Propaganda Postmortem - Breaking Down the Positions of Antifa: The Netherlands
What you are about to read is a translation of an ‘Antifa the Netherlands’ pamphlet which bears the title ‘FAQ on Anti-fascism and freedom of speech’. This pamphlet was handed to one of the Liberalists present at the first ‘Liberalist Day at the Zoo’ in March 2018. An ‘anti-racism’ rally was held by an organisation called the ‘21st of March Committee’ along with many other comparable organisations. This rally was originally meant to protest the fact that two ‘racist’ parties were running in local elections. This anti-democratic sentiment was not taken so well by the general population, so they tried to back-pedal on that rather quickly.
The most striking things about the whole rally were the uniformity of opinion, the inability of most participants to countermand even mild critical questions without resorting to their presuppositions, and the hostility of some of the rhetoric. ‘No nations, no borders, fuck law and order’ is but one of the slogans I heard repeated by the type of people who have even less of a conception than I of what a total breakdown of ‘law and order’ would look like.
Quite a few ‘interesting’ pamphlets and leaflets were acquired, most of which I translated, and some of which were already in English. The pamphlet you are about to read is admittedly the most egregious one, though the runners-up are no less far-reaching in their statements. The hostility and hypocrisy in this document, however, truly make it stand out. At the end of this document, photographs of the original pamphlet are included, which are of course in the original language, Dutch. The original is written in a ‘Q&A’ form, with a question, or statement, and a response by Antifa.
For the purposes of this, the Liberalist response, I have chosen to maintain the form, and adapt it in the following way: OQ## denotes the original question/statement, numbered 01-08. LA denotes my ‘Liberalist Answer’ to the OQ. AFA denotes the response to the OQ by Antifa the Netherlands, translated as faithfully as possible by me. LR, finally, denotes my ‘Liberalist Response’ to the AntiFa Answer to the OQ. It is my hope that by showing you this rhetoric, and pointing out some of the worst connotations, conclusions and assumptions, I may help convince you that the author of the original is right in only one thing: there is no time to waste.
FAQ on Anti-fascism and Freedom of Speech
OQ01: ‘Denying the fascists the opportunity to express their opinions, makes you just as bad as them .’
LA: This would depend on what you mean by ‘as bad as them’. If you meant authoritarian, illiberal and collectivist, I would tend to agree.
AFA: One can just as easily claim that not silencing fascists makes you just as bad as them. If fascists are not silenced, you give them the opportunity to impose their opinions on us. Don’t stand idly on the sidelines – if you care even the slightest bit about freedom – the moment there are people who organise to take that freedom away.
LR: The first argument in this statement is that expressing an idea is equal to, or automatically leads to imposing it. If we were to accept this wholly unproven statement, we would be conceding that agency is but an illusion. We would be conceding that we are destined (by fate, chance, genetics?) to succumb to either a particular ideology, or merely the first one to infect us. The author of this statement fails to see the hypocrisy in the fact that he makes the ‘implicit’ assumption that his/her ideology is the righteous, superior one. It is laid on even thicker in the final statement, where a person calling for the suppression of individual based on their perceived membership to a group the author considers to be ideologically opposed is trying to do so under the auspices of ‘not standing idly by while there are people who organise to take freedom away’.
OQ02: ‘Shouldn’t we just ignore them? They want attention, and if we give them that attention, we let them win.’
LA: I would say: ignore them where appropriate, mock them everywhere, and counter their ideas with facts, better arguments and better principles. There may not be such a thing as bad publicity, but if a reasoned, non-elitist stance is taken, fascist ideas are often easy to counter, and can be made to lose any and all appeal.
AFA: Well, actually fascists often don’t want any attention for what they are organising at all. They organize most things in secret out of fear an angry public will stop them. Fascists only organise public events to shows potential recruits that they have the power, and to legitimise their vision on the political spectrum. By openly resisting fascists, we make it clear to them – and more importantly, all those who could potentially be interested in joining them – that they cannot build and maintain their power over us without a fight. Ignoring fascists only gives them more opportunity to organise unopposed. History teaches us that this can be very dangerous. It is better to stop them once and for all.
LR: The most striking thing about this answer, to me, is how the author chooses to collectivize and dehumanize their ideological ‘enemies’, only to end with a call to ‘stop them once and for all’. Other than that the strange and contradictory claims that ‘the fascists’ have ‘the power’ yet ‘organise in secret out of fear an angry public will stop them’ stand out as thinly veiled claims made to justify terrorizing the opposition.
OQ03:‘The best way to defeat fascism is to let them express their opinion, so everyone can see how dumb they are. It is better to oppose with ideas than by force.’
LA: Ideas should be met with ideas, and the only way to counter an opinion is to have it expressed. The conflation of fascist ideas with being ‘dumb’ does not sit entirely well with me, however. On an emotional level, I understand the intended meaning, but I fear it belies and belittles the true motivations of fascist ideas. A value structure emphasizing purity, security, community and control seem to me to be the more usual factors contributing to the holding of such an ideology. The good news hidden in my previous statement is simply that people can be made, by reasoned and/or reasonable argument, to adjust their value-structures towards something less destructive, less restrictive, less one-sided. Without a basic measure of charity, especially when it comes to your opponent’s mental capabilities, this is not possible.
AFA: People do not become fascists because they find the ideas convincing. People become fascists for the same reason they become police officers or politicians: to exercise power over other people. It is on us to show that organising as a fascist does not give you the possibility to gain that power. And also to show that it will only end in public humiliation. That is the only way to scare off potential recruits. Time and time again it is shown that fascists cannot be defeated by ideas alone, but by the self-defence of the people. We are told that if all ideas are openly discussed, the best idea will win. This argument, however, fails to take into account that in reality, power is distributed very unequally. Fascists can be very useful for those in power. The ones in power therefore often give fascists a lot of resources to spread their ideas. This allows fascists more airtime and visibility to spread their ideas, but this does not mean that their ideas were victorious in debate. We would be dunces if we were to restrict ourselves to this playing-field. We can argue their ideas all day, but if we do not prevent them getting the opportunity to make those ideas a reality, it does not matter if we win the debate or not.
LR: Here, the author makes it clear they see the world through the lens of ‘power’. The pretense they used to veil their calls to ‘scaring off’ fascists through ‘public humiliation’, which they once again apply to the person, not the ideas, has been dropped. They call for an attack, and call it ‘self-defence’. The author appears to be of the conviction that their ideas cannot possibly overcome those of the ‘fascists’ if freedom of expression is allowed, so they will need to take the ‘power’ that creates this imbalance away. The blatant will to power reeks of hypocrisy so thick it drips off each word like thick, toxic sludge. The sheer lack of any self-reflection required not to see folly in this position, to not see how close this position brings you to all that which you claim to fight, is staggering to me.
OQ04:‘Neo-nazi’s are irrelevant: institutional racism is the real threat these days, not the extremists on the margins of society.’
LA: ‘Institutional Racism’ is a flawed, inapplicable concept. Most of those that apply it have not the foggiest idea of what an institution IS, let alone what its function is. Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, saw the immense importance of the social technology that our institutions are. He advocated for what he called ‘non-utopian piecemeal social engineering’. He proposed truly becoming the masters, the makers of our institutions, but not by succumbing to the dream of tearing it all down and building it anew in the image of perfection. Rather, if we have a rough idea, of a practical problem we wish to tackle, either a positive change or the reduction of a negative, we can try to envision and implement the smallest possible change to our system and institutions that we expect to have such an impact. After we have done this, we can monitor the situation, and if we do not allow ourselves to be blinded by ideological presuppositions or political expedience, we can make a rational decision on whether the attained effects are worth the unforeseen consequences. In my understanding the concept ‘institutional racism’ is a term devised by ideologues for which data has been gathered in an attempt to support its claims far beyond anything that could possibly be considered falsifiable. Though some of its claims may be true, it is not a useful tool, does not provide any useful predictions and does not provide any useful ways of tackling any problems that is in the least bit compatible with the social engineering approach of which I gave a rough description above.
AFA: Most forms of racism take place in day-to-day situations. However, as soon as fascists are visible, other right-wing groups can pretend to be moderate. They use this to justify the racist and xenophobic presumptions which are at the basis of their standpoints and power structures. To get a handle on the structures and values at the basis of institutional racism, it is essential to resist fascism. Here, and all over the world, fascists still terrorize and murder people for their ethnic, religious and sexual differences. It is both naive and disrespectful towards the victims to minimize the reality of fascist violence. Fascists can be far more dangerous than their numbers lead one to believe, because fascists immediately translate their ideas into actions without making use of parliamentary democracy. This makes it even more important to deal with them quickly.
LR: So, now all ‘right-wing groups’ are guilty of holding racist and xenophobic presumptions, AND these are at the basis of ‘power structures’! Such a web of invalid assumptions, woven to support each other, requiring the greatest degree of hypocrisy to maintain its tenuous ‘integrity’. The author seems intent on attributing to everyone who is not in complete accordance with their every position the least charitable of all motivations. To me it seems that this may have something to do with the motivations and tactics which the author holds. They accuse their mythical view of ‘the fascist’ of sowing terror, and committing violence, while calling for the terrorizing and (violent if need be) oppression of dissent from their own opinion. They call to subvert democracy, and shut down freedom of speech in the name of stopping another from doing the same. This shows, more clearly than anything could, that it is not the MEANS they oppose, but the ENDS. Even those ends that they think they oppose, I would argue, are in practical reality and application much more similar to the ones they desire than the author seems to care to admit.
OQ05:‘Freedom of speech means protecting everyone’s right to speak. This includes people you disagree with. How would you like having an unpopular opinion, which others try to silence you for?’
LA: As a Liberalist, I find it hard to disagree with this statement and sentiment.
AFA: We resist fascists for what they do, not for what they say. We are not against freedom of speech, we are against the fact that fascists stand for hate and terror. We do not have the power to censor them. Thanks to the ‘neutrality’ of the capitalist market, they can keep spreading their hateful literature in print and on the internet. But we will not let them into our communities to build up the power they need to translate their hatred into actions. The government and police have never protected the freedom of speech of everyone in equal measure. They never will. It is in their own interests to suppress visions and actions that challenge the current inequalities in power. They will spend hundreds of thousands of euros of taxpayer money on military units, helicopters, and special arrest squads to protect a nazi demonstration, but at an anarchist meetup that same police force will be there to stop, rather than protect them. Anarchists do not want to be silenced by the state, but we also don’t want the state to decide what our freedom is. In contrast to liberal organizations who support nazi groups in their protection of freedom of speech, we stand, above all, for self-defence and autonomy. Is the goal of freedom of speech not to promote the existence of a world without oppression? Fascists are against that vision, so we oppose fascism by any means necessary.
LR: They ‘oppose fascist for what they do, not what they say’, but wish to do so before they ‘build up the power they need to translate their hatred into actions’. So they want to stop them from doing it, before they have done it, on the presumption that they will do it. The author claims powerlessness here, claims oppression by the state. More vague accusations are used to justify political hatred and preemptive violence in ‘self-defence’. The author does not want to be silenced by the state, nor will they allow the state to stop them from silencing others. This person believes they are an anarchist, while spouting authoritarian drivel. Finally, the idea that the function of freedom of expression is to ‘create a world without oppression’ belies the author’s utopian mindset. The function of freedom of expression is to protect everyone’s freedom of expression! For without this basic freedom, soon all others will be but hollow shells. The fact, or even possibility, of the best, most true, or most useful idea emerging from the fray is but a useful side-effect.
OQ06:‘If fascists are not allowed a platform to peacefully express their vision, they will avail themselves of violence more and more.’
LA: If we deny opponents of liberal democracy the ability to peacefully express themselves, we do not just push them towards violence, we prove to them that they are right. That our principles really are not applicable, do not work. That we ARE hypocrites. To me it seems like we don’t have to, like our ideas are more than capable of standing up to their attacks and affronts, without the need to call for the violent suppression of opposing thought.
AFA: The only reason fascists try to express their visions ‘peacefully’ is to lay the groundwork for violent activity. Fascists need a thin veil of legitimacy to actualize their program. By giving them a platform, you are giving them the space to physically harm other people. The promotion of hateful ideologies in public speeches, regardless of whether you consider these things in and of themselves to be violence, is always complemented by and related to violent actions. By tying themselves to movements and ideologies based on oppression and genocide, fascists show the intention to actualise these violent ideas. They can only do this, however, if they receive support.
LR: So dense a thicket of presuppositions, once again. The statements of the author can be just as easily applied to their own ideology. The fact that I point this out, and find it amusing, does not mean I agree with any of the implications nor presuppositions. The point that ‘speech IS violence’ which is so blatantly false and laughable that even the author dare not push it without qualification, once again denies agency to people in the most basic sense. If you hurl a slur or insult at me, I have some control over how much I let those words hurt me. If you punch me right in my (stupid) face, I have very little control over how much my nose/jaw will be broken. The muddled thinking of the author is clear in its intent, but needs to conflate their perception of the threat to potential harm posed by ‘fascist ideas’ with violence in its own right in order to grasp at a justification for their hateful call to violent oppression.
OQ07:‘Trying to suppress their voices only has the opposite effect, because it creates an interest in who they are.’
LA: Not only would suppression bestow upon the suppressed the position of underdog, which is always strangely attractive, the more dangerous consequence would merely be the precedent it sets. Ideologues, when in the possession of power, seldom shy away from expanding it and broadening its area of application. What would make 'antifascists' suppressing ‘fascists’ any more morally righteous than the opposite?
AFA: Resisting fascism does not create an interest in fascist convictions. What does create an interest in their convictions, is when liberals mobilize protection for fascists on the grounds of freedom of speech, because this makes it seem like those fascist convictions have a right to exist. This mobilisation directly leads to the attainment of fascist organisational goals, because a schism forms between their opposition. Freedom of speech is thus used as a smokescreen. By tolerating racism, homophobia, antisemitism, and xenophobia, the protectors of freedom of speech are complicit in the acts of terror that fascist organizations make possible.
LR: The argument made here is that no-one is allowed to have an opinion contrary to the author’s in this matter. If you disagree that ‘fascist convictions have no right to exist’ (a statement that says NOTHING of the veracity of those convictions) you are complicit by shattering anti-fascist unity! I cannot help but once again simply quote the author, and point out: “the protectors of freedom of speech are complicit in the acts of terror that fascist organizations make possible”. If you are not with us, you are against us. If you would protect the freedoms of all regardless of creed you are guilty. A world built upon these ideas seems to me to be a terrible idea indeed.
OQ08:’They have rights, just like everybody else.’
LA: In my humble opinion, if you were to deny another the same rights you demand for yourself purely on the basis of some ingroup-outgroup distinction, you become just as bad as the boogeyman fascists depicted in this pamphlet.
AFA: No one has the right to threaten our society with violence. In the same way, we resist the ‘right’ of the government and police to decide for is when the fascists are crossing the line from merely expressing their opinion into a direct danger. Police and government, by the by, have more in common with fascists than with us. We will not give up our freedom to decide when and how we have the right to defend ourselves.
LR: This document concludes, just as it began, with an unqualified statement of the purest hypocrisy. The author calling for preemptive violence in self-defence against their ideological opposition, and against anyone not in their ideological camp even, claims to do so on the basis of protecting society from violence. A person exhibiting some of the most telltale signs of collectivist, totalitarian authoritarianism is calling the police more akin to fascists than they! All of this leads me to doubt, rather seriously, that the author will take anything approaching a 'reasonable person‘s’ standard when they ' decide when and how' they 'have the right to defend' themselves. This doubt extends also to the question of whether or not they are willing to grant anyone the liberties they demand for themselves, or even any at all.
If you, dear reader, have made it this far without succumbing totally to the madness in one way or another, congratulations, and thank you. For those of you who doubt the veracity of this document, who are clinging to the hope that it is controlled opposition, I can only say that I share the wish, but have found no evidence to support this idea. On the contrary: if I compare this document with the general sentiment we received from people at the rally, with the rhetoric spouted in other pamphlets, with the message and tone relayed on the websites, and other propaganda pointed to by this document, my doubts as to whether the author of this document meant what they wrote here all but vanishes. We must each and all steel ourselves against these terrible, dangerous, toxic ideas of collectivism, authoritarianism, as well as the old enemies of elitism and other illiberal, anti-democratic sentiments, from whatever source they may spring. It is of the utmost importance to expose these ideas for what they are, point out the terrible path they would send us down, unveil their lofty words and reveal the prison that these ideologues would make of the world.