A Brief History of Anti-FascismRoundup
tags: fascism, Spanish Civil War, Sports History, antiracism, Leftism
James Stout is a historian of anti-fascism in sport and a freelance journalist. His research is partially funded by the IOC Olympic Studies Centre and the PhD Students and Early Academics Research Grant Programme.
Eluard Luchell McDaniels traveled across the Atlantic in 1937 to fight fascists in the Spanish Civil War, where he became known as “El Fantastico” for his prowess with a grenade. As a platoon sergeant with the Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion of the International Brigades, the 25-year-old African American from Mississippi commanded white troops and led them into battle against the forces of General Franco, men who saw him as less than human. It might seem strange for a Black man to go to such lengths for the chance to fight in a white man’s war so far from home—wasn’t there enough racism to fight in the United States?—but McDaniels was convinced that anti-fascism and anti-racism were one and the same. “I saw the invaders of Spain [were] the same people I’ve been fighting all my life," Historian Peter Carroll quotes McDaniels as saying. "I’ve seen lynching and starvation, and I know my people’s enemies.”
McDaniels was not alone in seeing anti-fascism and anti-racism as intrinsically connected; the anti-fascists of today are heirs to almost a century of struggle against racism. While the methods of Antifa have become the object of much heated political discourse, the group’s ideologies, particularly its insistance on physical direct action to prevent violent opression, are much better understood when seen in the framework of a struggle against violent discrimination and persecution began almost a century ago.
Historian Robert Paxton’s Anatomy of Fascism—one of the definitive works on the subject—lays out the motivating passions of fasicsm, which include “the right of the chosen group to dominate others without restraint from any kind of human or divine law”. At its heart, fascism is about premising the needs of one group, often defined by race and ethnicity over the rest of humanity; anti-fascists have always opposed this.
Anti-fascism began where fascism began, in Italy. Arditi del Popolo—"The People’s Daring Ones”—was founded in 1921, named after the Italian army’s shock troops from World War I who famously swam across the Piave River with daggers in their teeth. They committed to fight the increasingly violent faction of blackshirts, the forces encouraged by Benito Mussolini, who was soon to become Italy’s fascist dictator. The Arditi del Popolo brought together unionists, anarchists, socialists, communists, republicans and former army officers. From the outset, anti-fascists began to build bridges where traditional political groups saw walls.
Those bridges would quickly extend to the races persecuted by fascists.