For the last few years, we have seen the rise of right-wing extremism in the world. We have been taught that what happened in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy during World War II must never be allowed to happen again. Yet, we see or hear about Nazis marching on the streets on a nearly daily basis (not currently during corona obviously because they’re not that stupid), we see or hear people spout political opinions and texts which can’t be described as anything other than downright fascist. Even in Sweden, which is often thought of as a largely social democratic country and the home of left-wing politics, the far-right is rising in power and stature. In 2013, an anti-racist demonstration in the Stockholm suburb Kärrtorp was attacked by a group of thirty-forty heavily armed neo-nazis, with several people walking away with wounds and multiple arrests being made. And despite these facts, very little is done to combat it. What can be done without the complications of bureaucracy getting in the way? In some cases, as with certain members of militant anti-fascist movements depicted in Patrik Ögren’s 2017 documentary The Antifascists, the answer is simple; fight fire with fire.
The film depicts demonstrations, riots and confrontations between anti-fascists and far-right fascists in three principal cities: Stockholm, Malmö and Athens. In these cities we get to follow different groups and different methods of combating anti-fascism and listen to their experiences and encounters with neo-fascists. Throughout the film we also on occasion hear voice-over spoken by poet/playwright Athena Farrokhzad, which I presume are her own texts or opinions on the matter of fascism, the dilemma of fighting fascism and “real” democracy. We also see interviews with real members of various anti-fascist groups explaining their own views on fighting fascism, the use of violence and how one responds to this kind of right-wing aggression.
One of my favorite aspects of the documentary was how it wasn’t a rallying cry for antifascism as if it was a propaganda piece. I definitely think the film and the filmmakers (and indeed most sane people) take the sides of the antifascist groups and fighters, but the film isn’t portraying it as a perfect solution to fascism. Many of the members who consider themselves antifascists express their dislike of violence and how it’s use in fighting fascism rarely solves anything. They also state that they wish to do other things they love or care about, such as write, create music etc. But their time is consumed by fighting the rise of fascism. We see mass protests in Greece over the deaths of Alexandros Grigoropoulos in 2008 and the murder of anti-fascist rapper Pavlos Fyssas at the hands of fascists (members of Golden Dawn in fact) in 2013, but these revolts sadly rarely have any effect on society. People still turn a blind eye towards racially motivated police brutality and the murderers or various other perpetrators go free on accounts of self-defense etc.
One aspect of The Antifascists that I almost wish had been explored further although I understand it’s not the main purpose of the film, is how the right often wins sympathy or elections whenever there is some sort of crisis and relies on fear over compassion. We saw this with Hitler in Germany following World War I and the Great Depression where he blamed Jews for Germany’s problems, and we see in the film how the neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn in Greece rises from obscurity to major party status during the Greek recession in the late 2000s, where immigrants were blamed. We also hear about how in similar ways (although I don’t think as extreme far right) the Swedish right-wing party the Sweden Democrats have risen to be one of the most powerful parties in Sweden when it started as a fascist party in the 1990s, which could be interpreted as revealing an underlying feeling of xenophobia amongst us Swedes against immigrants. People will rather go for simple solutions to complicated problems than getting to the actual heart of problems. As Steve Carell says in The Big Short in regards to the financial crisis of 2008: “I think people are gonna blame immigrants and poor people.” And that’s what tends to happen, hence why the right can rise to power. But I digress.
Interspersed throughout the film is yet another voice-over that describes the three so-called pillars of antifascism. The first pillar is to deconstruct the slogans of the fascists because fascists don’t actually have an ideology. The second pillar to not allow them to terrorize the streets because that’s how they gather strength, rather through arguments. The third and final pillar is that you don’t allow fascists to have presence in the institutions and organizations of civil society, nor in trade unions, cultural milieu, football matches etc. because that would legitimize them. Perhaps that is the answer. Or I the answer rather through violence as horrible as it is? That is the question the film asks of you, the viewer, to decide.