Members of Unity & Struggle and other comrades collaborated on this piece, which challenges us to reflect on the strategy and tactics of revolutionary anti-fascism. Originally featured on Lifelong Wobbly.
Written by three members of the Atlanta General Defense Committee
“Outside Agitators” – but who’s agitating?
The scene in Auburn, AL when we showed up was one of the most bizarre we’ve ever seen in a political context. Neo-nazi spokesperson Richard Spencer had just been allowed to begin his speech in Foy Hall, after a local judge negated Auburn University’s decision to cancel his event. The live stream showed a packed audience, though some were opponents. Outside, there was a large crowd of students and onlookers. Standing in the crowd, looking to our left and right, it was often impossible to tell if our neighbors were spectators, trolls, anti-Spencer Auburn students, college republicans, or fascists. We were able to identify some people in the crowd as fascists due to their MAGA hats or giant American flags, but they did a much better job of blending into the crowd than many of the anti-fascists did. Many of the anti-fascists were dressed in black and were armed in helmets and other aspects of the “uniform” that made them stand out from anyone from Auburn. The most visible fascists themselves were already in the auditorium, which meant that for the next several hours, the only visible “outsiders” for the crowd were the anti-fascists. For people in the crowd, anti-fascism looked like a specialized thing, while the fascists themselves were abstract and out-of-sight.
Before we talk more about what happened, let’s talk about Alabama and Auburn. It seems unlikely that many anti-fascists were familiar with Auburn before Spencer’s speech was announced or had ever spent time in Alabama.. We don’t mean to score cheap points here. Obviously, most of us have not been to most parts of the US, and may not have heard of every city. However, we think that the US left simultaneously ignores and scorns the South in general and the “deep south” in particular. Furthermore, Auburn – home to one of Alabama’s two main universities – has its own particular culture and significance within Alabama. Think of the biggest deal you can imagine people making of college football – double that, and add a little more for good measure. That’s how important football is for Alabama, and Auburn is their number two school. To say the town’s culture revolves around football, and the state’s culture revolves around the football of the University of Alabama and Auburn University, would be an understatement. Alabama head coach Nick Saban has been called “the most powerful man in Alabama,” and that’s probably not an exaggeration. Indeed, it seems that one of the biggest missteps Spencer took in Auburn was to speak against black football players and berate people for supporting them – attacking Auburn football may have galvanized the school and the town against him in a serious way.
There is a dominant stereotype that white people in the Deep South are ignorant conservatives. This stereotype comes from liberal institutions (think of the character Kenneth on 30 Rock), and it carries over into the left if it is not consciously challenged (which it usually isn’t). Of course this contributes to a hostile or skeptical attitude from Alabamians when there is any engagement. There hasn’t been any meaningful Left presence in Alabama since the 70s, and very few attempts by contemporary left groups to engage seriously with Alabama. When the US left spends decades ignoring the deep South, we are telling ourselves and the rest of the world that we don’t believe there’s any meaningful organizing to be done there. The right wing doesn’t make the same mistake. In Alabama, groups like “The League of the South” have open meeting halls, billboards by the highway, and have announced the formation of a “Southern Defence Force”.
This is important because it heavily influences how we approach a situation like this. For those of us who believe in a mass-based, working-class-oriented anti-fascism, it comes down to some central questions. Can we imagine a mass anti-fascist movement in Alabama? Can we actually imagine that large numbers of Alabamians would agree with our program and strategy for fighting fascism? Or do we basically think that mass anti-fascism might theoretically work elsewhere, but not in a place like Alabama? Continue reading Tigertown Beats Nazis Down: Reflections on Auburn and Mass Anti-fascism