a fictional name it’s been used to not disclose the real one of the interviewed.
Dear Alexander Medem,
I am writing you after having read your article which talks about educational and other non-violent work that U.S. antifascist groups engage in. My name is Alessio Mazzaro, and I am an artist based in Bruxelles who, on 11 March 2017, reopened the Edinost, a Slovenian newspaper printed in Trieste (Italy) that gave voice to the first anti-fascist movement in Europe. I reopened it as a multicultural space of dialogue and collective writing journal that I direct to investigate borders, fascisms, politics of memory and the role of arts in re-discussing unresolved conflicts. Now, I have been selected by the European Cultural Foundation to enlarge it to an online and printed free newspaper; to serve as an European laboratory where artists, academics and citizens can create collectively a framework for a new antifascism and citizenship. But also a space where, on one of its two sides, cultural and economic migrants can expose acceptance problems.
The journal is an single page A3 black an white and I am planning to publish four numbers around these topics: - Update the Partisan. Beyond an ideological opposition between fascists and anti-fascists - A new memory/Is a future without ideologies possible? - A guide to create spaces for idleness and critical thinking to fight neoliberalism. - Can Education be a long term pacific response to fascism? I am now looking for academics, students, citizens and artists interested to contribute with articles, ideas, testimonies, graphic essays or audio pieces. I was wondering if you would like to contribute with a short text -no more than 4400 characters- about the future of antifascism/the future antifascist.
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Dear Alessio Mazzaro,
Thank you for reading my work and reaching out to me. But I’m a little confused about this project.
I’m not sure that we are in any kind of political agreement here. I think there is a complete ideological opposition between fascists and antifa; I don’t think a “future without ideologies” is possible; and I do not think education is a sufficient response to fascism.
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Dear Alexander Medem,
thanks for answering me.
I understand well your position and I am worried that that is the answer, but I am wondering if something else is possible.
The readers of the previous numbers of the Edinost kept asking “How can we defeat Fascism without violence?” The same question came to me when I saw friends in the italian antifa, that more than caring about why in the last years so much young persons join the new fascism rising in Italy, they just want to punch them. And I am scared that has Bifo Berardi wrote, this will solve the present but it won’t cure the causes. (Berardi thinks we need to find a way to talk with the young italian fascists to stop the growing of new ones).
But I know the situation is different in every country, especially in the United States. So as a starting point, I am asking if there are ways other than a punch, to counter fascisms, ways that imply a dialogue and not an exchange of slogans, belief and fists. A position I think not too far from the research of the BAK in Utrecht about Art practices for no-fascists living, to counter every fascism even “the fascism in us all, in our heads and in our everyday behavior, the fascism that causes us to love power, to desire the very thing that dominates and exploits us”.
Sometimes I am worried that every ideology is a set of parameters to classify persons and events, accommodating our tendency to categorize between right and wrong, without an attempt to understand the “complexity” and the reasons of the others. And I said “to understand” not to justify. Via dialogue I am hoping we will go back to do politics and stop doing polemics. These are the reasons behind “Update the partisan”.
Furthermore, I believe that In a global world of refugees and labour migrants, inclusion and acceptance problems are at the base of daily fascism. The new comings are difficulty accepted for what they are, we want them to be similar to us, to think like us. We protect ourself behind the fact that if they “have chosen” to come to our place, they need to adapt to it, to us, especially if they are cultural & economics migrants, because they can otherwise go back to their birth country. Half pages of every number of the journal, will give voice to the quotidian of the labour migrants in Europe, to create a narrative that will give more humanity to the ones about migration proposed by populisms. I believe we can’t fight fascisms if we don’t dialogue and consider inclusiveness at a daily level.
I hope my position and the background of the project are now clearer. This second phase of the Edinost just started, so it’s getting clearer even for me in doing it and talking with people.
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I have met many artists with views like yours. however….
I dislike the valorization of violence by antifa, but I am somewhat machiavellian in my political approach: i want to do whatever is necessary to stop their political movement. if that is therapy, dialogue and community discussions, education, political mobilizations, forming competing structures for their base, promoting “exit” programs, arrests, laws, or direct confrontation – we need to do what is necessary to stop their movement. if it doesn’t work (and this includes if violence and arrests are not working), we shouldn’t do it. but nor should we choose certain political positions because they fit our own private philosophical preferences (whether that is dialogue, non-violent organizing, or violence).
I agree that people jump to violence too quickly when other options are available, that this can be confronting symptoms and not causes, and that we need to maximize the use of non-violent (or at least legal) options.
However, that does not mean that i think that dialogue and education on their own can work. while education may be necessary, it is never sufficient. and i also believe it legitimizes rather than hurts the Far Right to debate them in public; Deborah Lipstadt made this clear in her book Denying the Holocaust. she opposes criminalizing Holocaust Deniers, but refuses to debate them. in addition, education and dialogue have been shown to be powerless once people adopt conspiracy theories. after WW2 the Jewish community admitted that education on its own could not defeat antisemitism, whose appeal is emotive and not logical (and therefore cannot be “argued away”).
I am not sure how you interpreted the piece of mine you read, but what I meant it that the U.S. antifascist movement should look more like the German one, where, yes, there is direct conflict, but also education, cultural work, and less-confrontational techniques used. In the 1990s, the U.S. movement had gotten too fixated on confrontation by itself, and had been moving away from it—but since January 2017, has moved back toward it.
I also do not agree with this Reich/Foucault/Deleuze line about “fascisms.” Fascism should be seen a real-existing political movement, not a series of internal attributes that exist in someone’s personality. Also i do not believe that we can remove all pieces of authoritarianism and violence from our selves—only manage them. There is no “pure” self that exists beyond these attributes, just as there is no pure subjectivity beyond mediation.
Last, I do not believe that we can get “beyond ideology” into some position of a pure self that is beyond socialization, including out own identities and an understanding of ethics. I see myself as a decentralized libertarian socialist—roughly in line with the old German Autonomen—and while i am against orthodoxies and rigid belief systems, we cannot distance ourselves from our ideas and background and become some kind of pure self which then comes into dialogue with other selves, shorn of our identities. I feel this is a position commonly adopted by artists, therapists, and spiritual seekers, but as someone with a PhD in sociology and almost 30 years of political organizing experience, I do not believe it is possible. I wish it was.
Hope this helps clarify my position to you.
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Dear Alexander Medem,
The Edinost is a laboratory not a solution and neither I, think that only dialogue and education can be enough.
But how can we confront the causes of fascism to prevent the born of new recruits? I am personally worried that “to do what is necessary to stop the movement” won’t prevent new people to take its side after. I believe that even if the appeal from far right movements is emotive and not logical, our emotional response is partially based on our education, the personal and social context in which we live, and the history of this context. So I suppose that to act on these levels can help preventing the born of new fascists.
And isn’t the problem more than “hurt the Far right” to eliminate in people the “need” for its existence?
Probably on one side we have Fascism as a real-existing political movement, and on the other, when we are in a not stable situation and we first think about ourself, we have the Foucault idea of a latent temptation in us to discriminate the other, the foreigner. It’s the populist slogan “citizens first” nourished with lies about migrants and refugees. I believe that we can mitigate this second phenomenon via the creation of new narratives. Taking Italy for example, we can stop the gathering of the new extreme right and the anti immigrants movements, we can march against them, also sign petition to declare them unconstitutional…but because the only narration of the migration given to the people for decades is the TV and local newspapers one, even if we stop the fascists, they will get new recruits. I have meet old people and high school students scared about “africans” and refugees, saying “we don’t want them in our little town or village” “they bring dirty, they steal and kill, they don’t want to work”….do you think they’ve ever talked to one of them in person?
So, I still hope educational campaigns and media activism can give a hand.
I know that my proposal to get “beyond ideology” is utopia given the actual society, but I dream we can get to a point in which ways of thinking, culture and subculture will be less orthodox and they will depend on less rigid belief systems. Even if I can grasp the “advantages” to transform a reflection in ideology, I’ve always been scared when people don’t really think with their mind but just apply an ism, good or bad one.
I always wonder if to achieve something different we need to act in a different way, and here I am going back to the idea to prevent new fascists instead of only stopping the present ones. I have been witnessing for decades how people use ideologies to take decision without considering the point of view of the others, and even if I understand that for some (probably the majority) to be under a flag, an ideology is a way to create their personal identity, to define it -it also save time cause it gives us a filter and values,- I won’t stop hoping for something more open.
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I think some of this discussion, and our disagreement on a tactical level, may have to do more with country-specific differences in how national and racial identity is portrayed by different political groups, and what “antifa” means in each separate national context.
In the United States, since the post-Civil Rights era (when the Southern racial segregation laws were dismantled, and many other legal changes were made, including opening up immigration to non-Europeans), the two ruling parties have both adopted a formal position that the United States was not a racially based country, and that full citizenship was open to people of all backgrounds; foreigners who gained citizenship were just as “American” as those who were born here. Naturally, that wasn’t the view of many citizens themselves, but it was the one that was largely propagated by government officials, in state-run schools, and in the mainstream media.
To go against this perspective, right-wing politicians had to use certain coded rhetoric or other indirect strategies—for example, attacking social benefits by using examples like negative stereotypes of poor urban black women; or saying “cliques of east coast international bankers” instead of Jews. And of course many white people in the Republican base continued to see the United States as a white country—and wanted to keep it that way in social, economic, cultural, and political terms. But nonetheless the official line—that the U United States was a country for all citizens, regardless of their “race, religion, creed or color”— continued through even the presidency of Republican George W. Bush, and it was only with Donald Trump that an ethnocentric nationalism burst through so dramatically into the mainstream.
This is all to say that, in the United States, educational work that is against “othering” people from different racial identities, and welcoming people from other countries as refugees or immigrants, has long been the official position here—and promoted by moderate conservatives and liberals, as well as leftists. (The U.S. left is tiny compared to most European countries; the Democratic Socialists of America are now the largest openly left-wing group in many decades, and they have a record-high membership of 50,000—in a country of over 350 million).
The role of antifa, meanwhile, has been largely limited to dealing with the small organized racist milieu of neo-Nazis, the Ku Klux Klan, and related groups. Antifa is mostly run by radical left activists, and since the 1980s including many counterculturalists (which was a reaction to the Nazi skinhead movement). The few times that open White Nationalists have gained mainstream popularity—for example, when David Duke won a state-level position in the late 1980s for one term—a much larger segment of society became engaged in countering him, and in the United States we would not call these mainstream groups “antifa.”
Perhaps I should clarify that the term “antifa” here; it has only come into useage in the United States in the last decade, although in the 1980s and 1990s the national network Anti-Racist Action was essentially the same thing. Here “antifa” refers to groups that will agree with the philosophical use of direct confrontation with racist groups—whether they actually use this tactic or not. In the United States the core activists are overwhelmingly left-wing anarchists. However, the majority of antifa work consists in tracking White Nationalist activity, identifying their activists, doxxing them, and pressuring communities to isolate them socially. And there is also a certain level of media work, as well as counter-organizing especially in communities which are targeted by fascists for recruitment (such as in football clubs and religious communities). In fact, 95% of antifa work is non-violent.
Nonetheless—and this is changing in more recently— but for the last few years the majority of legal, grassroots community-based opposition to White Nationalist groups has come from antifa groups.
In the United States, the more mainstream groups which research, expose, and/or do grassroots organizing against White Nationalists—such as the Southern Poverty Law Center—are not considered “antifa.”
So all of this is to say: Yes, I agree that we need a large-scale project of education and cultural around issues of demonizing and scapegoating others, and a reflection on the nation-state form, which implies that a state is the reflection of the identity of its dominant identity group. (The push on the U.S. left for “open borders” and to “Abolish ICE” reflect an implicit rejection of the nation-state form, although the former, is invariably an unachievable demand at this time).
But in the United States, this project of promoting the idea that the state represents citizens of all identities, and should welcome refugees, has been carried out primarily by both right-and left-leaning groups that believe in liberal democracy. Trump’s election—and the accompanying explosion of xenophobic, Islamophobic, and openly racist ideas—signals the failure of decades of this educational work.
The left in the United States is tiny, and the antifa movement is an even smaller subset of it. It does not have the capacity to organize national-level education about these issues; and there are many other more mainstream groups that can, and do, do this. I do agree that confrontation by itself is not a solution (although I do believe that in some cases it is necessary)—and even when it’s used, must be part of a much larger project. I just don’t believe that it is the role of the antifa movement to carry out this project in the United States. The antifa movement should do what only the antifa movement can do. It is the responsibility of larger and better funded political movements and organizations to do this work that you outline.
I agree, my position is definitely based on the fact that I was born and raised in Italy, a country with a well known history of Fascism and a tradition of Partisans and antifascists thinkers as Antonio Gramsci. I guess in our case we can refer to the Partisans as the first Antifas and we tend to not take into consideration that partisans were using force, because it was war period, so we consider it “normal” and at the same time “far away” from our reality. Now, a lot of citizens would only agree on direct confrontation as self defense; to make the first move would instead be seen as a kind of “preventive war.”
Furthermore, being in the country where Fascism as political movements was born, pushes us to look for a solution to its causes, because it seems to us, to me, impossible that after our History, again young Italians decide to embrace far right movements -as Casa Pound and Forza Nuova- and fascist thinking. In addition, in a country that hasn’t really deal with its past, remembering the Holocaust, the partisans, the liberations fights, the human rights, became and still seems to be, a matter of being leftist or a bank holiday in the calendar.
In the last decade, the assembling fascists in Italy were often ignored based on the idea that if we would have acknowledged them, we would have them advertised or we would have put ourself on their same level. Also, if you tried to “reason” with young persons spitting fascists sentences, you were point out as leftist…as if racism was an opinion, a matter of left and right. This went on for years with citizens trying to ignore which kind of politics where spreading -full of the semantics on “cleaning” and “decorum”, especially for the public spaces. Everybody had better things to do than worried, and preferred not to see and keep building a career or working.
Talking with friends they always had a false hope: “the things that happened in the past can never happen again”. An idea that kept citizens ignoring fascism until we reach the point that a violent far right movement as Casa Pound, run for the elections and attacked last week some protesters in a against anti-immigrants policies march in Bari (not for few came to mind the image of Casa Pound as the militia that defends the idea of the anti-migrants minister Matteo Salvini). So now suddenly, people started to ask the question: how such movement can be legal? How is it possible that a state permit their existence?
On the other side, the media, especially television, in the last years have made use of the far right parties members to gain audience and to show how intelligent the tv presenter was in countering the fascists discourse…and yes, in this case, dialogue -or I would better say its mediatization- gave great visibility to fascists, it legitimize them, it made their existence “normal”… during such shows they could reach most -or all- the Italians cause the ones not watching TV, were watching the same shit shared on FB. To apply a No Platform policy would have been quite better.
Everything became a show, even the sharing of anti-fascist content on social media became like wearing a t-shirt of you favorite band, a way to publicly construct your identity, a way to advertise you to a public. It’s not only the media that spectacularize the problems, it’s us.
On the state of citizenship and integration in Europe, I’ve been recently to a public meeting of the European Policy Centre on diversity and Inclusion in Europe. In that occasion, a young speaker quoted two studies, one made in Sweden and the other one in Belgium: people apply to the same job position using first on cv and cover letter their real name and then a name from the country in which they were living. Emails with documents stating hosting country names have a 80% more response than the other ones. The studies were meant to show that even if the migrant is legally accepted it does not mean that it is integrated. Another interested moment in that meeting was when another speaker added that “inclusion is someone from the hosting country that welcome the new ones”. Truth to be said, hardly you’ll find this position in European citizens as it is hard to hear someone saying “I am European”, a part when s/he needs it for practical reason.
In Italy, people of middle age -even the not racists and more liberals- intimately don’t want to believe that in a near future, their country will be made of human beings from everywhere, with every color of skin and cultural and religious background, it disturbs them, because it is a change from the world they used to live and to know. The construction of an European identity would help, but we are still far from it, from a new concept of fluid, not state based, citizenship.
As you said we need a large-scale project of education, but when the political movements seem not really interested to carry it on; when the media representation of the problem is black and white and lacks humanity and celebrated cultural hubs will make a Sunday afternoon show out of a revolution…we think we have to do something by ourselves. I believe in Europe we are in need of the mainstream groups you talked about, it’s not a case that we often look to the Southern Poverty Law Center as a model of inspiration.
So are citizens like me and others, that try to carry on the educational work we discussed, creating small realities and making a net between them, and in doing this, I believe we have to combine tactics, actions and resources from Antifa, smaller and mainstream groups.