The History of Anti-Fascism

Photo courtesy Unsplash

What’s the first thing that you think of when you hear the word Antifa, or even just anti-Nazis? Captain America comes to mind for some, but for most, what comes to mind is images of city streets burning, and protestors (who are usually minorities) dressed in black holding signs protesting white supremacy. In recent years, this problem has gotten significantly worse, with members of the press being harassed and misinformation spreading faster and farther than the wildfires that have come to signify summer in some areas. Knowing all of that, it’s hard to imagine a time when Antifa was something other than a monster behind one’s curtains at night.

Anti-fascism isn’t anything new ― it’s almost as old as fascism itself, which has roots that trace back to Italy. History classes may remember Italy before the Second World War as being a place where Benito Mussolini gathered power and gave birth to what is known today as fascism. But even then, groups sprung up to oppose Mussolini and his ideology. In 1921, the Arditi del Popolo, or the People’s Daring Ones in Italian, worked against facism as Mussolini spread fascism throughout Italy with his racist policies and violent supporters. An article published last year by the Smithsonian Magazine reported that in operation, the group “built bridges where traditional political groups saw walls.” That means that even when fascism was first gaining traction, ordinary people with different backgrounds banded together to stop it. 

This trend continued even as the Nazis held Germany and vast swathes of Europe in their iron grip. As the Second World War raged on, what started out as a group of friends reading and discussing banned books turned into a resistance of university students that spanned across several cities, including Munich, Hamburg, Freiburg and Berlin. This group was later named the White Rose. Members of the White Rose mainly dropped leaflets that criticized the Nazi regime and advocated for an end to the war that so many Germans were, at the time, apathetic to. The leaflets advocated for non-violent resistance against the Nazis and drew heavily on Christian teachings and classical German literature. Members of the group were only caught when in February of 1943, a janitor at the University of Munich saw them scattering leaflets in one of the university’s buildings, and immediately turned them in to the Gestapo, who were the Nazi’s secret police at the time. Following that, students Hans Scholl, Sophie Scholl and Christoph Probst were arrested, tried and beheaded for treason against the Nazis. However, their messages lived on and the White Rose continued to operate and saw increased attention due to the violent reprisals by the Nazi regime, with Allied forces dropping millions of copies of their leaflets over German cities. After the war, the White Rose were remembered by many as the students who dared to speak out against the atrocities committed by the Nazis.

Earlier, the misinformation about anti-fascism, or Antifa as we know it, was brought up. Misinformation is currently running rampant, especially when politics and the pandemic are concerned. However, misinformation can rear its ugly head in different ways, and the most subtle of those tactics involves forgetting key parts of history. George Santayana said that “those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” and that warning will always be relevant, but it is important to remember the past now, more than ever.