What is fascism?
(Partially adapted from Rose City Antifa website: https://rosecityantifa.org/faq/)
Fascism can be difficult to define, as not all fascist movements include the exact same features. Fascism itself is based on the melding of antithetical ideas and contains internal logical inconsistencies (i.e., elitist yet populist, being extreme right yet using the language and trappings of the left, revolutionary yet conservative, etc). Unfortunately, the term has come to be used as a political epithet for any idea that is authoritarian, right-wing, or simply undesirable. This poses a problem for antifascists, who feel that it is important to use this term in as precise a manner as possible. To that end we utilize a definition of fascism that is based on a cluster of traits. While a movement may not have every single one, if it has a preponderance of these traits, we classify it as fascist.
We note a number of characteristics typical of fascist movements:
- Fascism is an ultra-nationalist ideology that mobilizes around and glorifies a national identity defined in exclusive racial, cultural, and/or historical terms, valuing this identity above all other interests (i.e., gender and / or class).
- Fascism is marked by its hostility towards Enlightenment values and rationalism.
- The core national identity in fascism is contrasted and enforced by the dehumanization and scapegoating of marginalized or oppressed groups and the creation of a vilified “other.”
- Fascism is characterized by its reliance on violence or threats of violence to impose its views on others and by its propensity to create compliance through terror.
- Fascism is anti-communist, anti-liberal, and anti-conservative.
- Fascism exalts “manliness” and expresses contempt for “effeminate” or “soft” values.
- Antisemitism and racism are primary facets of National Socialism and most other varieties of fascism.
- Fascism aims at a militarized society and organizes along military or quasi-military lines.
- It has an authoritarian structure, usually revolving around a single charismatic leader.
- Fascist groups may have of facade of efficiency and dynamism, but in reality power structures are arbitrary and ruthless.
- Fascists use anti-elitist, populist rhetoric to appeal to the “common man” coupled with internal elitism and a willingness to accept support from existing elites.
- Fascism glorifies a mythologized past as justification for its present ideological positions and as a basis for the future organization of its imagined society.
- Fascism portrays the current social and political situation as one of dire decay brought about by decadence and corruption, a decline generally attributed to a departure from the traditional values of a mythologized past. This nationalist narrative is infused with racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny.
- Fascism simultaneously posits itself as revolutionary and traditional.
That said, we don’t believe that the anti-fascist struggle is limited to groups and movements that strictly fulfill the above definition.
We believe that national populism, the unabashed identitarianism, and the xenophobic and Islamophobic discourse of certain right-wing organizations in Québec contribute to a gradual political drift toward trivializing and eventually normalizing openly fascist propositions.
The natural link between the xenophobic right and the racism typical of the more explicitly fascist groups can be seen in the often informal overlap, particularly on social media, but also more formally in the crossover of membership in the far-right groupuscules and parties in Québec. There are numerous contacts between La Meute and Storm Alliance members, on the one hand, and members of neo-fascist groups like the Fédération des Québécois de souche and Atalante,on the other. Groups like the Soldiers of Odin exist in a gray zone between the two.
As to the explicitly fascist groups, it is the gradual normalization and legitimization of their racist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and sometimes antisemitic, misogynist, homophobic, and transphobic ideas that we must oppose by any means necessary.
The historic Spanish antifascist slogan is “No Pasarán!” [They Shall Not Pass!], and we make it 100 per cent ours.
What do we mean by national-populism?
Populist movements frame politics in terms of an amorphous group, “the people,” vs. both outsiders and “the elite.” There have been populist movements around the world and throughout history; while they can play either a progressive or a reactionary role, in the traditionally racist nations of the wealthy West during the current period, these movements tend to the right or far right of the political spectrum. In these societies, “the people” are almost always identified with the white middle class, supposedly threatened from both “below” (people of color and poor whites) and “above” (shadowy elites and corrupt politicians, often assumed to be foreign and/or Jewish or Muslim).
In the case of Québec, “the people” are considered both the productive core of society and the source of its legitimacy as a nation. Québec is seen as being threatened by immigrants (especially Muslims), corrupt politicians (especially the Liberal Party and Québec Solidaire), and (in most versions) the spread of English and the power of the Canadian state. As such, this milieu builds on positions and rhetoric often associated with the Québec nationalist movement, all the while bringing its own xenophobic, conspiracist, and anti-elitist politics into play. This is why we refer to it as “national populist.”
While the most important national populist group in Québec at the moment is La Meute, the milieu is broad, has numerous points of overlap with various other political currents, and can lend itself to all kinds of political positions. National populists can even stake out positions normally assumed to be “progressive” or “left-wing,” around the environment, austerity measures, or political repression, for instance. Nonetheless, as a framework, even in its most “left” form, national populism undercuts struggles against colonialism, capitalism, patriarchy, and white supremacy, claiming either that these are simply not problems, or that if they are problems they are caused by corrupt individuals or forces outside of the nation. Given its focus on these individual and external causes for social problems, national populism tends to avoid efforts at systemic analysis or theoretical rigour, preferring appeals to “common sense”, “everyone knows that” arguments, and emotional outrage.
The national populist milieu encompasses several pro-fascist and openly racist elements, alongside others that are uncomfortable with such politics. Since the massacre at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Québec City on January 29, 2017, the influence of these fascist elements has increased. At the same time, the broader milieu has felt itself under attack, besieged by things like Bill M-103, the Commission on Systemic Racism (or even the one-day gabfest it got downgraded to, partially in response to the protest from the right), and media reports describing them as “far right”. While not all fascists have their roots in the national populist milieu, this milieu provides the most obvious base of support for these politics and can be considered an incubation chamber in which more radical tendencies can grow.
Why is the rise of the far right dangerous?
History teaches us that it is very dangerous to allow a free rein to fascist or proto-fascist ideas, if for no other reason than the impact they have on targeted groups (Jews, Blacks, immigrants, feminists, communists, queers, etc.). Over the course of modern history, hundreds of millions of people across the planet have paid with their freedom and even their lives for complacency in face of the rise of fascist discourse. The gradual progress of historical European fascism between the two wars is a spectacular example that immediately leaps to mind of what happens when you leave fascism unopposed.It should never be forgotten that fascists like Benito Mussolini in Italy and the Nazi Party in Germany began as extremely marginal elements that no one took seriously. Social indifference accompanied by the inevitable intimidation and violence allowed these parties to attain power, with disastrous and well known consequences. Even in the post-war period, fascist regimes continued to be installed in power, often with the support of Western powers as a means of securing their geopolitical interests (e.g., Operation Condor).
In the short term, it’s extremely unlikely that far rightists could seize power and bring about the kind of society they envision. While this cannot be ruled out in the longer term, there are several ways in which the far right presents an immediate threat that should be taken seriously:
First, far rightists harass and attack targeted groups and encourage other people to do the same. For instance, in Quebec (as elsewhere) far rightists have targeted people—especially trans women and women of color—with online harassment campaigns, silencing them and in some cases forcing them to move for their own safety. On the streets, Soldiers of Odin have patrolled areas to intimidate immigrants and have attempted to disrupt left-wing events. Storm Alliance has similarly rallied at the border to intimidate people crossing irregularly. Members of the Quebec Stompers scene have attacked and even stabbed antifascists. Most horrifically, there is the example of Alexandre Bissonnette who murdered six people on January 29, 2017, in his attack on the Islamic Cultural Center in Québec City. Far-right violence and the way in which it brings together both “extreme” and mainstream political forces, is not a new phenomenon—in 1990, during the Oka Crisis, Longtide 74 (the Québec chapter of the KKK) held rallies and carried out surveillance against the Mohawk Nation and its supporters, often working alongside other settler organizations, and implicitly backing the SQ and Canadian Army. Later that decade, the same group was similarly involved in vigilante actions against sex workers in Montréal, in a context where gentrifying community associations were doing the same.
Second, far rightists create more space for other right-wing and racist forces to intensify their own bigotry, scapegoating, and violence, not only by providing an example but by providing an “extreme” example that helps more “moderate” versions look benign in comparison. The clearest example of this in recent Québec history has been in the rise of Islamophobia during the so-called “reasonable accommodation” debate. Currently, the actions of La Meute—for instance against the proposed Muslim cemetery in St-Apollinaire—and the acts of violence against mosques and other Muslim targets clearly occur in synergy with the various proposed racist legislation, ranging from the Charter of Values in 2013–2014 to Bill 62 in 2017.
Third, far rightists can exploit popular grievances to draw support away from left-wing liberatory alternatives. Members of various far right groups regularly express outrage at government corruption, police brutality (when the victim is white and not on the left), the brutal impact of neoliberal austerity measures, and even (in some quarters) the prevalence of sexism in society. That they do this to then weave complicated conspiracy theories or—more often—to scapegoat members of various minority groups does not mean that these are not things people should feel outraged at. As has been said before, racism is often a case of misguided rage.
Fourth, the far right—and most especially the system-loyal forces within it—can act as an unofficial arm of state repression. This can range from doing surveillance and research on the far left—information that is then made available to official arms of state repression—to actually being given a green light by elements in the state to physically attack the left. The presence of a number of former members of the police and military in La Meute, often in leadership positions, underscores this danger.
Fifth, far rightists can infect the left itself with their poisonous ideas or recruit leftists to work with them. This is obvious within the Québec nationalist movement, where several individuals and groups historically positioned on the left have united with the far right on a basis of shared Islamophobia and / or the idea that multiculturalism and increased immigration are reducing the strategic possibilities for Québec independence. Beyond that, however, various progressive groups have reproduced far-right articles, organized for far-right speakers, repeated far-right arguments, and otherwise cooperated with far-right forces on the basis of opposing wars and globalization, promoting anti-imperialism and international solidarity, even on the basis of opposing sexism and racism,as well as other liberatory motivations.
Everybody enjoys the freedom of expression, including those we disagree with, so how can we approach the freedom of expression of others as we do in this case?
There is a big difference between free expression and encouraging hatred of others.This isn’t an abstract debate; ideas lead to action. We oppose fascists for what they do not just what they say.We don’t oppose their right to free expression; we oppose allowing to them to establish a political programme based on hatred and terror. We target groups and individuals that organize using fascist models. They don’t organize events and develop public platforms to innocently express one set of ideas among others but to build the power base necessary to bring their horrifying vision to fruition.
In reality, we don’t have the power to stop fascists from expressing themselves. They continue to propagate their heinous views online and on paper. But we aren’t going to let them come into our communities to consolidate their base unopposed.What is the point of free expression if not to promote a world free of oppression? The fascists de facto oppose such a vision, ipso facto we oppose fascism.
Both groups and individuals are responsible for the decisions they make about who to provide a platform for, who they choose to organize with, and the ideas they are prepared to support and advance.Obviously, freedom of expression does not mean that a music venue is obliged to let a fascist group perform, that a radical space is obliged to let white supremacists speak, or that a group is obliged to accept racist or sexist members. Such things are always a matter of choice. If organizations or individuals choose to consciously align with fascists or far-right militants, they are responsible for that decision. Those who consciously provide a platform for fascists to organize are not neutral parties, innocent victims, or impartial observers.
In Québec, as elsewhere, far-right movements use freedom of expression as a Trojan Horse to bash the populations they choose to scapegoat. The mobilization against motion M-103 was pronounced example of this strategy.The motion deposited at the House of Commons by the Liberal deputy Iqra Khalid in 2017 condemned “Islamophobia and all forms of systemic racism and religious discrimination.”Even though the motion was non-binding and didn’t raise any legal impediment to expressing Islamophobia, its opponents completely lost their shit.All of the brouhaha around motion M-103 was nothing more at the end of the day than unabashed right-wing fulminating meant to win the right to freely spread untruths about and hatred toward Muslims.
Are the Québécois racists? More racist than others?
It is absurd to claim that the Québécois are more or less racist than other societies that have grown out of Western white supremacy. Québec, like Canada and the United States, is an imperialist society with a colonial heritage founded on the genocide of the First Nations, continued occupation of their territory, and the systematic exploitation of their natural resources, originally to the benefit of the French and British metropoles and later to the benefit of the Canadian state and capital.
Put otherwise, certainly there is racism in Québec and Canada, because both are based on a fundamentally racist model of civilization. Is that to say that all Québécois are racists? Obviously not. But white francophone Québécois with their roots in Catholicism are members of a dominant society and enjoy, consciously or not, the racist privileges that come with their status.
This systemic racism is a racism of “ignorance” and cultural insensitivity, a commonplace racism that arise from a lack of openness to and contact with other cultures, but which is not intentionally mean-spirited. As is the case in any colonial society, there is a continuum of racism running from the systemic to the ideological that cuts across Québec society, as can be witnessed by the thousands of explicitly racist comments found on social media and news and information websites in the province. And there is no shortage of ideological racists in Québec, as the discourse of a number of groups documented on this website indicates.
There are two ways to deal with this reality:
- Withdraw into denial and defensiveness, insist that such claims are delusional, that it is all lies, and that the Québécois simply“aren’t racist”—in other words, be a racist;
- Acknowledge the racism, reflect seriously upon it, and take the measures necessary to transform society, rejecting identitarianism and embracing a project of inclusive coexistence with a genuine respect for difference.
There are obvious racist tensions in Québec right now, and it would be dangerous to ignore this or to minimize the significance of the groups and individuals who deny the racism while working actively to advance and consolidate it.
Are the Québécois victims of Québécophobia?
The history of Québec is deeply marked by national oppression, which persisted in both small and large ways into the 1980s. Lingering prejudice doubtless continues today is some English Canadian milieus. That said, Québec and the Québécois have long since achieved the status of a privileged “developed” nation and can no longer seriously play the victim card. Québec enjoys a socio-economic status far superior to the world national average and is objectively among the most prosperous economies in the world (in no small part the result of the extensive exploitation of the resources stolen from Indigenous peoples and the brutal exploitation of Third World nations, but that is another story). Suffice it to say, Québec society sits comfortably among the world’s richest nations.
The “colonized” complex that is central for so many Québec nationalists is not just archaic in 2018, it has its pathetic side, suggesting, as it does, that those who embrace this political view are unable to accept the evolution of the world. It is as if, at the end of the day, they are most comfortable being perpetual victims.
The alleged Québecophobia reveals the same skewed logic as claims of “anti-white racism” or “sexism against men”: these are the positions of historically privileged and politically dominant people who can’t accept being challenged and contested.Rather than address the issues involved they turn their attention to one scapegoat or another and play the role of victims of an imaginary oppression, one that is little more than the mirror image of their actual position of dominance.
Violence is bad, so why use it?
The debate over violence and non-violence in social and political movements is contaminated by a false equivalency reinforced by a moral judgement that is alternately absolute or relative, depending on the context. We are all conditioned to accept the idea that only the police and the armed forces can and should use violence, presumably to protect us from criminals and to defend national sovereignty against potential invaders. As such, we are primed to think of any other form of violence as an aberration: that sort of violence is, so to speak, unquestionably “bad.”
This is an intriguing moral evaluation. It accepts as a given that the state’s violence is an exception to this moral imperative, which given history is more than slightly open to debate. The state, in fact, often employs ill-advised violence in the service of nebulous interests, frequently to the detriment of its own population. Public opinion also generally accepts the recourse to violence in self-defense; when my physical security or that of those close to me is threatened, it is acceptable (a legitimate exception) that I employ violence to defend myself, a perspective that introduces a certain relativity into our understanding of violence. It is this argument antifascists draw upon, because anti-fascism is always a form of self-defense.
Contrary to the moralist myth, violence is neither intrinsically good nor inherently bad; it is a reality in the world, and it is all around us. Contrary to fascist movements, and in spite of what our enemies say at every opportunity, antifascists don’t romanticize violence. The truth is that the vast majority of antifascists abhor violence, would prefer to exhaust all other means before using it, and like most people agree that violence is undesirable and in a perfect world would presumably be exceedingly rare. In any case, the relatively limited and controlled violence of the antifascist movement pales in comparison to the state and capital’s constant use of often indiscriminate violence in our name.
For the populations targeted by fascist violence or the oppressive discourses advanced by the far right, the question of violence is not part of some abstract moral debate. Their very existence is threatened, and the imperative of survival sometimes necessitates violence. Historically antifascists have lined up on the side of targeted communities defending themselves.
From Italy and Germany in the 1920s to the streets of the modern world, it is not rational arguments that has been at the heart of fascist growth; the central issue has been its organized efforts to seize power at the expense of others.We can’t be satisfied with debating fascists; we have to prevent them from organizing and taking power by any means necessary. We can contest their ideas until the chickens come home to roost, but if we don’t also develop the means necessary to prevent then from transforming their ideology into reality all the respectful discussion in the world won’t add up to squat.
Historically, it is grassroots self-defense and not debate that has succeeded in stopping fascism. As the old saying goes: hope for the best and prepare for the worst.
If you have nothing to hide, why do you wear masks when you demonstrate?
To state the obvious, it’s a way to remain anonymous by melting into a group of people, all of whom are masked. It is a way to take part in group activity without being identified, similar to wearing a police or military uniform. But there are also, of course, other considerations:
- It’s a way to protect your identity and avoid reprisals, particularly at the workplace. Whatever our critics may think, antifascists are normal people with ordinary social lives and jobs in every sector of the economy. Unfortunately, in certain professions those higher up in the hierarchy frown upon involvement in movements seen to be radical, so wearing a mask at a demonstration is a way to avoid blowback at work. And it can be much the same for people whose families oppose this sort of activity.
- It is a way to protect your identity from your ideological opponents. The fascist document our movements for the same reason we document theirs: to hurt us. Doxxing is a current practice of divulging an individual’s personal information online to create havoc in their life, even in some cases leaving the targeted person open to physical attack. It is a practice that the antifascists use to publicly expose fascists and their activities, but it is a tactic that can also be used against us with serious consequences.Hiding our identities in public is in no small part to ensure that our enemies have as little information about us as possible.
- It’s a way to protect your identity from the media, which is not generally sympathetic to radical movements, whether anti-capitalist or more recently antifascist. The complicity between the bourgeois media and the police and state repressive apparatus should not be underestimated. With no questions asked, the media often provides the police with photos that are used to convict antifascists at trial. That, it might be added, is why many of us feel it is legitimate to drive away journalists when they refuse our demand that they stop filming.
- It provides a modicum of protection from tear gas and other chemical weapons used by the police. Along with other means of neutralizing the effects of chemical weapons, a standard cloth or even paper mask can prove very useful.
- It’s a way to avoid being identified in police files. The police maintain vast data banks of information on radical left-wing militants.They deploy an identification unit to take photos of demonstrators, and it would be naïve to believe that police don’t keep files on people accused or convicted of a criminal offense.
- Finally, it’s a way to disguise your identity and avoid prosecution when engaging in illegal activities.It would be dishonest to deny that wearing a mask has nothing to do with a political decision to engage physically with fascists when appropriate, should they have the misfortune of running into a contingent of antifascists.It is equally dishonest to portray antifascists as masking up for the sole purpose of acting illegally, as if that were the goal itself.