The History of Antifa

Guest post

Contrary to the narrative pushed by conservatives like Donald Trump, Antifa is not an organization. Indeed, to describe Antifa as an “organization” would directly contradict its inherently decentralized character. To “be Antifa” (anti-fascist) is to recognize the existential threat posed by fascism to vulnerable communities. This means committing to stopping the encroachment of fascism by any means necessary. Importantly, this is not a progressive definition of Antifa and anti-fascism— it is the only definition. 

Anti-fascism is as old as fascism itself. In 1920s Italy, left-wing resistance group Arditi del Popolo took to the streets to fight Benito Mussolini and his Italian Fascist Party. The group united leftists of all banners, from revolutionary communists to anarchists, for the common cause of hitting fascists where it hurts. During Adolf Hitler’s far-right Nazi regime, left-wing resistance groups such as Antifaschistische Aktion took to the streets in an effort to prevent further atrocities from taking place. After World War II, left-wingers in Germany regrouped, with new anti-fascist movements such as the Außerparlamentarische Opposition forming.

Antifa: As American As Apple Pie

In the United States, Antifa can be considered merely one in a long line of decentralized movements dedicated to the elimination of fascism. In the late 1980s, Anti-Racist Action (ARA) was founded in Minneapolis from a radical punk group known as the Minneapolis Baldies. The group spread across the Midwestern cities of Chicago and Columbus and later found its way throughout the country. Anti-Racist Action would establish a meaningful presence in the West Coast cities of Los Angeles and Portland, and even “crossed the border” into the Canadian metropolis of Toronto.

The rise of Antifa as a radical political force can also be partially traced to the creation of Redneck Revolt, formerly the “John Brown Gun Club” in honor of the famed abolitionist. The group was founded by white southerners committed to the cause of anti-racism and anti-fascism. The core principles of Redneck Revolt provide a strong summary of what guides anti-fascists in the United States:

  • “We stand against white supremacy
  • We believe in true liberty for all people
  • We stand for organized defense of our communities
  • We are working class and poor people
  • We are an aboveground militant formation
  • We stand against the nation-state and its forces which protect the bosses and the rich (police and military)
  • We stand against capitalism
  • We stand against the wars of the rich
  • We stand against patriarchy
  • We believe in the right of militant resistance
  • We believe in the need for revolution”

Following Donald Trump’s election in 2016, anti-fascists wasted no time taking to the streets to resist his right-wing extremist agenda. From the beginning, Antifa activists were on the frontlines resisting Trump’s agenda, which included building alliances with religious groups in the interest of protecting migrants. Almost two hundred anti-fascist activists faced criminal charges after protesting Trump’s inauguration on January 20, 2017. 

Praxis: Antifa in the Real World

Despite the media’s depiction of Antifa organizers as troublesome young people committed to violence at the expense of making a meaningful impact, this could not be further from the truth. Following the devastation brought on by Hurricane Harvey, Antifa activists took to organizing mutual aid efforts to help those displaced. Outside of the United States, the cause of defeating fascism in any form remains the goal of activists across the world. From India to Brazil, activists are putting their lives on the line to save the lives of others at risk from the rise of the far-right. The fact of the matter is that you can’t simply vote out fascism: defeating fascism means breaking it at its very core, and this means organizing on every front.