In our previous installment, we discussed the origins of Antifaschistische Aktion amidst the politically tumultuous environment of post-WWI Weimar Germany. As we covered, the group was an amalgamation of various Red/Communist militant groups of the then-Stalinist Communist Party of Germany (KPD). Because of this association, they and other socialist groups were forced underground, exiled, or killed as a part of the Nazi Party’s Machtergreifung (“Seizure of Power”). From here, we will be going over the post-war re-emergence (and banning) of the KPD and the re-emergence and spread of Antifa as we know it in the US today.
Germany lay in ruins. Its people, duped by promises of power, security, and wealth, sat in stunned exhaustion. The structures of the last 20-30 years no longer existed, a vacuum in its place. The nation lay ripe for revolution. Despite many members of the KPD and the Socialist Party of Germany (SPD) lying dead, there remained a hardy corps of approximately 150,000 communists. They hid within trade unions, housing estates, and other positions; from there, they engaged in “illegal resistance” against both the Nazi government and the occupying Allied forces (Balhorn, Jacobin, “Lost History of Antifa”). The surviving Communists and activists bore several monikers: “Antifaschistische Ausschüsse,” “Antifaschistische Kommittees,” and that of their forebears—”Antifaschistische Aktion.” The survivors sought “[re]-establish a cross-party unity” between the KPD and SPD by adopting the shorthand, logo, colors, symbols, and tactics of their predecessors.
Post-war, cells seemingly emerged overnight as the occupying Allies took root. However, they were not “spontaneous instances of solidar[ity] between traumatized war survivors” but the reactivation of pre-war networks and contacts. What is most interesting here is the absence of youth involvement. Frankly, the most apparent reason was many young men died; the other was a mindset shift. The leftists blamed it on “12 years of Nazi education;” it most likely came from fighting the communists head-on at the Eastern Front. Unlike their cowardly countrymen in Antifa, the veterans were tired (Balhorn, Jacobin). Who wouldn’t be?
We have seen something similar today in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who push back on the hawkish neo-con mindset that sent them away in the first place.
But I digress.
The driving force behind post-war Antifa was a sense of insufficiency. They failed to notice and stop the rise of the NSDAP in time so worked aggressively to begin “de-Nazification,” well ahead of the Allied program, by any means necessary. The communists failed in their mission to defeat fascism. They saw this as an opportunity–not as a return to order—but as overcompensation. One aspect of this included hunting down and killing surviving Nazi members. However, this was under the guise of fighting the so-called “Werewolves”—the anticipated resistance to Allied occupation from Nazi holdouts. While the plan did exist, the opposition never came; the communists just needed a flimsy excuse to kill opponents. They produced a 12-point plan, calling for the removal of Nazi leaders from their positions and replacing them with “competent anti-fascists” (re communists). The Allies did not follow that plan. They would eventually go with a moderate approach of replacing some leaders but keeping others in place due to their experience. More on this later, as it plays a role in the 1960s.
The KPD and SPD regained nearly all ground lost within the workshops and trade unions before Hitler’s consolidation in 1932; it seemed as if Germany would fall under the sway of socialism and communism. There was just one small flaw in the plan—there was no nation to rule. Germany’s structures—physical, governmental, symbolic—were gone. What is the point of a revolution to upturn rule when there is nothing to rule? Said ruin, coupled with the heavily armed Western Allies (America, Britain, and France) banning political rallies, saw the eventual sidelining of the KPD.
The final nail in the coffin for the KPD and Antifa (for now) came in 1951 with the publishing of “Thesis 37,” a position paper “riddled with anti-Social Democratic and anti-trade union slurs.” The report forced KPD members to act only in defense of Party positions and obeying party decisions “above and against trade union directives if necessary” (Balhorn, Jacobin). Because the best way to win your critical demographic over is completely alienating yourself from them, right?
No? Because the German workers did not think so either. KPD support died nearly overnight. With economic reconstruction and security under a reformed SPD, interest in revolution waned. The West German government finally banned the KPD in 1956.
Before we continue, I believe a few distinctions are required. Antifa of the pre-war and immediately post-war era was an extension of the Comintern—Communist International. The goal of communism, particularly under Stalin, is global in scale—worldwide equality through the “dictatorship of the proletariat” with the USSR at its head. That is not equality—that’s empire. Destabilization and normalization are aspects of this. I will explore these concepts as they relate to the subversion process in another article later. The takeaway from this is that Antifa, an outgrowth of Stalinism in Germany, is the most visible part of this, no matter its past, present, and future forms. The “fascism” they fought after WWII and think they fight today no longer exists in the West. However, this did not matter—an enduring Communist tactic is to label anything that is not communism as fascism. I acknowledge this has been repeated throughout this and the previous article because it bears repeating and cannot be forgotten. Communists/Socialists are well-versed in couching their ideas in soft, easily digestible language. Again, this will be discussed in a later piece but remember this—it is a lie.
Beginning in 1960, roughly 23 years after the war’s end and one generation after Germany’s reconstruction, a movement emerged among West Germany’s youth known as Ausserparlamentarische Opposition (APO) or “extra-parliamentary opposition.” The APO consisted of the West German youth who were disillusioned with several things but primarily: the nearly unbreakable unity between the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the SPD; the ongoing Cold War; and Nazi remnants within the West German government and the glossing over of their recent history. The APO, on its outset, allowed a dissenting voice from the youth. The members of the APO were eager, enervated, and aggravated. And thus, they were ripe for influence. The APO, while well-meaning, fell under the sway of Marxist philosophers. Men such as Ernst Bloch, Theodor W. Adorno (a significant figure in critical theory), and Jean-Paul Sartre. Terrorism, assassination attempts, communes, and groups like the Red Army Faction eventually grew out of the APO. Still, this piece is not the place for that part of history. In short, the APO disbanded, and its remnants reformed into smaller, Maoist groups known as K-Gruppen (Communist Groups) and went underground.
As the Cold War progressed and the Western Allies settled into their status quo, their wealth grew. So too did West Germany–newly rebuilt and an industrial powerhouse. Said wealth attracted, as it always does, newcomers and immigrants. By the 1970s and 1980s, immigrants came from Turkey and other places such as Portugal, Morocco, Greece, and then later from places such as Yugoslavia and Romania post-Cold War, putting tension between native Germans and their new neighbors. This tension eventually spilled over into mob attacks on asylum seekers and immigrant neighborhoods. The reason it matters is as immigrants came in, there was a rise in anti-immigration sentiment led by neo-Nazis within Germany. And in response to the increase in “fascism” came more “anti-fascists.”
Said “anti-fascists” recruited from the growing squatter scene in 1970s/1980s Germany. At its core, the squatter scene was autonomist in nature. As a branch of Marxism, autonomism formed an “ideological backdrop” for squatters and allowed them “a broader wave of resistance workers’ council movements…rent strikes, squatting, community organizing, and the wide-spread practice of autoriduzione (self-reduction)”; basically, autonomism added bums and trust fund kids to the ranks of the oppressed (Bray, Mark, Antifa, p.51-52). These were ready-made cells of communists whose use of artificially reduced rents and prices, which looked great on the surface, acted as a financial incentive to participate and spread the idea. They claimed to not focus on “representative struggles,” the autonomen engaged in popular struggles to include “occup[ying] the construction site of a nuclear facility in Bavaria.”
Said occupation and later on other direct action (i.e., mob attacks) events adopted the tactics, techniques, and procedures familiar to any American watching the news today: wearing all black (the color of the autonomist movement), obscuring their faces with “motorcycle helmets, balaclavas, or other masks,” mobbing and attacking people with “weapons such as flagpoles, clubs, projectiles, and Molotov cocktails.” The black bloc was uniquely German and, as we see today, is highly effective. In the 1990s, the squatters grew as they gained new spaces within former East Germany and eventually formed Antifaschistische Aktion/Bundesweit Organisation (AA/BO) (Balhorn, Jacobin). They adopted the name, the tactics, and the logos of their predecessors (now with black and red flags) and continued the groundwork, becoming at times “the only political game in town,” depending on where one lived in Germany (Balhorn, Jacobin). A split occurred in 2001, and their numbers began to shrink. While still having the numbers to occupy whole city blocks and opposing what they saw as far-right movements, in Balhorn’s eyes, they were “not a product of a political victory…but of defeat. Global socialism and communism fell, capitalism provided wealth, and many were just too tired from struggle. In short, German Antifa was the last gasp of a dying idea. However, this gasp did not stop its spread to other nations.
The overall anti-fascist movement spread to the UK, Sweden, and lastly, America. In the UK, they began in the form of a group made of Jewish veterans returned from WWII (including a young Vidal Sassoon) who engaged in direct action against recently released fascist sympathizers post-war disbanded, Vidal fought in Israel, and the world gained style and beauty products. Anti-Fascist Action (1985-2001) also used similar tactics to their German counterparts but was not directly linked to them and sought to engage what they saw as a rising racist tide in the British football clubs. In Sweden, Antifascistisk Aktion (AFA) did have ties to their German counterparts and adopted similar ideas; sadly, not much could be found, at least anything not in Swedish, to relay here. What I found was similar in scope and violence as the others.
Lastly, as mentioned above and in the previous article, Antifa reached the US in 1988, beginning with Anti-Racism Action formation. ARA came together and operated under the idea that “anti-racism and antifascism are one and the same” (Stout, James, “A Brief History of Antifa,” Smithsonian Magazine). Founded in Minneapolis by a group of skinheads known as Minneapolis Baldies (Snyders, Matt, “Skinheads at Forty”) who read up on Anti-Fascist Action/anarchist publications Class War and Black Flag. Enthralled with talks of fighting white power “Fronters,” these young men (and later women) were drawn into the revolutionary mindset, but felt that fascism “sounded like a dogmatic leftist term” to American ears (Bray, Antifa, p.67); so Kieran, one of the Baldies, decided on the name Anti-Racist Action. Clever, right?
ARA, as a new organization, sought guidance. They found it from former communist/black nationalist groups such as the Center for Democratic Renewal (formerly the Anti-Klan Network) and the John Brown Anti-Klan Committee (JBAKC). Now, while the ARA can trace itself back to “European-style Antifa politics” (and tactics), their ties to black nationalist groups can be seen in “the raised fist of antifascism and black power, giving us the now-familiar image across our cities of massed black and red flags, the raised fists of struggle and revolution, and the shield wall of the black bloc (Bray, Antifa, pp.68-69). So, how did a bunch of skinheads who linked up with black communists lead to a national network of communist rioters? In a word: music. The Baldies were punk rock fans and toured with a band known as Blind Approach, linking up with like-minded individuals along the way—Skinheads of Chicago, Milwaukee’s Brew City Skins, and Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice. Their most significant boost came when Maximumrocknroll ran a feature on ARA and their battles against white supremacist and neo-Nazi skinheads; (Bray, Antifa, pp.69-70); the letters started coming in almost instantly.
I want to take another moment here and acknowledge that Mark Bray’s book Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook (2017); I found most of the information on ARA here. While I disagree with Bray politically—Dartmouth disavowed him for supporting the 2017 Inauguration Riots—he did a far better job in his book than I have so far in covering the history of antifascism and Antifa specifically. I recommend reading his book if you want to know more about ARA and Antifa. Now, no real break between ARA and what is now American Antifa could be found by yours indeed, but it did seem to happen. According to interviews conducted by Mark Bray, Rose City Antifa (2007), out of Portland, OR., gained little to no traction after their founding. People viewed the organization as “a niche hobby that most leftists thought was dumb and a real waste of time” (Bray, Antifa, p. 107).
Ironic, considering the city has been under siege from Antifa/BLM for 100+ days now.
From suppression in 1945 to arrival on American shores in 1988, Antifa has been present in one form or another, causing havoc and disruption in the name of “the cause”—that cause being communism. Hopefully, we have sufficiently covered their history to give you a better understanding of who they are and that the adage “the anti-fascists are fascists” is false. The final installment in this series will cover the motivations, mindset, and possible solution to Antifa.
The History of Antifa is a multi-part series. This is part 2, please check back on our website to see the next article that is part of this series.
Written by David Van Vranken. David works as a QA/QC inspector for a general contractor out of Houston, Texas. He also serves in the Army Reserves. David has previously published at Entropy Mag and Every Day Fiction. Enjoy the article and want to buy David a coffee? Click here. ☕