by Jeff Monson
Growing up in rural Minnesota and later in the suburbs of Seattle, my only experience with fascists and skinheads was watching the movie American History X or reading the history of the Nazis and the atrocities committed during the Second World War. For the most part I was unaware fascism really even existed anymore, and if it did exist, it was certainly not threatening or relevant. This view has certainly changed the past few years, although the complexities surrounding fascists and even more so the anti-fascist groups that oppose them has created as many questions as definitive answers.
My career as a mixed martial arts fighter has afforded me the opportunity to travel overseas with most of the recent bouts taking place in Europe and Russia. Being known as an anarchist certainly has not helped gain sponsors or get invited to participate in some fighting events, but it opened up opportunities to meet anarchists, communists, anti-fascists, and other groups identifying with the struggle against the destructive forces of capitalism, racism, sexism, and other isms that plague society.
I am often contacted to participate in meetings, do a talk, teach a seminar, and even engage in direct action activities. I have been able to be involved with different groups in Germany, Austria, England, Ireland, Greece, Spain, Ukraine, and Russia. To be sure this has been a wonderful experience, and I have learned a great deal about activism outside the US. In my experience there is a common theme within these groups in Europe and Russia not seen in America, and that is a preoccupation in combating fascists.
Of course fascism is bad and we should do everything in our power to stop it, but here is where it gets a bit confusing to me. In all my many visits to Europe and Russia (or anywhere else for that matter) I have never encountered a fascist to my knowledge. Now I have done jiu-jitsu (grappling) seminars in Russia where the anti-fascists have emailed me after, saying there were fascists participating in the seminar and I took pictures with them now on fascist social sites–but no one has ever identified themselves as a fascist to me. I have never witnessed any planned attacks or violence that is said to occur from the fascist groups. I am not doubting that fascism exists, or that there is violence that happens, but what is the consequence of focusing on them as the main problem? I noticed over the course of time requests for open discussion and meetings were being replaced with requests for purely self-defense seminars, “to be ready for the fascists when we see them around the city.”
I’ve touched on the fact that despite frequent visits to Europe and Russia, I haven’t actually encountered any fascists, skinheads, or the like myself. This, to be honest, has made it difficult for me not to marginalize the anti-fascists. I have tried to find justification in the energy spent on the anti-fascist movement but isn’t it capitalism that is the real enemy? I’m sure government and the financial institutions are more than happy to have anarchists and anti-fascists clashing in the streets with skinheads, keeping the attention elsewhere while they continue exploiting and stealing money and labor from us all.
I have had the privilege of talking to some people who have offered another way of thinking about this anti-fascist movement. We get taken advantage of by employers who steal our time and labor, banks who make us servants by putting us in a forever spiral of debt, and the money we do earn goes to companies who profit off what we need to live. So who exactly do we fight? If I walk into a bank and confront a bank teller about my house in foreclosure, I will be told (if not escorted out) that he/she just works there, and doesn’t have anything to do with bank policies.
Another example is Occupy Wall Street. People from many different backgrounds, occupations, etc. and came together because of a single reason—grievance over the policies of big business, banks, and the government which makes it all possible. Although I would argue that Occupy Wall Street made a significant contribution for the working class, even if it isn’t currently visible, financial institutions and governmental policy really weren’t affected at all. Actually hurting these institutions takes time, coordination, and involves many people. So going back to our anti-fascist friends in Europe and Russia, who are of course under the yoke of capitalism and being exploited by the these large seemingly untouchable institutions—here exists a real opportunity to fight (often literally) a force such as the fascist groups who support the tyrannical powers that are our oppressors. The irony of course being that the fascists are being exploited in the same manner. It may be difficult to “get the man” as you’re being crushed by the capitalists surrounding you, but much easier to confront the skinheads making rounds at the bus depot.
In many instances it seems the goal of changing society or even local social change instead became literally preparing for battle with the fascists. Lost in this fascination with the fascists is the real enemy. The state, banks, and corporations’ coalition continues to exert control over us and squeeze every penny from our pockets through global capitalism. Just a few years removed from the economic meltdown, banks’ profits at are an all-time high, while workers continue to be displaced, work longer hours and people are still losing their homes. But aren’t these fascists part of the working class as well? Are they not suffering the same economic hardships and exploitation? I am not advocating for sympathy for a twisted racist ideology, but I am asking if efforts would be better served fighting the common enemy–the orchestrators of economic oppression (capitalists). I can’t help but think these elites watch us fight each other in the streets and feel a sense of comfort that we are venting out frustration on ourselves and do not turn on them.