email@example.com (A friend of Durruti) | 27.07.2010 19:25
The recent series of Nottingham events commemorating the struggles of those who fought Franco's fascism in Spain has, rightfully, received a lot of attention from local anarchists and socialists. However, what have often been missing from these explorations of history are attempts to examine the relevance of the Spanish experience to contemporary social struggles. It is certainly inspiring and informative to dig into the history books, watch the films and celebrate the lives and deaths of those who fought for freedom from fascism, but there are lessons to be learned that might inform our current activism.
For me, an important distinction to be made is between the revolution in everyday life desired by the peasants and workers and the much less radical strategy of inflicting military defeat on Franco's forces that was eventually adopted by the Republican leaders. The grassroots revolutionary movement demanded the overthrow the capitalist landowners and bosses and redistribution of land, the end of authoritarian, conservative Catholicism and direct democratic control of production. It was this desire for freedom that was counterposed to the fascists' brutally intolerant and repressive authoritarianism. The later dominance of anti-fascist resistance by Stalinism saw the rolling back of many of the freedoms that people had fought for, and anti-fascism becoming limited to defeating Franco's forces on the battlefield.
This same terrible mistake can clearly be seen in certain strands of today's 'anti-facism'. Organisations like Hope Not Hate (HNH) and Unite Against Fascism (UAF) seek to define fascism as solely the domain of certain extreme right wing groups such as the British National Party (BNP) and English Defence League (EDL). They make no attempt to criticise the authoritarianism and nationalism that is integral to the British state, or the dehumanisation produced by capitalism. Instead they often choose to ally themselves with prominent politicians and capitalists in fighting 'the nasty parties'. Their conceptualisation of fascism is limited to a symbolic war against the most extreme neo-Nazis without any understanding of the social and economic factors that nurture and sustain fascism. Their attitude, like that of the Stalinists in Spain, seems to be that the struggle for freedom is an obstacle to the fight against fascism rather than an integral component of it.
Fortunately there are groups, both locally and nationally, have a rather more acute understanding of the struggle that is needed. Notts Stop the BNP (NStBNP) have worked hard to incorporate themes of working class resistance to capitalism into their propaganda and try to make links in the communities in which fascists are strong. They have built up a network locally with groups in Derbyshire and now nationally in an attempt to counter the EDL. Their propaganda centres around the demand for 'Jobs and Homes Not Racism', acknowledging working class concerns about adequate housing and employment, and is strongly pro-trade union. What is absent from their strategy is the call for people to take back control of their lives from capitalist ownership and state authoritarianism that won such widespread appeal during the early stages of the Spanish Civil War. Indeed, the rather outmoded focus on trade unionism reveals the limits of their ambitions. The majority of trade unions today are alienated from and alienating to workers who have little confidence in them. In addition, a workplace centred model of resistance ignores anyone who isn't a worker and the entire spheres of workers' lives that are not governed by work but are still dominated by the dictates of capital. Council houses and minimum wage jobs might seem better than homelessness and destitution but are hardly beacons of hope. NStBNP are certainly considerably more sophisticated than the UAF and HNH but their strategy often seems to fall back on outdated models of workers' liberation and lacks the immediate desire for freedom that is necessary to defeat fascism.
There are anti-fascists who have a much more far-reaching critique of hierarchy and capitalism. Militant anti-fascists often have a much more critical approach to the state and extend their critique of neo-fascism to include the mainstream politicians who help it to flourish. However, the necessarily closed nature of these militant groups means that they will never form a mass movement by themselves. Despite Antifa England's call for more people to take on their politics and tactics the number of militant anti-fascist actions does not seem to be growing.
There are important moves from other groups not traditionally considered to be anti-fascist which seem promising. The growth of autonomous community groups and solidarity networks in areas such as Hackney and Hereford have emerged as an anti-fascist counter to fascist community organising. The BNP's tactics of focussing on commmunity issues has been tackled by a more radical and far-reaching politics by autonomous groups. There are also promising moves from some involved in the No Borders network to tackle those great propagators of racist values, the mainstream media. Indeed, anarchist anti-prison, anti-border controls and anti-surveillance campaigns all have an anti-authoritarian and implicitly anti-fascist character. Whether these disparate energies can be brought together into a broader movement against fascist values and fascist targets remains to be seen.
In conclusion, we should remember those who fought the fascists in Spain and honour their struggle. Theirs was not a struggle for a republic or for Stalin's Communism but for a radical overthrow of authoritarian and capitalist control of people's everyday lives. We must continue that struggle today.
firstname.lastname@example.org (A friend of Durruti)