Revisionist history is setting in regarding Leftist violence.
It’s setting in because too many on the Left regard groups like Antifa as useful counters to the alt-right and Neo-Nazis, even though Antifa has targeted mainstream conservatives and engages in violence that breaks the rules of any civilized society.
On Tuesday, Professor NDB Connolly of Johns Hopkins University discounted the value of liberalism, which he derided as “paper,” in The Washington Post:
Liberalism — our paper — preserves our country’s long commitment to contracts. Under liberalism, citizens stand in contract with their government. The government’s job, in turn, has been to enforce contracts between individuals and groups.
But, Connolly continued, white supremacy represents our country’s “scissors”: there have been people historically cut out of our social contract. But there is a “rock”: resistance. Here’s Connolly:
Rocks can look like armed self-defense or nonviolent direct-action campaigns. They appear, too, as blunt, bald public speech about the hatred arrayed against the dispossessed … No matter its form, rock breaks scissors … in April 1968, amid a flurry of other “rocks,” riots shook American cities following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. It took that rolling unrest, not the promise of further economic growth, to spur President Lyndon Johnson and Congress to action. Within a week they had passed the Fair Housing Act. Over the past century, liberalism, vexed by an ever-sharp, ever-cutting white supremacy, has needed these rocks.
Segregationists have again assumed their pedestals in the Justice Department, the White House and many other American temples. Paper alone won’t drive them out. Start throwing rocks.
This is an explicit call for violence. It’s also a historically ignorant one. Riots in American cities helped empty out those cities, creating white flight, the erosion of the tax base, and the resegregation of cities that were integrating quickly (Detroit and Los Angeles being the two most obvious). Equating non-violent resistance with riots is both counterproductive and immoral. Martin Luther King, Jr., was not a member of the Black Panther Party, and MLK’s message was far more successful than Huey Newton’s.
But Connolly isn’t alone in his foolish historical rewriting.
On Wednesday, Mark Bray, a historian and lecturer at Dartmouth University, defended Antifa in The Washington Post by stating that their participation in violence was historically justified:
[T]heir willingness to physically defend themselves and others from white supremacist violence and preemptively shut down fascist organizing efforts before they turn deadly distinguishes them from liberal anti-racists. Antifascists argue that after the horrors of chattel slavery and the Holocaust, physical violence against white supremacists is both ethically justifiable and strategically effective. We should not, they argue, abstractly assess the ethical status of violence in the absence of the values and context behind it. Instead, they put forth an ethically consistent, historically informed argument for fighting Nazis before it’s too late.
Bray points to antifascists fighting Mussolini, and cheers the fact that they “exchanged fire with Adolf Hitler’s Brownshirts in the taverns and alleyways of Munich and defended Madrid from Francisco Franco’s insurgent nationalist army.”
Bray neglects to mention that it’s precisely the Communist engagement in violence that helped to get the Nazis elected in the first place. Fear of the Communist Party’s bands of roving thugs helped drive support for Hitler’s supposed law-and-order restoration. The Nazis successfully played on fears of the Communists to great success. This is from Richard Evans’ book, The Coming of the Third Reich:
A graphic account of the life of the committed Communist activist during the Weimar Republic was later provided by the memoirs of Richard Krebs …Krebs later described how committed Communists would attend street demonstrations with pieces of lead piping in their belts and stones in their pockets, ready to pelt the police with …
Paramilitary battles were common; from 1924-1929, the Nazis claimed that 29 of their activists had been killed by Communists, and Communists said that 92 of their members had been killed by Nazis. Evans continues:
In 1930, the figures rose dramatically, with the Nazis claiming to have suffered 17 deaths, rising to 42 in 1931 and 84 in 1932. In 1932, the Nazis reported that nearly ten thousand of their rank-and-file had been wounded in clashes with their opponents. The Communists reported 44 deaths in fights with the Nazis in 1930, 52 in 1931, and 75 in the first six months of 1932 alone … Official sources broadly corroborated these claims, with one estimate in the Reichstag, not disputed by anybody, putting the number of dead in the year to March 1931 at no fewer than 300.
Communists did what Bray and Connolly would want: they attempted to break up Nazi meetings. That served the Nazi purposes perfect. Krebs was told to break up Nazi speeches by Hermann Goering, and he “made sure that each man was armed with a blackjack or brass knuckles … A terrifying melee followed. Blackjacks, brassknuckles, clubs, heavy buckled belts, glasses and bottles were the weapons used … Hermann Goring stood calmly on the stage, his fists on his hips.” All of this gave the Nazis an image of solidity and self-defense they never could have achieved otherwise. Josef Goebbels campaigned openly against the red menace:
When Chancellor Franz Von Papen attempted to ban the Nazi Party’s brownshirts, they successfully claimed that without them, order couldn’t be restored to stop the Communist bands. Knowing that he didn’t have the police power to shut down the brownshirts anyway, Papen relieved the rules on the brownshirts.
In November 1932, the election before Hitler took over the country, the Communists won 100 additional seats, and took 13.2% of the vote to Hitler’s 30.1 in the presidential election. People believed that the choice was between the Communists and the Nazis. The result: Hitler.
So no, violent bands roaming the streets to fight white supremacism isn’t worthwhile. It’s actually harmful. And to rewrite history to demand that we accept violence in a civilized society fully capable of defeating white supremacism through mechanisms of law is horrifying.