On this week’s episode of Talking Radical Radio, Scott Neigh speaks with Walter Tull, a long-time militant anti-fascist who is currently based in Toronto. Tull speaks about the wave of anti-fascist activity that peaked in the 1980s and 1990s, about his current involvement in Antifa International and the International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund, and about the need in our current moment for reinvigorated militant anti-fascism on the streets.
Even just two years ago, it would’ve been hard to imagine that, in 2017, discussion of mainstream domestic politics in North America would have to include significant attention to fascism, white nationalism, and other variants of the far right. Yet you-know-who won the presidential election in the United States, and he, the inner circle he has brought with him to the White House, and a number of his most notorious supporters — who have in turn been boosted by his win to unprecedented mainstream visilibity — make such discussion tragically inescapable.
Of course even when liberal democracy has been at its most robust and most liberal, there has never been an absence of massive systemic violence of various sorts directed against all manner of people designated in one way another as Other — from deportations to drone attacks, from austerity to racist police violence, from colonial land theft to growing wealth inequality, from rampant misogyny to a neverending parade of violent Western interventions in countries of the Global South. Still, the presence at the pinnacle of the most powerful state in the world of the kinds of figures that dominate this administration is taking us into new and uncharted territory. Events are moving very fast, and predicting consequences even in the near term remains difficult and fraught.
One thing, however, is certain: This new moment is sure to embolden street-level fascist and extreme racist organizations. Indeed, we have already begun to see it, both south of the border and here in Canada. And history proves that when such organizations are numerous and bold, and when they are able to occupy public space at will, they directly threaten the safety of people of colour, immigrants, refugees, LGBTQ people, disabled people, and more.
Such violence has never gone unopposed, however. While liberal anti-fascists often attempt to appeal to reason and to the authorities, there is also a long tradition — in Canada as elsewhere — of militant street-level anti-fascism that relies not on police but on mobilizing people willing to engage in confrontational action to deny fascists and extreme racists access to public space. The last wave of militant anti-fascism began in the 1980s, when groups like Skinheads Against Racial Prejudice (or SHARP) and the Anti-Racist Action Network (or ARA) mobilized in militant, street-level ways in cities across the continent. Toronto and Montreal had two of the most well developed ARA chapters, and they existed in many other Canadian cities as well. In the early 2000s, after the wave of street-level fascist activity to which this anti-fascism was responding was beaten back, ARA faded away. But many of the militants who were active back then are still around, and both they and a major influx of younger radicals are not hesitating today. According to today’s guest, they are actively getting organized, and they have no intention of ceding even an inch of public space to fascists.
Walter Tull has been active in anti-fascist organizing for close to two and a half decades. Starting in the 1990s, he was involved in both SHARP and ARA in a number of cities. Currently, he lives in Toronto, and in recent years has been part of Antifa International, which is an online initiative that uses Tumblr and Facebook to circulate and translate news of anti-fascist organzing from around the world, and part of the International Anti-Fascist Defence Fund, a multi-national effort that raises money to defend and support anti-fascists who need material assistance.
Tull talks with me about the earlier era of anti-fascist organizing in Canada, about the organizations in which he is currently involved, about the basics of militant anti-fascist politics, and about the kinds of responses we need in the face of the resurgent far right in our current, very dangerous, moment.
Talking Radical Radio brings you grassroots voices from across Canada. We give you the chance to hear many different people that are facing many different struggles talk about what they do, why they do it, and how they do it, in the belief that such listening is a crucial step in strengthening all of our efforts to change the world. To learn more about the show check out its website here. You can also follow us on FaceBook or Twitter, or contact firstname.lastname@example.org to join our weekly email update list.
Talking Radical Radio is brought to you by Scott Neigh, a writer, media producer, and activist based in Hamilton (formerly Sudbury), Ontario, and the author of two books examining Canadian history through the stories of activists.