I've seen a lot of people across the political spectrum mention this thing called "Antifa" by name, usually to criticize it, and present it as the "other equally bad side" in the eternal left vs right debate.

But what is Antifa?

Googling it suggests that it is merely an anti-fascist movement which tends to use violence to fight facism. That seems kind of broad. Is every Democratic country which, say, fought in WW2, then part of Antifa, including the US?

  • It seems like the question could use more context, groups described as Antifa seem to have appeared recently in U.S. that don't necessarily have any connection with German Antifa. – Burt_Harris Oct 16 '18 at 3:39

Yes, the Antifa - short for the German Antifaschistische Aktion - is an anti-fascist movement consisting mostly of young people, which may or may not use violence in their resistance to fascism.

Their history goes back to the 1930s, where the Antifaschistische Aktion was founded to resist the rising fascism in Germany. Back then it had tight ties to the social democratic SPD and communist KPD.

With the rise of nationalism in Germany in the 1980s and 1990s, there was an increase in new Antifa groups, which this time did not grow out of a political party, but various non-parlamentary left wing groups. These groups are locally organized and do not have a rigid hierarchy. They do sometimes form alliance with parlamentary left wing parties for some demonstrations or similar events.

Their activities include research, documentation and spreading of information about far right groups, as well as demonstrations, interference with fascist demonstrations, or other militant resistance to fascism.

Their political views reach from centrist-left to various far-left ideologies such as different strains of communism or anarchism.

To answer your specific question: Not every group which is against fascism is an Antifa group, and especially countries can't be considered an Antifa group.

Sources are the German and English Wikipedia; especially the German one contains a good overview.


Antifa represents the far-left political movement, mainly consisting of anarchists. The word "Antifa" stands for anti-fascist and its roots can be traced back to Nazi Germany and Anti-Fascist Action which a militant group founded in the 1980s in the United Kingdom.

Even though their political beliefs lean towards the left, they do not conform with the Democratic Party platform and do not seek to gain power through elections either. In addition, they are anti-government and anti-capitalist, thus they are more closely aligned with anarchists, rather than the mainstream left.


Antifa positions can be hard to define, but many members support oppressed populations and protest the amassing of wealth by corporations and elites. Some employ radical or militant tactics to get their message across.


Most members oppose all forms of racism and sexism, and strongly oppose what they see as the nationalist, anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies that Mr Trump has enacted.

In international context, these movements mainly oppose fascist ideas. They had been active in Germany (Antifaschistische Aktion) and the United Kingdom (Anti-Fascist Action, extinct in 2001), mainly before the 21st century.

  • 2
    I'm confused why you say they are anti-government (anarchists) versus just anti-fascism. Do you have references for this point? – Alexander O'Mara Aug 19 '17 at 18:55
  • @AlexanderO'Mara Yea, it's from this BBC article. – Panda Aug 20 '17 at 0:48

A Brief History of Antifa

Mostly out of memory, but much of it can be looked up on the internet.

Narrowing "Antifascism"

The popular belief that "Antifascism" is just opposition to political systems, like Italian fascism or German nazism, and that any person opposing them is an "antifascist", is naive, because the most important groups calling themselves "antifascist", especially those using the short term "Antifa", have a much more specific meaning.

The term originates from the 1920s and 30s, when the communist movement on one side, and groups mainly rooted in disbanded WW1 armies on the other, sought political power beyond traditional elites and with violence, leading to fierce rivalry and street battles.

For Germany, the communists attempted to gain a political monopoly, sending goon squads against any competitors, even smearing Social Democrats as "social fascists". When the Nazi party suddenly grew after 1930, many called the communists to unite with all other forces, standing against the Nazis. These would be alliances led by communists. The original version of the "Antifaschistische Aktion" logo had two red flags, symbolizing communists and social democrats united.

At the same time, communist leaders, namely Georgi Dimitrov, explained fascism as the armed force of capitalism and finance capital, bound to suppress the uprising communist movement. Thus, fascism had it's roots in the capitalist system, and only a communist, as one who wants to abolish capitalism, can be a true antifascist. This definition of "antifascism" is, with some modifications, still valid among Antifa groups: they often seek alliances with other opponents of neo-nazi groups, but their ultimate goal remains the erection of a communist regime.

Late 1960s: The "New Left" in Western Europe

In the late 1960s, major far-left tendencies emerged in many western universities, sometimes referred to as the "68 Movement". As opposed to traditional "working class" communist parties, these mainly had an academic background, and were not mere drones, bound to orders from Moscow. Marxism-Leninism, the dominant ideology in the USSR and it's Eastern European satellites, basically forbade own thinking and reduced supportes to dumb followers, something not acceptable for an academic followership. A hodgepodge of different communist groups came up, sometimes referring to Lenin, Trotzky, Mao or even Stalin. Often far more fanatic than traditional, east-bound communists, and mostly advocating violence to pursue their goals. By the time, many still believed in guerilla warfare and finally a revolution, to grab power. This was also the base of far-left terrorists, like Red Army Faction, Brigades Rosses, Action Directe or Weather Underground. Later, the small, militant groups would often be referred to as "K-Groups". For German far-leftists, viewing then West Germany as a still fascist country, or one that needed to be suppressed because of lingering fascism, became a core attitude. This was also the time when far-leftists started to court social and ethnic minorities, such as gays, feminists, environmentalists and the growing population of foreign "guest workers". Many "old 68ers" form the leftist elites in Germany and other countries today, having toned down or changed fanatic attitudes, to become socially acceptable.

1980s: House squatters and Black Blocs

To be safe from law enforcement, militant far-leftists would create spaces that were no-go areas to police. Tool of choice was squatting empty houses or entire streets, turning them into fortresses and bases for any kind of violent action. Fighting off police from occupied houses, as well as violent protests against nuclear plants led to the development of the Black Bloc tactics. These included terror and vandalism against uninvolved people and their property, but mostly restrained from killings or potentially deadly terrorist acts. Since most European countries have rather tight gun laws, and demand people to solely rely on police and legal system for self-defense, Black Blocs were, and still are, hard to counter.

The 1980s also saw the appearance of small, violent neo-Nazi groups, who had no more roots in original Nazism, but tried to restart it (or sometimes just troll with it) on their own. Later, the (biggest part of) Skinhead subculture joined them with thuggery. These soon became a major threat to everyone's public safety, a pretext for far-left street violence labelled as "antifascist", and to gain social acceptance for it.

With neo-Nazis and skinheads becoming an actual threat in the streets, resistence and support for Antifa groups grew. These would not just work as a vigilante group against skinhead thugs, but attack everything they considered "roots of fascism". Which could be just moderate right-wing attitudes, and ultimately, everything opposing a communist takeover.

Anarchism became an official part of Antifa ideology, represented by inclusion of the black flag into the "Antifaschistische Aktion" logo, frequent use of black-red flags, and the Soviet red star half black. There's an unresolved contradiction between absence of rule and ruling the streets with violence. Nearest suggestion is that anarchy here only means absence of law enforcement, enabling them for unrestricted violence.

Since then, the black-red icons have become symbols of violent street thuggery and vandalism, often fueled more by criminal lust, rather than actual goals to achieve by violence.

Around 1990: Collapse of Eastern Bloc, German Reunification, Hate Crime wave

The collapse of Eastern communism, and a German reunification becoming possible, was the sole, major defeat for the western communists, although many were no longer tied to Eastern governments. A huge part of the academic far-leftists became known as the "Anti-Germans", fundamentally equating all of Germany to Nazi atrocities and repeating fiercest wartime propaganda (no idea how they cope with being German themselves - probably they think they can get rid of it that way).

The early 1990s saw a temporary rise in neo-Nazi activity, and a soaring number of hate crimes, some of which were deadly. Militant communists saw this as their lifeboat and future base for violent action. Since guerilla warfare and revolution had to be considered impossible, an underground empire was the method of choice to exercise power. Most "revolutionary" and violence-advocating communist groups, including the terrorist Red Army Faction, jumped on the Antifa bandwagon, and only appeared under this label since then.

Since this time, an almost all-encompassing network of Antifa groups exists, supported by parts of media and political establishment, with violent acts being prosecuted only half-heartedly (police and judges are often attacked by media when seriously prosecuting them).

While far-left groups had little support in the 1990s, and many basically perceived themselves as enemies and oppressors of the average population, the trend towards "harsh" capitalism, with lowering wages, dismantling of social security and welfare cuts led to a "left renaissance" in the mid-2000s.

2016: Across the Pond. Trump, Alt-Right, Nazi Internet trolls

The political turnover of 2016, namely the perceived rise of the Alt-Right, increasing activity of internet trolls using Nazi imagery and racist memes, with no German sources and audience, brought a perceived, and possibly real, fascist threat to the USA. While smaller incidents with European-style black blocs and "antifascist" groups had occurred before, many leftists perceived Trump as an actual fascist takeover, requiring even violent resistance. The label "antifascist" granted existing groups support in the mainstream, often turning a blind eye towards the questionable background. In some cases (read further into article!), journalists even directly supported criminal black bloc vandalism that randomly targeted peoples' property.

US political tradition of free speech greatly differred from the authoritarian approach towards extremist ideologies in Europe. Suddenly, these traditions are at stake, and infringements become feasible for some, including enforcement by a completely extralegal militia. One rhetorical trait of European, especially German, Antifa agitation is to proclaim a permanent state of emergency, due to an impending fascist takeover, making abolishment of civil rights and an unrestricted permission for violence by them "necessary". While American Antifa has some differences, this is their least common denominator. It might be a very significant impact on political culture in the USA, as a backlash to Trump. It can bring back an extremism that had been mostly eliminated in the "red scares" long ago (not supporting some of the methods applied then).

Are they equivalent to neo-Nazis?

This is hard to judge, because both commit various violent and criminal acts while underground movements, and likely become mass murderous when taking full power. Ideologies are different, and far-leftists tend to come sugar-coated, as opposed to the obvious evil of fascists or nazis. In the (unlikely) case that a Nazi-like regime takes over in the US, perhaps a 100 million people would be immediately on the hit lists. A communist regime has less clear definitions of enemies, so anybody might become target. Maybe, as once in the USSR, just because secret police has to fulfill a kill quota and randomly grabs people from the street.

Perhaps Antifa is the lesser evil compared to actual neo-Nazis, but it's better to do everything to not get reduced to a choice between these.

What is definitely appropriate, is to equate the black blocs, perhaps not to Communist regimes or German Nazism, but to those American organizations, who sought to maintain invisible empires from the right, through underground armies in disguise. Only that these disguised in white instead of black, and burned crosses instead of cars.

  • 7
    While some of this seems correct, there are some accusations in this answer which should not be made unless they can be backed up by some credible source. And no, "Google it" is not a source. – Philipp Nov 26 '17 at 18:48
  • 3
    Which ones? If something here is really wrong, I will change the text, or I will add more references if it's right. – Erik Hart Nov 26 '17 at 18:55
  • Thank you for adding a few sources already. But what I would especially like to see sourced is the claim: "violent acts being prosecuted only half-heartedly (police and judges are often attacked by media when seriously prosecuting them)". I met some people from the left-autonomous scene who claim the exact opposite. Not that I am convinced by that (political fringe groups often have a persecution complex) but this topic is controversial enough that any statement should be sourced and not just stated as fact. – Philipp Nov 27 '17 at 13:02
  • -1. "much of it can be looked up on the internet." Is verbal/internet short hand for, "I'm right, but you can do the research yourself if you don't believe me." This is a weak method in the approach to establishing an argument, and a poor fit for the SE model. In answering the question, claims should be readily justified in the Answer itself. – Drunk Cynic Nov 27 '17 at 15:20

protected by Alexei Aug 20 '17 at 17:44

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