Combatting fascism and racism, working for a Wrocław where diversity is seen as positive requires different activities carried out by people who may mistrust each other, but who must work together if their really want their aims to succeed.
A bit of a personal biography: I am someone who got into ethical consumption in the 1990s, promoting Fair Trade products, boycotts of banks who finance arms production, that kind of thing. For me therefore Wroclaw is a good place as a number of ethic-trading places have mushroomed over the past few years: Cafe Pestka, Najadacze, Falanster, Machine Organika, Złe mięso, Hostel Bemma, Eko Organica, plus Nalanda was already here. These are places where people can get good food in a nice atmosphere, are children (and sometimes animal) friendly.
So we have the people who go there, let’s stereotype and generalise a bit and call them the “Ethical consumer“. They believe that the world can become better through their shopping choices. They like to have a nice, comfortable time.
I am also a trainer, and have been so since 2005. I do workshops and lead seminars and youth exchanges and I have high ideals about this, but realise that the main benefit that my work seems to bring is simply human contact. People get to know other people who are different, be that their personality, religion, nationality and the main thing they learn is quite banal: I like someone who is from another country/religion/and so on. In Wrocław I know many people who are involved in these kind (or slightly different) of initiatives, such as Żywa Bibliotheka, UNESCO initiatives centre, the Foundation for European Studies and the House of Peace.
Let’s call them the “Trainers“. They believe that human contact and reflective thinking is the way to achieve the world they want. They like to meet people, get other people to meet other people, having a nice time while doing so and producing some media-friendly photos and videos to try to make things like diversity appear normal and cool.
So far, I belong to both groups.
Now, I used to be someone suspicious of what are often called left-wing radicals/anarchists. I believed that their work was actually self-serving and hindering peace through their violent tactics. Through being friends with people in Germany who are active against Nazis (modern-day ones, I mean) and having attended anti-fascist demos in Dresden I have seen that my previous views were false, that they are hard-working people who care deeply about things like prejudice, and people who the mainstream are prejudiced against, like I used to be.
Let’s call them the “Militant” (I shall unpack that term a bit later). The Ethical consumer and the Trainer (often the same people) are often suspicious of the Militant. They believe that non-confrontational methods are needed, that confrontation causes a reaction, that it involves danger, and feel much more at home doing nice events. Last year, only a small minority of Ethical Consumers and Trainers attended the anti-fascist demon on 11/11. I have read this evening “I am proud that in Wrocław that there are people and organisations who organise such events” the event being the march of tolerance from the synagogue to the site of the destroyed synagogue. I share that, while at the same time, it’s pathetic that in Wrocław, the so-called multicultural city where tolerance reigns, that so so so few people stood up for tolerance against intolerance.
An apologia for militant anti-fascism
By militant I mean those who are prepared to be assertive in situations that need it. It may involve showing fascists that their version of Poland is not the one we want (this happened last year where the chant was “One Poland, much diversity”), which involves active confrontation. It’s about taking relationships between people in society seriously, taking democracy seriously as not just something that government does, but what we do. We vote with our feet and with mouths, showing people clearly what we think.
This may also involve intervening when we see discriminatory events, such as when someone says something racist on a tram to someone, or when we see a colleague being sexually harassed; or at a more dangerous level, taking responsibility when you see someone attacked, ringing the police, making it obvious that you are there, showing solidarity and addressing the aggressor. Simply put, militant anti-fascism is the showing of civic courage.
One thing I have not mentioned so far is violence. Violent is essential to fascism. Violence by fascists came to the synagogue, a LGBT march, the CRK centre and a vegetarian restaurant in Wrocław this year. It’s what they do. Therefore, even if you are not someone who attends demos it is prudent to consider risks of violent attacks; not letting fear lead us into inaction, but letting us prepare. Preparation means numbers of people and having people who are prepared to react if a violent attack occurs. Self-defense skills and techniques for individuals and groups is needed for anyone working for the promotion of diversity in Poland.
I am not saying that violence should be an aim in itself, rather a means of self-defense.
Now, I believe that the Trainers’ strength is in strengthening the issue of diversity, thus making it less likely that people will move to fascism. However, and remember, I say this as a trainer, it is naive to expect that fascism will be dealt with purely through cool workshops (I don’t know if anyone believes that, but it’s an important point). Governmental inaction shows that we have to deal with fascism. Of course, the police have a role where violence is happening, but the fact is that the Ethical Consumer and the Trainer needs the MIlitant (and vice versa) in order to combat fascism.
Unlike, say, sitting drinking coffee in Cafe Rozrusznik or playing a game with young people, militant anti-fascism is not always nice. It means being shouted at, and maybe things will be thrown in our direction. There is a danger involved. An allegory I have is that of giving birth to a child. It involves pain, but the pain turns into something beautiful. Writing applications may be a pain in the arse, but doing things like destroying posters for fascist marches and, yes, confronting fascists with our views is not easy, and may involve pain, but is needed if we are serious about strengthening diversity.
Militant anti-fascism aims at demoralising fascists. The experience is such that we want to make it hard for fascists to do their work, to meet, to spread their hatred. It may even involve tactics that the Trainer or Ethical consumer may not like, such as blockades. The thing with blockades (bear in mind that the “Colourful Independent” blockade in Warsaw last year was, legally speaking, legal) is that it aims at demoralising fascists. It’s symbolic, letting them know that we stand in their way on all accounts. Regarding legality, well, I would say that not everything that is legal is good, and not everything that is good is legal. Poland has a history of illegal actions against human-unfriendly people. One may say that “we are in a democracy now”, but bearing in mind that fascists want to destroy that democracy, and that the state cannot be trusted, blockades are a needed tactic. This isn’t about “denying free speech” for lo, they are already on the streets and shouting.
Militants want to make it clear that being racist is not cool. I do not believe that we in the situation of ending racism, but one can at least make it a socially unacceptable thing. You say something racist, I’ll react. You march in the name of racism, we will react.
A lot more can be said about that or about Militant suspicions of NGOs or Ethical Consumers. I just wish to deal with the question of why many of the Trainers or Ethical Consumers don’t attend anti-fascist demos:
(2) Prejudice against MIlitants
(3) No-one is doing it
(4) See no sense in doing it
Briefly, it is understandable that people are afraid. To add to that, when many people are afraid many people will be afraid. If one thousand people were to put their fear aside and attend an anti-fascist demo, they would have less fear, and this would mean that those who didn’t attend would have less fear to attend future demos (see point 3). Regarding prejudice, well, quantitively and qualitatively there is no comparison between fascists and anti-fascists and bear in mind that the media often portrays false views of anti-fascist demos (see last year in Warsaw). The sense of a demo is of a body of people collectively making their views clear to other people.
Just one more point: If we are to be serious about strengthening democratic values, we have to take democracy seriously. This means non-hierarchial decision-making in our daily lives, at our work places, in churches, in NGOs, in our families. To put this positively this means respecting all people, not just older people, or people in positions of power. This means our own psychological set-up, how we see our relations to others. It also means being open with ourselves about our prejudices, against, say, Militant anti-fasicsts, against those who are different from us. No-one is perfect, including myself.
Anyway, I hope to see you at the event in Falanster tomorrow and Sunday about discrimination. Stay safe!