Since the pre-WW2 communist militias, Antifa groups in western countries significantly changed their appearance. First to see is the inclusion of anarchism in their language and symbols: black or red-black flags, circle “A” or also a black cat are commonly used by them. Black blocs still have their dress as a kind of uniform, but no longer the military style of former street troopers, and no longer the high level hierarchical structures and command chains. Antifa activists today often claim to be “anti-authoritarian”.
But ruling the streets with violence, and snuffing out any kind of free speech, are hardly “anti-authoritarian” behaviors, as little as they were for traditional communist militias or governments. So what is the basis for a claim of an “anti-authoritarian” Antifa?
Why no longer paramilitary and hierarchic?
The main cause seems to be the shift towards the academic milieu. In traditional communism, the dominant ideology of the Eastern Bloc, was Marxism-Leninism, in which the central committee of the party was assigned to define absolute truths, which had to be followed by everyone. Very similar to a dogma by the Pope in the Catholic Church. This reduced communist activists to mere drones, something not really welcome among university students. And, of course, many of them wanted to be revolution leaders themselves, not subordinates in the late, bureaucratic political systems of the East.
In Germany, a large far-left uprising occurred in the universities around 1968, often referred to as the “68 Movement” or the “68ers” – going along with the anti Vietnam War protests in the USA at that time. Many leftists in today’s German elites originate from this period and it’s political contexts. A lot of them were, at the time, hardcore commies, but most would not fit into a traditional communist party, like the one newly founded, and sponsored by East Germany. In the time, a huge number of small fractional groups developed, often referred to a “K-Groups”, with varying and contradictory views, often far more radical than what was dictated by the East. There were Trotzkysts, Maoists, Stalinists and supporters of ultra-authoritarian Albania. There was the birth of the Red Army Faction (RAF), the best known far-left terrorist group of Germany. Many of these organizations persisted for longer time, becoming allies with squatters and more peaceful, “alternative” lifestyles, hijacking the upcoming ecological movement, turning the Green Party into today’s stronghold of old 68ers. So, the academic far-left was quite messy and insubordinate towards the Eastern Bloc. But calling them “anti-authoritarian” is a gross misunderstanding for most of them.
Another influence was the legendary Frankfurt School, a mix of Marxism and Freudian psychology. These developed deep anti-authoritarian ideologies, including recipes for an anti-authoritarian education. But the Marxist goals were still at the core. There’s plenty of rants about the Frankfurt School on the net, and the Author’s knowledge is somewhat limited. So, before blindly repeating possible nonsense about “Cultural Marxism” and the like, he will mostly sidestep it. Just note that the “Anti-German” branch of Antifa groups heavily quotes the Frankfurt School and their proponents. So they may play a historical key role in the seemingly contradictory “authoritarian liberalism” of the Antifa.
Evil Leftists hide behind good Leftists
Totalitarian leftists hide behind liberal and benevolent leftists. These are ecologists, the Peace Movements, and social movements protesting wage and welfare cuts, who gave the left an image of general benevolence. But Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot didn’t come out of nowhere, they were historical parts of the left, as well as the peace movement. And in the contemporary far left, the Antifa and Black Bloc represent the malevolent, the most violent and oppressive parts, those who formed militias like Rotfrontkämpferbund in earlier decades. Unfortunately, with a tendency to grab power in leftist governments, like in post-revolution Russia, which ended up in Stalin’s Soviet Union.
Much later, in the 2000s, Antifa subverted the Pirate Party, founded by liberal, IT-tech-oriented geeks and nerds, setting up a “Pirantifa” thought police and placing Black Bloc Antifa flags over assemblies, to intimidate members. For some time, the (by the time, very successful) Pirate Party became in parts the political arm of the Black Bloc. The liberal and loosely anarchist image of the party was exploited to give authoritarian and totalitarian leftists a completely misguiding appearance. However, the hijacking finally failed, when some of the extremists went over the top and were kicked out in 2014.
German far-left extremism can’t be viewed without the special historical background of the original Nazism, which is been intensely imposed upon the population. For long times, especially the 10, 15 years after German reunification in 1990, the extreme left lived upon historical Nazism as a scarecrow to hide behind, and on neo-Nazism, real or alleged, as a present-day “brown scare” to recommend itself as the only “remedy”. They would repel any criticism towards themselves or communist countries with: “But the Nazis…” The massive utilization of neo-Nazism, laying ground for modern day Antifa, started already in the 1980s, when the Eastern Bloc still existed. Some very small neo-Nazi groups with huge press coverage, and much more the upcoming, thuggish Skinhead subculture, gave the brown scare a boost. The former far-left militias and “revolutionary” guerrillas changed their names into “antifascists”; even the RAF terrorists stopped their assassinations of politicians and economy leaders, to attack neo-Nazism, or what they labeled as such. This was their best way to gain acceptance for violence and bullying. Abusing another totalitarian system, in an attempt to distract from their own authoritarian and totalitarian attitudes, was their way of choice. While the history of Nazism has, naturally, not that kind of impact as folk devils in the USA, they still seem to be good enough for a brown scare to be exploited by far-left extremists.
Last, but not least, Anarchism, as a social form without any kind of rule, always attracted plain criminals, who simply wanted to commit crimes without being disturbed by an “oppressive” police force. So we’re running into the paradox of anarchy here: by removing the rule of law and police, another rule is established, this time, by criminals!
As a conclusion: While anti-authoritarian leftists exist, Antifa definitely aren’t! Intimidation and bullying is, by nature, authoritarian, even if it lacks the formal hierarchies of traditional communist or fascist organizations. Enforcing a monopoly or absolute control over political speech and ideas, is a key part of totalitarian behavior. Attempts to appear “anti-authoritarian”, including a “chaotic” setting, the hijacking of other groups, or adoption of anarchist imagery, are simply deception.