many members of the Italian resistance left their homes and went to live in the mountains, fighting against Italian fascists and German Nazi soldiers. Many cities in Italy, including Turin, Naples and Milan, were freed by anti-fascist uprisings.
The anti-fascist resistance emerged within the Slovene minority in Italy (1920–1947), whom the Fascists meant to deprive of their culture, language and ethnicity. The 1920 burning of the National Hall in Trieste, the Slovene center in the multi-cultural and multi-ethnic Trieste by the Blackshirts, was praised by Benito Mussolini (yet to become Il Duce) as a "masterpiece of the Triestine fascism" (capolavoro del fascismo triestino). The use of the Slovene language in public places, including churches, was forbidden, not only in multi-ethnic areas, but also in the areas where the population was exclusively Slovene. Children, if they spoke Slovene, were punished by Italian teachers who were brought by the Fascist State from Southern Italy. Slovene teachers, writers, and clergy were sent to the other side of Italy.
The first anti-fascist organization, called TIGR, was formed by Slovenes and Croats in 1927 in order to fight Fascist violence. Its guerrilla fight continued into the late 1920s and 1930s. By the mid-1930s, 70,000 Slovenes had fled Italy, mostly to Slovenia (then part of Yugoslavia) and South America.
The Slovene anti-fascist resistance in Yugoslavia during World War II was led by Liberation Front of the Slovenian People. The Province of Ljubljana, occupied by Italian Fascists, saw the deportation of 25,000 people, representing 7.5% of the total population, filling up the Rab concentration camp and Gonars concentration camp as well as other Italian concentration camps.
The specific term anti-fascism was primarily used by the Communist Party of Germany (KPD), which held the view that it was the only anti-fascist party in Germany. The KPD formed several explicitly anti-fascist groups such as Roter Frontkämpferbund (formed in 1924 and banned by the social democrats in 1929) and Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus (a de facto successor to the latter).[need quotation to verify][need quotation to verify] At its height, Roter Frontkämpferbund had over 100,000 members. In 1932, the KPD established the Antifaschistische Aktion as a "red united front under the leadership of the only anti-fascist party, the KPD". Under the leadership of the committed Stalinist Ernst Thälmann, the KPD primarily viewed fascism as the final stage of capitalism rather than as a specific movement or group, and therefore applied the term broadly to its opponents, and in the name of anti-fascism the KPD focused in large part on attacking its main adversary, the centre-left Social Democratic Party of Germany, whom they referred to as social fascists and regarded as the "main pillar of the dictatorship of Capital."
The movement of Nazism, which grew ever more influential in the last years of the Weimar Republic, was opposed for different ideological reasons by a wide variety of groups, including groups which also opposed each other, such as social democrats, centrists, conservatives and communists. The SPD and centrists formed Reichsbanner Schwarz-Rot-Gold in 1924 to defend liberal democracy against both the Nazi Party and the KPD, and their affiliated organizations. Later, mainly SPD members formed the Iron Front which opposed the same groups.
The name and logo of Antifaschistische Aktion remain influential. Its two-flag logo, designed by Max Gebhard and Max Keilson, is still widely used as a symbol of militant anti-fascists in Germany and globally, as is the Iron Front's Three Arrows logo.
The historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote: "The Spanish civil war was both at the centre and on the margin of the era of anti-fascism. It was central, since it was immediately seen as a European war between fascism and anti-fascism, almost as the first battle in the coming world war, some of the characteristic aspects of which - for example, air raids against civilian populations - it anticipated."
In Spain, there were histories of popular uprisings in the late 19th century through to the 1930s against the deep-seated military dictatorships. of General Prim and the Primo de la Rivieras These movements further coalesced into large-scale anti-fascist movements in the 1930s, many in the Basque Country, before and during the Spanish Civil War. The republican government and army, the Antifascist Worker and Peasant Militias (MAOC) linked to the Communist Party (PCE), the International Brigades, the Workers' Party of Marxist Unification (POUM), Spanish anarchist militias, such as the Iron Column and the autonomous governments of Catalonia and the Basque Country, fought the rise of Francisco Franco with military force.
The Friends of Durruti, associated with the Federación Anarquista Ibérica (FAI), were a particularly militant group. Thousands of people from many countries went to Spain in support of the anti-fascist cause, joining units such as the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, the British Battalion, the Dabrowski Battalion, the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion, the Naftali Botwin Company and the Thälmann Battalion, including Winston Churchill's nephew, Esmond Romilly. Notable anti-fascists who worked internationally against Franco included: George Orwell (who fought in the POUM militia and wrote Homage to Catalonia about his experience), Ernest Hemingway (a supporter of the International Brigades who wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls about his experience), and the radical journalist Martha Gellhorn.
The Spanish anarchist guerrilla Francesc Sabaté Llopart fought against Franco's regime until the 1960s, from a base in France. The Spanish Maquis, linked to the PCE, also fought the Franco regime long after the Spanish Civil war had ended.
In the 1920s and 1930s in the French Third Republic, anti-fascists confronted aggressive far-right groups such as the Action Française movement in France, which dominated the Latin Quarter students' neighborhood. After fascism triumphed via invasion, the French Resistance (French: La Résistance française) or, more accurately, resistance movements fought against the Nazi German occupation and against the collaborationist Vichy régime. Resistance cells were small groups of armed men and women (called the maquis in rural areas), who, in addition to their guerrilla warfare activities, were also publishers of underground newspapers and magazines such as Arbeiter und Soldat (Worker and Soldier) during World War Two, providers of first-hand intelligence information, and maintainers of escape networks.
The rise of Oswald Mosley's British Union of Fascists (BUF) in the 1930s was challenged by the Communist Party of Great Britain, socialists in the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party, anarchists, Irish Catholic dockmen and working class Jews in London's East End. A high point in the struggle was the Battle of Cable Street, when thousands of eastenders and others turned out to stop the BUF from marching. Initially, the national Communist Party leadership wanted a mass demonstration at Hyde Park in solidarity with Republican Spain, instead of a mobilization against the BUF, but local party activists argued against this. Activists rallied support with the slogan They shall not pass, adopted from Republican Spain.
There were debates within the anti-fascist movement over tactics. While many East End ex-servicemen participated in violence against fascists, Communist Party leader Phil Piratin denounced these tactics and instead called for large demonstrations. In addition to the militant anti-fascist movement, there was a smaller current of liberal anti-fascism in Britain; Sir Ernest Barker, for example, was a notable English liberal anti-fascist in the 1930s.
There were fascist elements in the United States in the 1930s such as the Friends of New Germany, the German American Bund, the Ku Klux Klan, and Charles Coughlin. During the Second Red Scare which occurred in the United States in the years that immediately followed the end of World War II, the term "premature anti-fascist" came into currency and it was used to describe Americans who had strongly agitated or worked against fascism, such as Americans who had fought for the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War, before fascism was seen as a proximate and existential threat to the United States (which only occurred generally after the invasion of Poland by Nazi Germany and only occurred universally after the attack on Pearl Harbor). The implication was that such persons were either Communists or Communist sympathizers whose loyalty to the United States was suspect. However, the historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have written that no documentary evidence has been found of the US government referring to American members of the International Brigades as "premature antifascists": the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Office of Strategic Services, and United States Army records used terms such as "Communist", "Red", "subversive", and "radical" instead. Indeed, Haynes and Klehr indicate that they have found many examples of members of the XV International Brigade and their supporters referring to themselves sardonically as "premature antifascists".
Anti-fascist Italian expatriates in the United States founded the Mazzini Society in Northampton, Massachusetts in September 1939 to work toward ending Fascist rule in Italy. As political refugees from Mussolini's regime, they disagreed among themselves whether to ally with Communists and anarchists or to exclude them. The Mazzini Society joined together with other anti-Fascist Italian expatriates in the Americas at a conference in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1942. They unsuccessfully promoted one of their members, Carlo Sforza, to become the post-Fascist leader of a republican Italy. The Mazzini Society dispersed after the overthrow of Mussolini as most of its members returned to Italy.
The Anti-Fascist Organisation (AFO) was a resistance movement against the Japanese occupation of Burma and independence of Burma during World War II. It was the forerunner of the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League. The AFO was formed at a meeting in Pegu in August 1944 held by the leaders of the Communist Party of Burma (CPB), the Burma National Army (BNA) led by General Aung San, and the People's Revolutionary Party (PRP), later renamed the Burma Socialist Party. Whilst in Insein prison in July 1941, CPB leaders Thakin Than Tun and Thakin Soe had co-authored the Insein Manifesto, which, against the prevailing opinion in the Burmese nationalist movement led by the Dobama Asiayone, identified world fascism as the main enemy in the coming war and called for temporary cooperation with the British in a broad allied coalition that included the Soviet Union. Soe had already gone underground to organise resistance against the Japanese occupation, and Than Tun as Minister of Land and Agriculture was able to pass on Japanese intelligence to Soe, while other Communist leaders Thakin Thein Pe and Thakin Tin Shwe made contact with the exiled colonial government in Simla, India. Aung San was War Minister in the puppet administration set up on 1 August 1943 which also included the Socialist leaders Thakin Nu and Thakin Mya. At a meeting held between 1 and 3 March 1945, the AFO was reorganised as a multi-party front named the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League.
The Anti-Fascist Bloc was an organization of Polish Jews formed in the March 1942 in the Warsaw Ghetto. It was created after an alliance between leftist-Zionist, communist and socialist Jewish parties was agreed upon. The initiators of the bloc were Mordechai Anielewicz, Józef Lewartowski (Aron Finkelstein) from the Polish Workers' Party, Josef Kaplan from Hashomer Hatzair, Szachno Sagan from Poale Zion-Left, Jozef Sak as a representative of socialist-Zionists and Izaak Cukierman with his wife Cywia Lubetkin from Dror. The Jewish Bund did not join the bloc though they were represented at its first conference by Abraham Blum and Maurycy Orzech.
The anti-fascist movements which emerged during the period of classical fascism, both liberal and militant, continued to operate after the defeat of the Axis powers in response to the resilience and mutation of fascism both in Europe and elsewhere. In Germany, as Nazi rule crumbled in 1944, veterans of the 1930s anti-fascist struggles formed Antifaschistische Ausschüsse, Antifaschistische Kommittees, or Antifaschistische Aktion groups, all typically abbreviated to "antifa". The socialist government of East Germany built the Berlin Wall in 1961, and the Eastern Bloc referred to it officially as the "Anti-fascist Protection Rampart". Resistance to fascists dictatorships in Spain and Portugal continued, including the activities of the Spanish Maquis and others, leading up to the Spanish transition to democracy and the Carnation Revolution, respectively, as well as to similar dictatorships in Chile and elsewhere. Other notable anti-fascist mobilisations in the first decades of the post-war period include the 43 Group in Britain.
With the start of the Cold War between the former World War II allies of the United States and the Soviet Union, the concept of totalitarianism became prominent in Western anti-communist political discourse as a tool to convert pre-war anti-fascism into post-war anti-communism.
Modern antifa politics can be traced to opposition to the infiltration of Britain's punk scene by white power skinheads in the 1970s and 1980s, and the emergence of neo-Nazism in Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall. In Germany, young leftists, including anarchists and punk fans, renewed the practice of street-level anti-fascism. Columnist Peter Beinart writes that "in the late '80s, left-wing punk fans in the United States began following suit, though they initially called their groups Anti-Racist Action (ARA) on the theory that Americans would be more familiar with fighting racism than they would be with fighting fascism".
The contemporary antifa movement in Germany comprises different anti-fascist groups which usually use the abbreviation antifa and regard the historical Antifaschistische Aktion (Antifa) of the early 1930s as an inspiration, drawing on the historic group for its aesthetics and some of its tactics, in addition to the name. Many new antifa groups formed from the late 1980s onward. According to Loren Balhorn, contemporary antifa in Germany "has no practical historical connection to the movement from which it takes its name but is instead a product of West Germany's squatter scene and autonomist movement in the 1980s".
One of the biggest antifascist campaigns in Germany in recent years was the ultimately successful effort to block the annual Nazi-rallies in the east German city of Dresden in Saxony which had grown into "Europe's biggest gathering of Nazis". Unlike the original Antifa which had links to the Communist Party of Germany and which was concerned with industrial working-class politics, the late 1980s and early 1990s, autonomists were independent anti-authoritarian libertarian Marxists and anarcho-communists not associated with any particular party. The publication Antifaschistisches Infoblatt, in operation since 1987, sought to expose radical nationalists publicly.
German government institutions such as the and the Federal Agency for Civic Education describe the contemporary antifa movement as part of the extreme left and as partially violent. Antifa groups are monitored by the federal office in the context of its legal mandate to combat extremism. The federal office states that the underlying goal of the antifa movement is "the struggle against the liberal democratic basic order" and capitalism. In the 1980s, the movement was accused by German authorities of engaging in terrorist acts of violence.
Dartmouth College historian Mark Bray, author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, credits the ARA as the precursor of modern antifa groups in the United States. In the late 1980s and 1990s, ARA activists toured with popular punk rock and skinhead bands in order to prevent Klansmen, neo-Nazis and other assorted white supremacists from recruiting. Their motto was "We go where they go" by which they meant that they would confront far-right activists in concerts and actively remove their materials from public places. In 2002, the ARA disrupted a speech in Pennsylvania by Matthew F. Hale, the head of the white supremacist group World Church of the Creator, resulting in a fight and twenty-five arrests. In 2007, Rose City Antifa, likely the first group to utilize the name antifa, was formed in Portland, Oregon. Other antifa groups in the United States have other genealogies. In Minneapolis, Minnesota, a group called the Baldies was formed in 1987 with the intent to fight neo-Nazi groups directly. In 2013, the "most radical" chapters of the ARA formed the Torch Antifa Network which has chapters throughout the United States. Other antifa groups are a part of different associations such as NYC Antifa or operate independently.
Modern antifa in the United States is a highly decentralized movement. Antifa political activists are anti-racists who engage in protest tactics, seeking to combat fascists and racists such as neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists. This may involve digital activism, harassment, physical violence, and property damage against those whom they identify as belonging to the far-right. Much antifa activism is nonviolent, involving poster and flyer campaigns, delivering speeches, marching in protest, and community organizing on behalf of anti-racist and anti-white nationalist causes.
There have been multiple efforts to discredit antifa groups via hoaxes on social media, many of them false flag attacks originating from alt-right and 4chan users posing as antifa backers on Twitter. Some hoaxes have been picked up and reported as fact by right-leaning media. During the George Floyd protests in May and June 2020, the Trump administration blamed antifa for orchestrating the mass protests. Analysis of federal arrests did not find links to antifa. There have been repeated calls by the Trump administration to designate antifa as a terrorist organization, a move that academics, legal experts and others argue would both exceed the authority of the presidency and violate the First Amendment. Several analyses, reports and studies concluded that antifa is not a domestic or major terrorism risk and ranked far-right extremism and white supremacy as the top risk. A June 2020 study of 893 terrorism incidents in the United States since 1994 found no murder that was specifically attributed to anti-fascists or antifa while 329 deaths were attributed to right-wing perpetrators.
The Christian Democratic Union of Germany politician Tim Peters notes that the term is one of the most controversial terms in political discourse. Michael Richter, a researcher at the , highlights the ideological use of the term in the Soviet Union and the Eastern bloc, in which the term fascism was applied to Eastern bloc dissidents regardless of any connection to historical fascism, and where the term anti-fascism served to legitimize the ruling government.