Taking moral high ground vs. smashing fascism

I very much regret having taken part in the kamikaze action at Utrecht Overvecht last Monday night. And I’m very frustrated by the way the leading organisation, the Internationale Socialisten, is hauling it in as a success and how they are portraying themselves/us as heroes and victims in their report. In stead of putting a positive spin on it, I think we need to be honest and admit we made huge mistakes by doing this action. The only positive thing I can get out of it, is that it’s a learning experience. If we want to stop fascism, this is what not to do.

The background in a nutshell: nazis and hooligans had silently organised a demonstration against municipality plans to use an empty building in the neighbourhood Overvecht as temporary refugee housing. The municipality was hosting an information event for residents of the area; the protest was outside on a square. We went there with 11 people to have a Refugee Welcome demonstration.

About what happened I can be brief: we nearly got lynched by the nazi/hooligan crowd. We had to rely on the police for our protection. We gave the nazis a very easy victory and morality boost, since they were able to chase us away within 15 minutes. That’s not heroic and it’s not a success.

The more I think about it, the less I can believe I actually participated in it. Clearly I hadn’t thought it through enough on beforehand. Most of the things that happened, were things we could have anticipated before. And although I was convinced of these things before, this experience retaught me some lessons:

1) do not aim at positive media coverage. That’s politically a very weak aim. Even if the bourgeois media are all of a sudden changing policy and they do portray you in a sympathetic way (which they won’t), nobody is gaining anything by it. You didn’t organize masses, you didn’t disturb a fascist event, you haven’t reclaimed the streets from the fascists: in no way you have done anything to help stop fascism.

2) do not ever put yourself in a situation where you have to rely on the cops for your protection. If you see this coming, stay home. It’s politically wrong and strategically just naive and dangerous. Cops are our enemy and oppressor. They are the ones who beat us up and arrest us all the time. They have other interests than “keeping us safe”.

3) be flexible and anticipate the situation. If something unexpected occurs, cancelling your action should always be one of your options.

4) ask yourself: what are we doing this for? Is this a goal worth reaching? How are we going to reach that goal? Do we have the capacity to do that? What greater political goals is this action serving/How does this action fit into the bigger picture of our political organizing? If you don’t ask these questions, it’s very easy to fall in the trap of political narcism and/or carelessness. (Combined with a crowd of 200 riled up nazis and hooligans, it leads to a very dangerous situation.)

5) if you’re leading the action: stay the fuck connected to the group and be sensitive to differing views and feelings.

The IS is subtly trying to portray us as heroes who dared to stand up to 200 nazis and hooligans and give the defenceless “astonished” residents of the neighbourhood the voice they had been waiting for for so long. In their report they speak of the residents who had “hopeful faces” when they saw us, which I really did not see happening (and what’s up with the white saviour complex?). One person even approached me, saying they were a refugee themself and said: “Are there this few of you”? (“Zijn jullie met zo weinig?”) But the IS also frames us as the victims of unrully fascist thugs who, surprise, surprise, turned out to be… UNREASONABLE. We knew that in advance so we did not have to put ourselves in the situation of being nearly-lynched to prove that to ourselves.

We are not heroes voicing the moral superior ideas of the left or representing refugees and Muslims who have no agency. It was straight out improvident of us to do it. It was careless and dangerous. I’m glad we all got away with it without serious injuries. It could have turned out very different.

This night taught me again that antifascism is not a game. It’s not a question of who has the moral higher ground. It is a very serious, physical and long-term fight against a movement that at the moment is growing bigger and stronger. Putting yourself at life risk so you can blog about it afterwards to tell a handful of readers that fascism is actually a danger (which your readers already knew) – that’s not going to stop fascism.

We need to be in greater numbers than the fascists in order to kick them off our streets. Until about five years ago, antifascists have succeeded in keeping nazi and fascist groups small by mobilizing the people against them, blocking their demonstrations and beating them off the streets. But times are changing: the classical antifa strategies don’t work nearly as well as they used to and fascists are gaining ground in a lot of ways. We need to change our ways of antifascist organizing if we want to succeed in destroying fascism. We need to organize among the people who are the primary target of fascists and we need to realize this is a long-term thing. And some of us need to start getting real about what the goal is: is it taking a moral high ground or crushing fascism?

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