It was not my intention, when I started the politics book club, to read trendy, recently published books that might not be as widely accessible as ones that had been out for a while. But it would appear that we just can't get enough Nazi-punching for as long as we've still got Nazis, and I for one have a sort of activist-crush on our friendly local antifa org (they wear all black and punch Nazis, what more could a socialist goth girl want), so we decided to give our monies to Mark Bray and check out Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, newly out from Melville House. Some of these monies also go to the International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund, which helps pay legal and medical expenses for folks who are injured or arrested in the course of fighting fascism, so we are actually helping fight fascism by sitting on our duffs reading about other people fighting fascism. Best sort of slacktivism ever!
The book is part history and part polemic, tracing the development of militant anti-fascism -- its successes and failures -- from the interwar period and the Spanish Civil War up through this May or so. He traces the development of various regions' antifa cultures out of the other political and cultural groups that they arose from: the Autonomen in Germany, the Greek anarchist movement, various strains of punk in the U.S. and the U.K., and there's even an interesting bit on the prevalence of fascism and anti-fascism within football hooliganism. I'll tell you one thing: It's deeply, deeply weird to see Gamergate mentioned in a book that start with the Spanish Civil War.
It's especially interesting for me to read about the development of neo- and anti-fascism as they move from street fighting in places like squats and punk shows and other places that are definitely too cool and radical for me (in addition to largely before my time) to the "alt-right," aka Extremely Online Nazis, because my experience with learning about the alt-right was that I was Extremely Online for years and then eventually Nazis started showing up. I first learned about the alt-right through their MRA wing when they would pop up in the comments of Amanda Marcotte's blog and talk about how the 19th Amendment was a mistake and rape should be legal. It actually took a while for me to realize they were also Nazis, although the stuff about how white women not having enough white babies makes us all race traitors was a pretty big tip-off. This was in, like, 2009, by the way. I was also pleased to see that Bray's coverage of the shutdowns of Milo Yabbadabbadoo's campus events included important but frequently forgotten information, like that he was planning to out undocumented students at Berkeley, that he had outed trans students at other events, that he had an online history of leading mob harassment campaigns (seriously, the number of pundits who thought he was just famous for having shitty opinions, like it's nearly as possible to get famous solely for shitty opinions online as it is on TV, was amazing), and that one of his violent Nazi fanboys shot an IWW street medic at an event three weeks prior to the Berkeley one. Yay for actual reporting! But, y'know, I already knew that stuff, and while it was good to see that it was being covered correctly, the more interesting content was the things I didn't already know.
The later parts of the book discuss things like the abysmal coverage of antifa by the mainstream punditry once it burst into the headlines this year; rebuttals to common liberal anti-antifa talking points; lessons and takeaways from history that anti-fascists have developed; a lengthy discussion of whether or not antifa is anti-free speech; discussions of the challenges of melding mass and militant anti-fascist mobilization; problems of machismo within militant anti-fascism and how to fight it; and a bunch of other thoughts and advice on common organizing problems. There are times when it gets a bit bloggy, which is not necessarily a bad thing, it just amused me highly to be reading it in a published book instead of somewhere on the internet, and a smol voice in the back of my head kept going "LOL, this dude is a Dartmouth lecturer," but probably only because I am jealous of Dartmouth students if the lectures sound anything like this. Cranky lefty writing is a genre of rantiness near and dear to my heart, provided it does not sacrifice intellectual honesty for cheap shots at political opponents, at which point I start quoting George Orwell and consider taking up smoking just so I can look world-wearier. I am pleased to report a complete lack of George Orwell quoting over the course of reading this book, which is good, especially because George Orwell was himself OG antifa and fought fascists in Spain.
I think this book lays out its cases pretty clearly, but I'm not sure how convincing it'll be to readers who are skeptical of antifa; I'd still recommend reading it just so you know what you're talking about though. I enjoyed it pretty uncomplicatedly because I am already pretty pro-antifa; I am useless in a fight and I feel better knowing that there's people who aren't who are ready to put their bodies on the line for the times when peaceful mass mobilization and "everyday anti-fascism" fail.
Oh, man, I knew I forgot something important. Bray talks a bit about what non-militant people can do to practice "everyday anti-fascism" so that we are not all doomed to being clueless useless liberals if we are not personally up for socking a Nazi in the face, which is good, because I wish to stand against fascism but am very bad at socking anyone in the face. Everyday anti-fascism consists of a bunch of things, from organizer broader left movements to address the alienation in modern life that fascism exploits, to raising the social cost of acting racist by not putting up with that shit in any of your social spaces. This is good book-writing praxis: ending with a call to action accessible to lay readers.
Anyway, support your local antifa, and don't be scared of the weirdos in black masks at protests--stay away from the Nazis and they'll leave you alone.