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Ottawa anti-fascists say intolerance will not be tolerated

By Ash Abraham

A group of concerned citizens gathered in Chinatown on Oct. 19 for an event called “What is Antifacism?” Organized by local anarchist group the Punch Up Collective, the event featured a talk by Mark Bray (author of Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook), and by a former member of the Toronto Anti-Racist Action (ARA). This was followed by a discussion period.

Bray spoke on the differences between a liberal and an illiberal prescription for tackling fascism. He explained that liberal ideology asserts faith in reason, the police and government.

“This misses the equation of power,”  Bray said, pointing out that Hitler and Mussolini were elected officials. Instead, antifascism (an illiberal ideology in Bray’s formulation) has an innate distrust of institutions and tends to organize from below.

The ARA activist, who preferred not to be named, talked about the history of anti-racism in Ontario. The activist explained how the Toronto ARA chapter formed in the ’90s to challenge the Heritage Front, a neo-Nazi organization that disbanded around 2005. All ARA chapters agree on four “Points of Unity,” one of which is, “we go where they go.”

This means “fighting fascist groups and loudly confronting them in public and disrupting their organizing,” explained Steve from Ottawa Against Fascism, who preferred to go only by first name. “It means not tacitly accepting different opinions when they come from a place of hate and prejudice, but standing up and educating yourself, your friends and your family. It’s about them knowing that intolerance won’t be tolerated.”

Alexis Shotwell, a member of the Punch Up Collective, told the Leveller that “we aren’t assuming that fascism is a sort of viable position to hold.” This suggests there are limits to debate. “There are real ways to ask what kind of society we want to live in, so there is a lot of room for debate around that question,” Shotwell clarified. “But if the question is, ‘do we believe that only white people should flourish, and be able to live in Canada,’ then no, we don’t think that is a debateable question.”

During the discussion period, concerns about the role violence plays came to the surface. Violence “is contextual,” Bray told the group. “Most of the anti-fascist repertoire is non-violent, but the historical lineages of white power and Nazi politics show that self-defence needs to be on the map.”

Steve told the Leveller that true antifascist action gets at the roots of fascism. “Historically, wherever fascists appear…violence follows. So in the long run for the movement to stay non-violent, we have to change the structures that create fascism. That means building working class unity and stronger communities so that fascist views have no way of taking hold. It also means not just showing solidarity, but actively supporting other movements and causes that help our community.”

This article first appeared in the Leveller Vol. 10, No. 2 (Oct/Nov 2017).

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