Anarchists used some objectionable tactics in their fight against Fascism. I explain why this is counter-productive.
I was reading what happened to a holocaust denier on Friday and while I couldn’t avoid getting a bit of schadenfreude out of it, it did create a feeling of discomfort on account of the actions used by the antifa in this case. This is in fact something that has been bothering me about the actions of the more active elements of the Anarchist movement but in a way that I was not certain what to make of it.
I understand and wholly agree with the sentiment to counter fascist, racist, sexist and all other similar mentalities but I also understand that the means we use to do so will colour the ends we achieve and will affect our chances to achieve them in the first place. So while such ideologies must be eventually extinguished, there’s many ways to go about doing it. Just because any way promises to achieve the same result does not mean its ethically equal to all the others.
For example, defeating the anti-semite movement could be attempted in one of these ways or any combination of them: Legally banning all anti-semite expression and ideas, assaulting and/or killing all anti-semites, ridiculing and refuting anti-semite arguments, fixing the root causes of anti-semite sentiments (needs for external scapegoats to hide the results of capitalist exploitation), mutual aid to prevent any direct acts by anti-semites etc. While the effectiveness of any of those tactics is debatable, it is far more important to ponder on the ethical aspect of choosing any particular one for anarchists.
You see, even if a legal ban or assaulting anti-semites was more effective, it would still not be a good choice of means due to the way it colours the ends. By being open to assaulting and/or killing anti-semites, you implicitly support such an act as valid response to ideas you disagree with. Even if such an act was successful, you would still end up in a future society where assaulting and killing the people’s who’s ideas you find abhorrent is a morally permissible act. Such an idea would quickly devolve in a “might makes right” situation where the most powerful party would simply extinguish opposing ideas by force. This is certainly not what we wish to live under. Not only because the anarchists might not be the “winning side” but whatever the result might be, it will certainly not be Anarchy.
In a similar vein we can evaluate almost any other means we might think of using to defeat such ideologies. Legal banning? It would certainly lead to a society which would require a top down enforcement agency (i.e. a police force) and a centralized law making party which decided on the laws for everyone else. In other words, it would lead to supporting a centralized and powerful state, something which I’m certain is something not many of us wish for. What about ridiculing and refuting? Well at worst this would lead to a society where ridicule of absurd ideas is widespread (making at least for a funnier society) while refutations (and the critical thinking they require) would be valued. Certainly this result sounds better. Mutual Aid to oppose and stop abhorrent acts (say harassment of semites by anti-semites)? Then that would lead to a future society where mutual aid is more widespread and people rely on each other to lend assistance against acts they commonly oppose. A very good approach towards Anarchy don’t you think?
So taking a look at the article above we see that the Antifa used two tactics in this case. One was to figure out where David Irving was planning to give speeches and then call those establishments and warn them that they are hosting holocaust deniers and neo-nazis. Unless lying was used to get them to cancel the events (eg. claiming that Irving was planning something violent) this is a pretty good tactic by itself as it promotes direct action. The second one however was more ambiguous. Antifa hackers cracked into his web servers and managed to compromise his website, emails and other information. Then they proceeded to destroy his website and spread the info everywhere. I think that was wrong. Like before, this promotes the idea that hacking and destroying someone’s server/website because you disagree with them is a morally acceptable and this is certainly something I do not wish to see becoming widespread.
And if we do not wish any of those acts to be done against us, we cannot go ahead and do it ourselves to others. I certainly would not like to see the Division by Zer0 brought down by some fascist hackers as an Anarchist target and I would then rightly condemn such an attack and all those who did it or cheered for it and I would hope that many others (Anarchist or not) would do the same. However were the Antifa who did those attacks or the One People’s Project who supported them to be hacked then any such condemnation coming from them would be seen as hypocritical. “Why do you complain?” would the fascists ask “Did you not do the same not a long time ago? Did you not support such means as an acceptable way to fight back?” and they would be right (to say that, not to hack). The Antifa can’t then claim that they are allowed to do so because their opponent is anti-semite scum. This will only make sense to those who already accept that against and only against anti-semite scum everything goes, in other words, it would be preaching to the choir.
To all this I expect some to say that the Fascists do this or that all the time. Doesn’t that then justify us fighting back with a similar intensity? Can’t we fight fire with fire if we’re justified? The answer again is to realize that we do not have the same ends as the fascists and thus utilizing the same means makes no sense and most likely be counter-productive. You see, the fascists use violence, harassment, suppression of free speech and bullying tactics because they do really aim for a society which would be characterized by such behaviour. Of course they cannot realize what they will achieve if they are successful but we should. It’s thus imperative to not do what the fascists do, no matter how effective it seems in the short term.
Not only can we not judge the effectiveness of any such act accurately but we can immediately see that such acts go against all that we’re trying to achieve anyway. Not only is it likely that anarchist ways (e.g. mutual aid) will be far more effective in the long term by making non-anarchist more positive to our cause but it will also mean that any success we have will not have unintended consequences causing far greater harm (such as legitimizing violence or hacking against people we disagree with).
“But Db0” I imagine some saying “Anarchist tactics are not as effective as fascist (or state, capitalist, etc) tactics. We’ll never achieve anything”. As I explained above, the “effectiveness” of an act is quite difficult to judge and certainly the dominance of an idea or tactic is not enough to judge it as a success. What we can easily figure out however (and history is ample proof of that) is that you cannot discard a social rule by using said social rule to do it. You cannot use the state to dismantle the state. You cannot dismantle capitalism by becoming a capitalist. You cannot abolish slavery by becoming a slaver and you cannot stop bullying by being a bully. This is why reformist and state socialism fails so abjectly. And this is why any such tactic, no matter how “effective” is doomed to failure. Even if against all odds it manages to achieve its short term results, the long term consequences will be far more harmful and more than likely perpetuate rather than abolish what it’s trying to destroy.
The general rule of thumb then not more complex than the Golden Rule: Do not do what you wouldn’t like others to do to you. It is not difficult to understand why this works when you realize that whatever you do serves as an approval for others to do the same. It thus makes no sense to aim for Anarchy and on the other hand promote acts which would go counter to the workings of such a society.
To put it more simply: If you don’t think any particular act should be commonplace, don’t do it.
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- Schadenfreude again over David Irving (scienceblogs.com)