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"Fascism Today": A Critical Addition to the Modern Antifa Canon

Friday, November 03, 2017 By Ryan Smith, Speakout | Book Review
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In the past year there have been many brilliant publications written on anti-fascism, modern fascism and what is to be done. Of these publications I have no doubt Shane Burley's Fascism Today: What it is and How to End It, published by AK Press and slated for release on November 28, 2017, is an absolute must-read. Where other books, such as Against the Fascist Creep and Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, do an excellent job of outlining how fascist ideology advances and explaining antifa praxis, Burley's work gives us the most thorough dissection of the different tendencies of the modern far-right in clear, jargon-free language. If there are any three anti-fascist books that must be on every activist's bookshelf, this is one of them.

Fascism Today's greatest strength is the use of clear, simple language and an easy to follow process. Burley's organization of the text is the first step in helping the reader understand this complex topic by dividing the book into two parts: "What is Fascism" and "How to End It." Each section is then broken down by the specific elements covered with each chapter focusing on one specific element. Throughout the book, the author explains key ideas and central concepts in concise terms anyone can follow. This does not make this a simple introductory text as he goes into great depth on each topic.

Part I clearly defines the problem. In this section, Shane Burley demonstrates extensive knowledge of modern fascism's many different elements, their interactions and overlap. He begins by offering a direct, clear definition of fascism past and present. He then examines the different tendencies' motivations, ideas and major players of each faction, including the stereotypical Nazi skinheads and robed Klansmen, blood-and-soil paganism, suit-and-tie "race realists," the “alt-right” and the ideologues making fascist ideas more palatable for mainstream society. Alongside such thorough analysis, he offers specific examples of tactics and organizations that have confronted these elements successfully, showing how they can be defeated. He also shows how some of these segments have exploited ideas of left-wing tendencies, such as anti-civ politics, (a school of thought similar to primitivism which argues the best solution to the challenges of capitalism and empire is the destruction of modern civilization as we know it,) to recruit the unwary and camouflage their true objectives.

There are some who may argue such detail and specific definition obscures the fundamental white supremacism inherent in their movement, indirectly whitewashing them. Based on hard experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The level of easy understanding Burley facilitates is critical for confronting the many heads of the fascist hydra. By showing how each element operates, justifies itself and recruits, the author successfully nails all of them down while stripping away their self-serving smokescreens. Such work also demonstrates the inherent divisions in the violent, chaotic world of modern fascism and such fissures must be exploited by anti-fascists working to defeat the threat they pose.

Part II builds on Part I by giving the reader effective models for confronting the fascist problem. What sets Burley's work apart in this section, from publications like Mark Bray's Antifa, is his focus on metanarratives, culture and Gramscian theory. This emphasis is a clear response to the far right's effective use of metapolitical tactics to create a new appeal for their dangerous ideas. Burley argues very consistently and clearly that it will take more than effective intelligence gathering, mobilization and direct confrontation to truly defeat fascism. As he proves in this part Fascism Today, the best antidote to the current far right resurgence is making culture and society inherently anti-fascist.

On its face, this may seem somewhat abstract, especially compared to the rest of Burley's direct writing, but he makes it clear this isn't a theoretical question. As he clearly shows in Part I, the different fascist elements which have emerged did so by shifting dialog, exploiting cultural weaknesses and working with existing systems of privilege. As Burley shows, plugging these holes and reframing the default is the most effective, long-term solution. He also critically examines tendencies and habits within the modern left that unconsciously enable ethnic essentialist ideas that help fascism thrive.

Fascism Today is a top-quality work adding critical knowledge and ideas to the modern anti-fascist movement in a time when such information is needed most. The clear depth of knowledge coupled with the easy to follow organization, language and arguments makes it an invaluable addition to any grassroots activist's collection. If one could say there is a modern anti-fascist canon, this book would definitely be a key addition to it.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a long-time activist and one of the cofounders of the Industrial Workers of the World Environmental Unionism Caucus (IWW EUC) and Heathens United Against Racism. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in economic and social history and has published related work with the IWW EUC and at Patheos Pagans on the far right.

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"Fascism Today": A Critical Addition to the Modern Antifa Canon

Friday, November 03, 2017 By Ryan Smith, Speakout | Book Review
  • font size decrease font size decrease font size increase font size increase font size
  • Print

In the past year there have been many brilliant publications written on anti-fascism, modern fascism and what is to be done. Of these publications I have no doubt Shane Burley's Fascism Today: What it is and How to End It, published by AK Press and slated for release on November 28, 2017, is an absolute must-read. Where other books, such as Against the Fascist Creep and Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook, do an excellent job of outlining how fascist ideology advances and explaining antifa praxis, Burley's work gives us the most thorough dissection of the different tendencies of the modern far-right in clear, jargon-free language. If there are any three anti-fascist books that must be on every activist's bookshelf, this is one of them.

Fascism Today's greatest strength is the use of clear, simple language and an easy to follow process. Burley's organization of the text is the first step in helping the reader understand this complex topic by dividing the book into two parts: "What is Fascism" and "How to End It." Each section is then broken down by the specific elements covered with each chapter focusing on one specific element. Throughout the book, the author explains key ideas and central concepts in concise terms anyone can follow. This does not make this a simple introductory text as he goes into great depth on each topic.

Part I clearly defines the problem. In this section, Shane Burley demonstrates extensive knowledge of modern fascism's many different elements, their interactions and overlap. He begins by offering a direct, clear definition of fascism past and present. He then examines the different tendencies' motivations, ideas and major players of each faction, including the stereotypical Nazi skinheads and robed Klansmen, blood-and-soil paganism, suit-and-tie "race realists," the “alt-right” and the ideologues making fascist ideas more palatable for mainstream society. Alongside such thorough analysis, he offers specific examples of tactics and organizations that have confronted these elements successfully, showing how they can be defeated. He also shows how some of these segments have exploited ideas of left-wing tendencies, such as anti-civ politics, (a school of thought similar to primitivism which argues the best solution to the challenges of capitalism and empire is the destruction of modern civilization as we know it,) to recruit the unwary and camouflage their true objectives.

There are some who may argue such detail and specific definition obscures the fundamental white supremacism inherent in their movement, indirectly whitewashing them. Based on hard experience, nothing could be further from the truth. The level of easy understanding Burley facilitates is critical for confronting the many heads of the fascist hydra. By showing how each element operates, justifies itself and recruits, the author successfully nails all of them down while stripping away their self-serving smokescreens. Such work also demonstrates the inherent divisions in the violent, chaotic world of modern fascism and such fissures must be exploited by anti-fascists working to defeat the threat they pose.

Part II builds on Part I by giving the reader effective models for confronting the fascist problem. What sets Burley's work apart in this section, from publications like Mark Bray's Antifa, is his focus on metanarratives, culture and Gramscian theory. This emphasis is a clear response to the far right's effective use of metapolitical tactics to create a new appeal for their dangerous ideas. Burley argues very consistently and clearly that it will take more than effective intelligence gathering, mobilization and direct confrontation to truly defeat fascism. As he proves in this part Fascism Today, the best antidote to the current far right resurgence is making culture and society inherently anti-fascist.

On its face, this may seem somewhat abstract, especially compared to the rest of Burley's direct writing, but he makes it clear this isn't a theoretical question. As he clearly shows in Part I, the different fascist elements which have emerged did so by shifting dialog, exploiting cultural weaknesses and working with existing systems of privilege. As Burley shows, plugging these holes and reframing the default is the most effective, long-term solution. He also critically examines tendencies and habits within the modern left that unconsciously enable ethnic essentialist ideas that help fascism thrive.

Fascism Today is a top-quality work adding critical knowledge and ideas to the modern anti-fascist movement in a time when such information is needed most. The clear depth of knowledge coupled with the easy to follow organization, language and arguments makes it an invaluable addition to any grassroots activist's collection. If one could say there is a modern anti-fascist canon, this book would definitely be a key addition to it.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Ryan Smith

Ryan Smith is a long-time activist and one of the cofounders of the Industrial Workers of the World Environmental Unionism Caucus (IWW EUC) and Heathens United Against Racism. He is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in economic and social history and has published related work with the IWW EUC and at Patheos Pagans on the far right.