More than twenty years ago, as a very young man, I traveled in Ukraine. In one place, the local authorities were excavating a mass grave from the 1930s. Hundreds of skeletons, men and women, many with flesh and clothes still attached, had been laid out on wooden platforms, for attempted identification before reburial. If you looked, it was easy to see the cause of each person’s death—a square hole in the head. Why square? Because the Communists had hammered in a railroad spike. Why does this matter? Because what screams from every page of this book of Antifa apologetics is that the author, Mark Bray, and his compatriots, today’s direct ideological successors of those murderers, want to do the same to you. Bray, who works as a
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More than twenty years ago, as a very young man, I traveled in Ukraine. In one place, the local authorities were excavating a mass grave from the 1930s. Hundreds of skeletons, men and women, many with flesh and clothes still attached, had been laid out on wooden platforms, for attempted identification before reburial. If you looked, it was easy to see the cause of each person’s death—a square hole in the head. Why square? Because the Communists had hammered in a railroad spike. Why does this matter? Because what screams from every page of this book of Antifa apologetics is that the author, Mark Bray, and his compatriots, today’s direct ideological successors of those murderers, want to do the same to you.
Bray, who works as a “part-time lecturer” at Rutgers University, and who was a sometime organizer of Occupy Wall Street back in 2009, published this book in 2017. No surprise, he claims relevancy for his book based on a supposed surge in fascism due to Trump’s election. But it was only this past summer, with the rise of Antifa to prominence during the nationwide BLM-led Floyd Riots, that this book really became relevant. It is the only book-length treatment of modern organized left-wing violence directed against the Right, and although it is tendentious in the extreme, reading it is very instructive. (I bought it used, naturally, so that Bray didn’t get a cent from my purchase.)
My first purpose is to understand the violence generated by Antifa. I mean not the fact of violence itself, which (and what should be the immediate response to it) is a tactical question, not difficult to understand. What I want to explore is the thought that drives that violence. And then I want to comprehend how that violence is organized, how it is funded, and how it interlocks with the broader Left ecosystem of today. Bray’s book, the goal of which is to justify the works of Antifa, not to man but to his political allies who have yet to fully publicly embrace violence, is a useful place to start this exploration, though we will have to go well beyond it.
The author begins, as we can all agree is necessary, with a definition of fascism, which he says is “difficult to pin down.” He endorses a lengthy definition offered by Robert Paxton, a historian of Vichy France: “a form of political behavior marked by obsessive preoccupation with community decline, humiliation, or victimhood and by compensatory cults of unity, energy, and purity, in which a mass-based party of committed nationalist militants, working in uneasy but effective collaboration with traditional elites, abandons democratic liberties and pursues with redemptive violence and without ethical or legal restraints goals of internal cleansing and external expansion.” This may be a good description of 1930s and 1940s fascism, or it may not be, but no matter, since Bray never recurs to any aspect of this definition. Rather, in practice throughout the book, fascism is implicitly, and often explicitly, defined as any effective opposition to whatever the demands of the modern Left are at any given time. And the more effective opposition is, the more fascist it is.
To his credit, Bray admits this. He seems personally offended by dissembling about his real goals, yet realizes it is necessary, which gives his book a schizophrenic feel. We should reject needing a “finely-tuned” analysis of fascism, he tell us. We should understand the term is actually “a moral signifier that those struggling against a variety of oppressions have utilized to highlight the ferocity of the political foes they have faced.” The key is “solidarity with all those who suffer and struggle.” In other words, the only thing is the victory of the Left, and anyone who opposes that, is fascist.
As I say, this is a book of apologetics, directed primarily at normies. (Keith Ellison, the former Congressman who is currently the Attorney General of Minnesota, was famously photographed endorsing this book.) The chief hurdle Bray faces in this endeavor is that he completely endorses the violent silencing of all opposition to the Left, yet knows that sells poorly in normie America, and to normies, you look bad when your own supposed definition of fascism centers on how fascists “abandon democratic liberties” and use “redemptive violence,” yet both those are the core of your own self-definition. Bray wrote this book in an attempt to square this circle. He doesn’t succeed, because not even God can square a circle. The result is instead protean word salad, where Bray returns again and again to halfheartedly trying to show that Antifa is something other than merely joint action to violently suppress all opposition to the Left, and fails. Then he gives up, and admits his project.
We will step backward into history in a moment, but the Left here, by opposition to which fascism is defined, is the modern Left—just as radical as the 1930s Communist-dominated Left of the West, but having little in common with it other than its basic premises and utopian vision. The focus today is any form of supposed “oppression,” which, as the late Roger Scruton pointed out, is the bedrock of all modern leftism. Although the modern Left pays lip service to economic oppression, the almost sole focus of the 1930s hard Left, there is no actual concern whatsoever in this book for the urban “worker,” much less the rural proletariat in flyover country, or the struggling lower-middle and middle class. Despite frequent obligatory references to “the workers,” what comes through loud and clear is that Antifa, just like the modern Left as a whole, is a movement of the elite, not the proletariat. Bray uses as the meat of much of his book anecdotes and quotes taken from Antifa pseudo-soldiers around the world; none of them, as far as can be determined, is a worker in the traditional sense. Almost certainly most or all of them are upper-middle class in background and work, if they work, in some nonprofit-type job aligned with their politics. Bray is part of the fraternity, as he gladly admits, and his own background is, naturally, of this type.