The anti-fascist movement draws on punk’s political awareness and network for activism – and right now may be its most crucial moment
by Jamie Thomson
Saturday 9 September 2017
“No Trump! No KKK! No Fascist USA!”
When Green Day chanted the repurposed lyrics from Texan punk trailblazers MDC’s 1981 song Born to Die during the 2016 American Music Awards, it gave the burgeoning anti-Trump, anti-fascist movement the slogan it needed – and it would soon appear on placards, T-shirts and be chanted by protesters in their thousands in months to come.
It was a tiny piece of punk history writ large on American cultural life – but it only gave the merest hint of US hardcore punk’s influence on the current political landscape.
As political commentators struggle to nail down the exact nature of Antifa’s masked legions, they’ve overlooked one thing: Antifa has been critically influenced by hardcore punk for nearly four decades.
From the collectivist principles of anarchist punk bands such as Crass and Conflict, the political outrage of groups such as the Dead Kennedys, MDC and Discharge, Antifa draws on decades of protest, self-protection and informal networks under the auspices of a musical movement.
Mark Bray, author of The Antifa Handbook, says that “in many cases, the North American modern Antifa movement grew up as a way to defend the punk scene from the neo-Nazi skinhead movement, and the founders of the original Anti-Racist Action network in North America were anti-racist skinheads. The fascist/anti-fascist struggle was essentially a fight for control of the punk scene [during the 1980s], and that was true across of much of north America and in parts of Europe in this era.”
“There’s a huge overlap between radical left politics and the punk scene, and there’s a stereotype about dirty anarchists and punks, which is an oversimplification but grounded in a certain amount of truth.”
Drawing influence from anti-fascist groups in 1930s Germany, the UK-based Anti-Fascist Action formed in the late 70s in reaction the growing popularity of rightwing political parties such as the National Front and the British Movement. They would shut down extreme-right meetings at every opportunity, whether it be a march or a gathering in a room above a pub. Inspired by this, anti-racist skinheads in Minneapolis formed Anti-Racist Action, which soon gained traction in punk scenes across the US. Meanwhile, in New York, a movement called Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice sprung up.
The term “Antifa” was adopted by German antifascists in the 80s, accompanied by the twin-flag logo, which then spread around Europe, and finally pitched up in the US after being adopted by an anarchist collective in Portland, Oregon.