(Translated by Diarmuid Breatnach from Castillian [Spanish] in Publico)
(Reading time: 4 mins.)
At the end of the 1970s, an elderly woman came to to live alone in the town of Moià, 50 kilometers from Barcelona. Nobody knows anything about her. No neighbour knew her or knew anything of her past. The only thing that is becoming apparent, little by little, is her unfriendly character. The old woman doesn’t communicate much but when she does she is dry and sharp. Like a knife just sharpened. She has a reputation for being elusive and sullen. Some people joke that not even dogs dare to bark at her. She will live twenty years in the village, the last of her life. And it will only be after her departure that the mystery that surrounds her will begin to fade. Under so much loneliness and silence a secret could only throb. When they find out, those who crossed paths with her in that last bitter stage of her life will be shocked.
The first time he came across the name Anna Maria Martínez Sagi (1907-2000), Juan Manuel de Prada was reading a González-Ruano interview book. The author, in the same volume in which he conversed with Unamuno or Blasco Ibáñez, referred to that woman as “a poet, trade unionist and virgin of the stadium.” It was these last three words that triggered De Prada’s curiosity, that he began to follow the trail of that person of which he had strangely never heard. He asked colleagues, academics, and historians, but they could not help him much. He searched archives and newspaper back-issues without luck. And, when he was about to give up, a friend who worked in the Treasury found the address of his missing woman, which confirmed that she was still alive. The novelist sent her a letter so they could meet and chat about her story.
“Why do you want to resurrect a dead woman?” was the answer that came from Moià. Martínez Sagi, at age 90, had resigned herself to anonymity — or more, to oblivion. Because someone who has been famous at some point is no longer anonymous, no matter how much they disappear from the conversations or stop being mentioned in the newspaper. Rather she fades from memory. And that is what she found when she returned home from the long exile to which the conclusion of the Civil War condemned her; she had been wiped off the map. Her vibrant reports had been of no use (she had become one of the most influential journalists of the Second Republic), her penetrating verses (the poet Cansinos Assens saw in her “the heiress of Rosalía de Castro”) or her milestones as a pioneer of feminism in Spain (she founded the first women workers’ literacy club in Barcelona) during the 1930s. Her interesting and unusual life had been reduced to zero.
That enormous and valuable legacy had been buried under the mantle of the dictatorship, first, and later by the passage of time. And now it seemed that Martínez Sagi did not exist. Or, worse, that she hadn’t existed. Something that De Prada remedied when, respecting the pact they had reached, he published her unpublished work two decades after the death of the author. That volume that was released in 2019, La Voz Sola (The Lone Voice), served to begin to repair the injustice of this inexplicable ignorance.
Anna Maria Martínez Sagi became the first woman member of the board of a soccer club
But where did that “virgin of the stadium” reference come from that had piqued De Prada’s interest? Anna Maria was born into a family of the Catalan gentry. Her father was in the textile industry and her mother was a conservative woman who wanted her daughters to study in Spanish and French and not in Catalan, which she considered “a peasant language.” That child would not have mastered the language with which she would later write so many journalistic texts if it weren’t for the help of her nanny Soledad, who would also open the doors to the world of the popular masses who got on the trams, populated the bars and walked through the streets of the city centre.
In any case, Martínez Sagi’s life would not change completely until, having hormonal problems, the doctors recommended that she play sports. She felt the benefits of physical exercise. And not only that, but she was especially good at it. Skiing, tennis, swimming. There was no discipline in which that girl with agile and resolute movement did not stand out among the young men. Neither in soccer, which she practiced assiduously with her cousins and her brother. Or the javelin throw, in which she would later become the national champion. Precisely as a result of her other vocation, that of a reporter, she began to collaborate with the sports weekly La Rambla, where she met its founder, Josep Sunyol, a member of Esquerra Republicana1 party and president of FC Barcelona,2 who was later shot by the Francoists. In 1934, when the writer had just turned 27, Sunyol would even give her a position in the Barça organization to create a women’s section. In this way, Anna Maria Martínez Sagi became the first woman to be a member of a football club board.
She would last a year in office, from which she escaped as soon as she realized that those men in suits with cigar stink in their mouths didn’t really want to change anything. “The environment at that time was one of very densemasculinity,” says De Prada. “And they saw her as a threat, because she was not only a woman with her own ideas, but she also fought them to the end.” She understood sport as a necessary vehicle to lead women to modernity. She dressed in the latest fashion, she attended the demonstrations of the progressives and did not allow herself to be stepped on by anyone. In the newspapers, she interviewed from beggars and prostitutes to politicians, and she also made a name for herself writing reports in defense of women’s suffrage, which at that time was not even supported by some sectors of the Left. She also aligned herself with the proclamations of Buenaventua Durruti, who dazzled her in a speech the anarchist gave at the Palau de Pedralbes. In 1936, when the war broke out, she asked permission to accompany the antifascists to Aragon and report from the front.
Those who saw her write in the conflict say that when she heard the whistle of bullets she did not crouch low. Perhaps that reckless bravery is nothing more than a legend, but it helps to focus Martínez Sagi in the time, a person who defied roles and stereotypes. With the arrival of Franco’s troops in Barcelona, she was left with no choice but to flee to France. That circumstance would initiate the process of her loss. And would forever mark the exile, whose life continued to follow the dips of a roller coaster.
She first settled in Paris and then she went to Châtres, where she slept on the park benches and ended up working as a clerk in a fishmonger’s shop. She later joined the Resistance. “All my life I have fought against injustice, dictatorship, oppression, so I decided to join and saved many Jews and many French fleeing the Nazi advance,” she said. “It was always voluntary. I always did it because I wanted to.” In 1942 she herself was on the verge of being caught by the Gestapo, who appeared by surprise at her apartment. She escaped through a window and by miracle was saved. On French soil she also became a street painter, selling patterned scarves to passersby, and thus she met the Aga Khan’s wife in Cannes, who hired her to decorate their house for them. When she had some more money, she retired to a town in Provence to dedicate herself to the cultivation of aromatic flowers, and later she moved to the United States, where she taught language classes at the prestigious University of Illinois.
While her story jumped and changed landscapes, Martínez Sagi did not abandon poetry either, which was perhaps of all her passions that to which she gave herself most vehemently. Her poems were a mark of her existence, the sentimental record of what was happening to her. And for a long time they rested in the shadow of another woman, Elisabeth Mulder. Martínez Sagi met Mulder when the latter reviewed one of her first collections of poems and praised her, defining her as “a woman who sings among so many screaming women.” Martinez fell madly in love with her, despite the fact that Mulder was a widow and had a seven-year-old son. They came to spend a vacation together in Mallorca during Easter 1932, but the idyll was unexpectedly broken. The pressures of the young poet’s family and distancing by her lover, who never wanted the relationship to develop, ended the relationship and opened a wound that Martínez Sagi took many years to heal. “I found myself in front of you. You looked at me. / I was still able to stammer a banal phrase. / It was your livid smile … Later you walked away. / Then nothing … Life … Everything has remained the same”.
This frustrated love, conditioned by the rejection that the writer received for wanting to live freely in homosexuality, may be one of the causes that explain why the flame of her memory was allowed to go out so abruptly. Also the distancing by exile, the story of politics, inclement weather, the cruelty of memory. Faults that portray a country with very poor retention that always forgets those who matter most. Among many other reasons, that is why it was necessary for someone to renovate the name of Anna Maria Martínez Sagi and make an effort to rescue her from oblivion.To do justice.
1Republican social democratic pro-Catalan independence party that had many members killed in battle, executed or tortured and jailed during the Spanish Antifascist War and the following Franco dictatorship. Currently the party has a couple of leaders in Spanish jail, including elected members of the Catalan autonomous Government and Members of the European Parliament. The party is currently negotiating coalition government with other Catalan pro-independence parties; ERC has one seat less than Junts per Catalonia, another independentist party (D.B)
2Famous Catalan and international soccer club (D.B).
On a wall near the Madrid Metro station of Legazpi, there is a plaque. Those who stop to look at it will learn that it commemorates the antifascist Carlos Palomino, who on 11th November 2007 was fatally stabbed by a career Spanish soldier who was also a neo-nazi “skin” (or “skinhead”). The plaque placed by antifascists on the station entrance has been defaced by fascists a number of times but was always restored; it was also destroyed but soon replaced. In May 2016 Madrid’s City Council erected a plaque on No.145 Paseo de las Delicias where Carlos Palomino died while being given emergency aid. The plaque states:
Here was murdered on 11th November 2007 Carlos Javier Palomino Muñoz, of 16 years of age, a fighter against fascism and racism.
MURDERED BY A SERVING SOLDIER AND NEO-NAZI
A Google search featuring the name “Carlos Palomino” throws up the Mexican heavyweight boxer – one needs to refine the search to come up with the antifascist youth. Palomino was 16 years of age when he went with friends to counter-protest the fascist organisation Democracia Nacional that was holding an anti-immigrant demonstration at Usera, a south Madrid district of noted migrant habitation, particularly of Latin American and Chinese background.
The antifascists boarded the metro carriage at Legazpi station on Line 3, unaware at first that 23-year-old Josué Estébanez de la Hija, a neo-nazi “skin” and professional member of the Spanish military, was on board, on his way to participate in the fascist demonstration. Seeing the youth and identifying them as antifascists, Estébanez drew a knife he was carrying, the blade of which was 25 centimetres (nearly 10”) long and held it concealed behind his back.
Not noticing the knife but becoming aware that Josué Estébanez was wearing a Three-Stroke sweatshirt, known as a label worn by neo-fascists, Carlos began to remonstrate with Estébanez, who then stabbed him fatally. Another youth was gravely injured and lost two-thirds of a finger to the knife attack1.
Josué Estébanez then fled the carriage and the station, pursued by antifascists, who caught him and were administering a severe beating when a passing police patrol rescued but also detained him. Carlos’ mother and Movement Against Intolerance were the civil society prosecutors (a provision in the Spanish legal system which is more typically availed of by organisations of the Right) at Estébanez’s trial. During two years of legal procedure Josué did not once express regret for what he had done until the last moment of the trial, having been found guilty and about to be sentenced.
Metro video footage produced during the Madrid trial clearly showed the sequence of events in the carriage and contradicted the neo-nazi’s claim of self-defence. During the trial Estébanez pretended he had not been on his way to the demonstration but instead was going to meet friends but failed to produce corroborating evidence. He denied being a fascist but the video record showed him giving the nazi salute and shouting “Heil Hitler!” His attempts to deny his neo-nazi sympathies were not aided by the number of fascist organisation in Spain and across Europe that publicly declared in his support.2
Josué Estébanez was from Galdako3 in Biskaia province in the Basque Country, a country where the majority had a long tradition not only of antifascism but also of resistance to service in the Spanish military. It would be interesting to know how he came to enlist in a military career and to be a neo-nazi, though both things are probably not unconnected. According to a press report, his neighbours in Galdako didn’t know he was in jail until the news reached them and hadn’t even known he was in the Army. His mother had not seen him for some time.
Estébanez’s defence team sought a total of nine months’ jail, six on conviction for reckless manslaughter and three for causing grievous bodily harm to a second person. The family prosecution sought 37 years’ imprisonment and compensation, while the civic association joining in the prosecution, Alto Arenal or Movement Against Intolerance asked for 30 years’ jail as a “hate crime”.
Josué Estébanez was sentenced to 26 years in prison and to pay a compensation of 150,000 euros (not a cent of which was ever paid). On 22nd April 2010, the Spanish Supreme Court confirmed the sentence.
Carlos Palomino’s mother, Mavi Muñoz attended all days of the trial of her son’s murderer, accompanied by her own mother and other family. When on the very last day, just before sentencing Estébanez turned to her and apologised for the suffering he had caused her, she replied: “I wish you all the worst.”
Mavi became an antifascist activist and founded the Association of Victims of Racism and Homophobia4 and entered the organisation Mothers Against Repression, of which she has been made the honorary president.
When the Madrid city council at last erected the plaque to commemorate her son’s murder, she was there and, among other events, attends the annual demonstration in remembrance of her son. Every year a public demonstration is held on the 11th November in Madrid to honor the memory of Carlos Palomino and to reaffirm resolute opposition to fascism and often fountains are dyed red.
On the 10th anniversary of his murder, the demonstration in Madrid easily exceeded a thousand and antifascist demonstrations were held in many other parts of the Spanish state. Mavi Muñoz sent the following message that year:
“Let his blood not have been (shed) in vain”
“Now more than ever, on this tenth anniversary, not only for Carlos, but for all those who have fallen at the hands of fascism, I pray that their blood has not been shed in vain. That blood has been shed for defending a better world, I believe that there is a better world, but we have to find it, we have to fight for it, and there is no fight without sacrifices. I ask the anti-fascist movement of today, the anti-fascism of now, to commit itself, that the fight continues, that we do not allow ourselves to be stepped on, that we realize that the fascists are advancing, that we cannot allow that. Our motto is They will not pass! and it’s time to put it into practice. We have to reorganize and restructure all of us, because there are many more of us and we can handle them. We have to show it and not allow them (to spill) more of our blood. We are not going to allow one more of us to fall. And to each attack there must be an effective response.”
13th CARLOS PALOMINO ANNIVERSARY COMMEMORATION WEDNESDAY 11th
Many hundreds turned out in Madrid on the evening of the 11th of this month for the annual commemoration of Madrid’s latest antifascist martyr in a march convened by Friends and Relations of Carlos and supported by other organisations, including the Madrid Antifascist Coordination. They rallied outside the Atocha Metro station – it was in Atocha that a lawyers working for the trade union movement led by the Communist Party were massacred by fascists in 1977 — one of the many attacks on the Left and democratic forces of the “Transition”, to ensure that post-Franco Spain remained in the hands of the same people but in a “democratic” form.
This week the marchers proceeded from Atocha in columns, maintaining social distancing, with his image on placards and led by a banner declaring “Carlos vive, la lucha sigue” (“Carlos lives, the struggle continues”). The march passed through Paseo de las Delicias, where Carlos Palomino had died.
Then they lined the route through which a small group passed, holding up a placard recording the murder, along with his image on another placard, with red flares burning (see video) to bursts of applause and cheering.
Madrid is a city of wide disparities. There are the imposing buildings, monuments and fountains of an imperial past for example around Puerto del Sol and la Plaza de España on the one hand and on the other, areas like Valences, more on the outskirts, with its radical traditions, mixed ethnic population, the Rayo Vallecano football team with it anti-fascist ultras, the Bukaneros (of which Carlos was one). Carlos lived with the Palomino family there. Even down a few minutes walk from the Plaza de España, one finds small areas like the Cuchilleros where the ambience is more antifascist and tolerant of difference in sexual preference; there are many areas like that in Madrid, close to the city centre (if Madrid can be said to have just one city centre).
The city is split politically between extremes of Right and Left. The Right are the political heirs (and often the actual descendants) of the victors of the fascist-military uprising in 1936, their current fortunes often the prizes awarded by the Dictator, General Franco. On the other hand, the Anarchists and Communists of various types – the heirs of those who lost. Madrid was successfully defended against the fascist-military coup in 1936 but then besieged by land and bombarded from the air. Franco had airplanes and pilots from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, along with land transport vehicles and armaments, while the European states blockaded the elected government of the Spanish state.
No pasarán!, “they shall not pass”, was the cry for the defence of Madrid in 1936 (and actually at the Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End that year too). But sí pasaron, they did pass. The city fell on 28th March 1939 and, like in all other conquered Spanish, Basque and Catalan cities, the hunt began for “the Reds” — i.e antifascists of any kind. Huge numbers found their end against blood-spattered walls.
But still the resistance did not end. On 5th August 1939, the JSU, a communist youth organisation assassinated Isaac Gabaldon, Commander of the paramilitary police force, the Guardia Civil, after which 51 female and male antifascists, the “Thirteen Roses and the 38 Carnations”, were shot by firing squads (see article on that elsewhere on Rebel Breeze). In the 1970s the antifascist workers’ movement forced the post-Franco “Transition” for fear of revolution.
The antifascist resistance still lives in Madrid today.
1The knife was identified as an Army one by the family prosecution but by the trial had disappeared.
2Brenton Tarrant, mass murderer of 51 innocent Muslims in New Zealand in March 2019, had names of some of his heroes marked on his weaponry, among which was that of Josue Estébanez. Unlike his hero in Spain, Tarrant admitted to all charges but like him, expressed no regret during his trial; he was sentenced to natural life in prison.
3As I was writing this today the news came of the arrest of two supporters of the Amnistia movement against repression (not part of the official Left Abertzale leadership), one of whom is from Galdako.
4The title seems a reply to the right-wing Association of Victims of Terrorism, which counts many military and police and their relatives as members.
Elise Hendrick is originally from the USA and a much-travelled activist, commentator and speaker of a number of languages. Rebel Breeze interviewed her to ascertain her reflections on recent nazi upsurges and the response to them, in particular on the North American continent.
Rebel Breeze: Elise, go raibh maith agat for agreeing to this interview. With regard to recent events, you will recall that after nazis planned a rally in Charlottesville, ostensibly against “Islamicisation” and events ended in the deaths of two anti-fascists, a number of comments emerged in social media and from some politicians, criticising the anti-fascists for staging a counter-rally. Firstly, do you think these comments had any validity?
Elise Hendrick: In a word, no. It’s really hard to express in words the level of dismissal that that ‘criticism’ merits, because a verbal response already honours it too much. A look at the people making those ‘criticisms’ tends to show that they’re actually coming from political allies of those the antifascists were protesting.
RB: Can you give some examples of what you mean by this?
EH: One example is a video blogger by the name of Tim Pool, who tries to maintain an air of journalistic detachment in his condemnations of Antifa tactics, but who has turned out to be on very good terms with neo-Nazis, including those who organised the pogrom in Charlottesville (discussed various times on the anarchist/antifascist website It’s Going Down).
One really amusing case I happened across was a thread about Antifa on US left author Paul Street’s Facebook page, in which various people showed up to make utterly outlandish claims about who antifascists are and what they stand for. I hadn’t seen any of these names before, so I decided to check out their Facebook pages to see who I was dealing with. It turned out that one of them had at the top of his Facebook page a post praising his friend Garret Kirkland, who was the organiser of the shambolic white supremacist rally in Boston.
Even when a lot of these media ‘critics’ aren’t actually tied to fascist groups themselves, they often make arguments that either trivialise or justify fascist violence or seek to create a moral equivalency between fascists and those defending their communities from fascists. One of the most notorious (and irritating) examples of this is Lee Fang of The Intercept, who, despite claiming to be an ‘investigative journalist’, has shown no interest in fact-checking rumours spread by neo-Nazis as well as a remarkable lack of curiosity about who militant antifascists are, what they actually stand for, and what they have to say about the accusations against them. He outright refuses to acknowledge the reality of violence by fascist groups, and constantly seeks to reduce the political conflict between fascists and those opposing them to a bunch of equally reprehensible people who just like punching each other.
Fang and others like him would certainly recoil at being called fascist sympathisers, but their dishonest and ill-considered arguments do fascists a great favour.
RB: Given that you think people should indeed present themselves to oppose public events organised by fascists, what are your thoughts on the debate about whether the anti-fascist opposition should use physical force or instead should be peaceful?
EH: What I find interesting is that there are basically two separate discussions going on. On the one hand, there is a surprisingly well-thought-out and sophisticated discussion about the role of physical force alongside other means of resistance to fascist mobilisations, how best to go about it, how it should be organised, and how best to coordinate it with other forms of action. I’ve been struck, as someone who has long been extremely critical of the lack of a real tactical/strategic discourse on the left both in the US and in Britain at just how self-reflective and serious these discussions have been.
This debate gives me hope, because it’s people actually doing what we should have been doing all along: Working out what our objectives are, working out broadly what’s likely to help us get there, and then figuring out the details and reporting back on practical experience with implementing that strategy. On the other hand, you have people who will gatecrash these discussions to tell you there needs to be a debate on tactics. They never actually let us in on what they would like to contribute to this debate, except for a belief that everything would be better if the central committee of whatever newspaper cult (whether it’s the ISO or the SWP in the UK) they’re in were in total control of the resistance.
In that sense, you could say that what we have is a combination of a vibrant debate and a rapidly developing political consciousness combined with a power struggle being conducted by representatives of groups that have managed to keep a lid on left organising despite token numbers and few actual ideas. I can only hope the rank and file of these groups are beginning to realise that their ‘revolutionary vanguards’ are treading water here and haven’t got a clue what to do in this sort of situation. The difference between those ‘vanguards’ and the rest of us is that the rest of us are at least willing to admit that we’re just getting acclimatised. Self-appointed vanguards feel a need to pretend they know everything already, even when no one believes it.
As for my own thoughts about the approach to take, I think we’ve seen enough at this point, both in the current struggle within the US and going back over the entire history of fascism wherever it’s shown itself, to know that no antifascist strategy is complete without actually being willing to engage the fash in combat. Fascists are experts at using liberal tolerance against liberalism, and any space they’re not kicked out of is one where they will build strength until no one is able to occupy that space without their blessing.
We also can’t rely on the state, because the cops tend to sympathise more with fascists than with the left and those the fascists target. In the current situation in the US, the level of sympathy is particularly striking: the various police ‘unions’ overwhelmingly supported the campaign of Donald Trump and all it stands for. What’s more, the FBI’s counterintelligence section has issued an advisory (declassified with significant redactions) against FBI agents sharing any intelligence of any kind on the far right with local police departments because of the degree of far-right infiltration of the police. The advisory offered little in the way of detail, but FBI counterintelligence won’t be issuing that sort of blanket advisory unless the infiltration they’d uncovered was pervasive.
So what we’re facing is an armed, paramilitary movement of genocidal racists who have determined that it’s now or never. They’re never just protesting, no matter what their lawyers will tell the court. In their own internal discussion, they describe the current situation as a ‘war’, and not a metaphorical one. When people like that assemble in your town with their guns and truncheons and the blessing of the police, you don’t invite them to chat over tea and cakes. You make sure they have a long convalescence in which to regret their choice of venue.
RB: Not all our readers may know about the presence of armed fascists in Charlottesburg. Can you say a little about this and also about whether it could have been expected?
EH: It not only could have been expected, it was in fact expected by those who showed up to oppose them. White supremacists have been showing up armed to their own and other people’s protests for a few years now. The far-right ‘Oathkeeper’ paramilitary, one of the more professional white supremacist paramilitary forces in the US today, made a point of brandishing semiautomatic rifles at Black Lives Matter protests against racist killings by police. Since the current cycle of far-right mobilisations began, they and other paramilitaries routinely show up, heavily armed and in paramilitary uniforms, to provide security and intimidate the opposition. In the various fascist attempts to establish a presence in Berkeley, they’ve shown up with guns, knives, clubs, and other weapons. They also repeatedly attacked antifascists by driving cars directly at them. It bears noting that Charlottesville was not the first car attack by fascists in the US; it was the first successful car attack.
So some, if not all, of those who showed up to oppose the fascists in Charlottesville will have been expecting to face an armed racist mob. The level of violence displayed by the fascists, however, does seem to be significantly higher than in previous mobilisations of the past year. Where in other places, the violence has tended to be limited to a few punch-ups, the ‘Unite the Right’ mob in Charlottesville attempted to carry out a full-scale pogrom, brutally beating anyone in their path, especially people of colour. In addition to Heather Heyer, who was killed when a fascist drove his car into the counter-demo, Tyler Magill, a University of Virginia librarian and anti-racist organiser, was beaten so badly about the head and neck with a tiki torch that he spent several days in intensive care before dying of a stroke. This is why I’ve insisted on referring to the fascist mobilisation in Charlottesville as a pogrom, rather than as a mere ‘rally’.
Interesting note: The left video journalist collective Unicorn Riot managed to infiltrate the planning group for the Charlottesville pogrom on the chat platform Discord, and has released the text of the chat between the various organisers. One of the things discussed in advance of the day was the legality of attacking counterdemonstrators with cars. I’m not sure to what extent the antifascist contingent were made aware of the content of these discussions in advance of the day, but in any case, a substantial number of those who turned out to oppose the fash in Charlottesville were aware that they’d likely be facing an armed mob, even if the level of violence itself was surprising.
RB: Do you see any role at all for peaceful opposition? Canada, Boston and Barcelona all saw fascist rallies swamped by peaceful (apart from a few incidents) demonstrations in opposition.
EH: Certainly. This is an important question because there is this misconception I’ve seen in many places that militant antifascists – much like those republicans James Connolly once described as the ‘physical force men’ – think that the only tactic that should be applied is main force. There’s no one seriously advocating that force should be the only form that opposition to the far-right mobilisation should take, even though antifascists are frequently caricatured as believing this.
My view, and that of pretty much every militant antifascist I’ve ever read or discussed the matter with, is that we need all sorts of tactics deployed in order to deny fascists space in which to organise and to counteract them politically. The same people who acquaint fascists with the pavement one day will be protesting peacefully, organising their workplaces, helping out with Tropical Storm Harvey relief, or any number of other efforts the next.
The thing to remember about Boston was that everyone present had Charlottesville firmly in mind. The fascists there had seen the humiliating defeat they suffered (leading their leaders to whimper into the cameras about how scary it all is), and half of them ran away before their rally even got started. Those who remained were outnumbered by a factor of something like 100 to 1. In a situation like that, there’s not really much need to prove to fascists that they’re outclassed; only the utterly suicidal would try to start some shit under those circumstances, and your average fascist isn’t all that interested in becoming a hero of the cause.
There were, of course, militant antifascists present at the Boston rally, as there are at pretty much any antifascist event anywhere in the US. The fash were unharmed because no one saw any particular need to engage them directly.
This brings me to one of the things that have really impressed me about the antifascist mobilisation in the US. I have long been quite critical of the lack of any real tactical or strategic thinking on the left in the US and in Britain, where, for so long, the one-size-fits-all tactic has been the A-B march, and the only metric of success is how many people showed up. The tactical debate amongst militant antifascists has massively enriched – and to some extent, really started – the tactical debate on the left in the US.
If you look at sites like It’s Going Down, you can read reports from antifascist groups of their actions. They are almost invariably quite thoughtfully written, and tend to include a detailed analysis of what worked, and, even more importantly, what didn’t work and why. The tactical discourse amongst militant antifascists is one of the first times in recent history I’ve seen tactical decisions on the US left discussed openly and orientated around specified objectives, rather than simply saying – like many of those on the left who today are condemning direct resistance against fascism – ‘our march against the invasion of Iraq was a great success; pity the invasion still went forward’.
RB: Looking ahead, how do you see the fascists and the State responding to these setbacks for them? And what do you think the antifascist movement should be doing?
EH:The fascists seem to be fairly uncertain how to deal with the unexpected degree of resistance they’ve been facing. There’s been a fair bit of the usual internecine shit-slinging, and divisions have become more evident. We’ve seen one of the major white supremacist paramilitaries, the III% group, issue a stand-down order to their members telling them to cease providing security to neo-Nazi events. It’s too early to tell for certain what the rank-and-file reaction to that will be. Given that they were providing security for fascists in the first place, there was clearly a fair bit of support for doing so, so this might cause a split in the group. Indeed, a recent report of III% forces teaming up with neo-Nazis in Yellow Springs, Ohio, suggests that not everyone in the group intends to comply. Of course, the stand-down order might also be complied with, in which case the fash will have lost a significant portion of the firepower that makes facing them in the US more akin to a standoff with the UVF than the BNP.
It may also put pressure on the other major paramilitary group backing them, the Oathkeepers, to do the same. One thing that is definitely clear is that the fash are worried, and looking to adapt their tactics. One interesting bit of information that came out of the Unicorn Riot dump of the chat logs of the organisers of the ‘Unite the Right’ pogrom was the suggestion that people should wear ‘Make America Great Again’ caps in order to create the impression that antifascists were attacking common-and-garden Trump supporters rather than armed neo-Nazi cadres. That suggests an awareness that the only way to maintain any level of public sympathy with them is to ensure that a least some of their number appear to be ‘normies’, as they are called in fash parlance.
Meanwhile, it took only a fortnight after the Charlottesville pogrom for the media and the political class to go on the offensive against antifascism. The Washington Post published an article claiming that a ‘peaceful’ right-wing demonstrator was attacked by Antifa. What they left out was that this same ‘peaceful’ demonstrator can be seen on video pepper-spraying random people without provocation. In a particularly dishonest move, the WaPo selected an image of the altercation in which the fascist’s right hand, which held the pepper spray canister, could not be seen.
The Washington Post on 28th August doubled down on this by publishing an editorial by Marc Thiessen that explicitly states that antifascists are ‘the moral equivalent of neo-Nazis’, a view that not long ago could only have been published in a holocaust denial publication like the ‘journal’ of the Institute for Historical Review. Meanwhile, a possible direction state repression could take is exemplified by the suggestion by the Mayor of Berkeley, California, the site of a recent failed fascist rally and massive counter-protest that was brutally repressed by the police, that Antifa should be classified as a ‘gang’ under California’s draconian ‘gang’ laws.
Not unlike the standards for “proving” IRA membership prevailing in the 26-County Special Criminal Court, these laws allow pretty much anyone to be classified as a ‘gang member’ or a ‘gang associate’ based on the flimsiest of evidence. If you’re related to or friends with a ‘known gang member’, or are mentioned in a ‘gang document’ (i.e., a letter written by someone classified as a ‘gang member’) you automatically become a ‘gang associate’. You become a full ‘gang member’ based not on actually being a member of an actual gang, but on the number of boxes like this that are ticked.
Using this exponential guilt-by-association approach, prosecutors in California have issued injunctions against gangs that don’t even exist, making it an offence for communities to assemble and friends and family to stay in touch. This hasn’t happened yet, it’s important to note, but it’s certainly plausible. If the ‘gang’ and ‘terrorism’ laws are brought to bear against antifascists, it will be the hardest test the movement has faced thus far. Whilst any such designation would be open to legal challenge on the grounds that it seeks to outlaw political activity, I reckon the key will be to stand in solidarity with the communities already being attacked with these repressive laws.
If antifascists successfully avoid being subjected to these laws, and decide on that basis not to make common cause with those who are targeted with them, not only will that disconnect us from communities that are under attack by fascists and the state (whose target selection criteria are remarkably similar), but it would also mean that, if cosmetic amendments are made to the laws to make it easier to target antifascists, we would have denied our solidarity to those whose solidarity we may ultimately need.
I don’t see an easy answer to this one, and I’d probably be reluctant to be all that public about it even if I did in order to avoid the state catering for our response before we’ve even begun to prepare it. What’s clear is that a community defence movement based on direct action like the growing antifascist movement in the US will have powerful enemies. As for what antifascists should be doing going forward, I think the key will be not to rest on our laurels, keep improving our intelligence work, and build strong relationships with the communities under fascist attack (which are often also the communities antifascists are coming from). We should look at the current struggle against these relatively small and weak fascist groups as valuable experience for the much harder community defence work that also needs to be organised.
Also, we will need to do better at exposing what hides behind the euphemism ‘alt right’. One recent poll suggested that the overwhelming majority of respondents had no idea that the ‘alt right’ were a bunch of armed white supremacists and fascists. As such, educating the public on the views and activities of these groups will be essential.