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Fighting Nazis is the right thing to do. At least, that was the perceived and often-broadcast consensus across the Western World following the Second World War.
Or was it?
In this informative and fascinating graphic novel history of fascism and those who fought it, Kwakwaka’wakw writer, artist and activist author Gord Hill (The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, The Anti-Capitalist Resistance Book) outlines how many times through history what seemed like the obvious turned out to be exactly the opposite. By using the medium of comic books, largely established to support American anti-nazi propaganda efforts, Hill does a fine job of linking past resistance movements against both white supremacy and fascism/neo-fascism together into a non-ending cycle which continually repeats itself. Drawing the line right up to such events as the carnage at the Unite the Right rally held in Charlottesville, Va., on August 11, 2017.
Not only does this demonstrate how enduring this struggle is, but it subverts the notion that is being put forth so much in the present day that what the world needs is “superman” leadership to keep the uppity sorts in order. These types of dictatorial leaders reappear repeatedly through history, usually with militias of supporters reinforcing their beliefs on the rest of the society, save those who oppose them forcefully.
The book begins with a two pretty obvious chapters.
What Is fascism? outlines the roots of this post-World War I political philosophy in Europe and its roots in both colonialist and imperialist doctrine dating back as far as the Roman Empire. What is Antifa? outlines how the term came to be applied to anti-fascist action groups and also militant anti-fascists in modern times (c. 1980s Germany) and then gets into the rise of fascism in Italy, and then — obviously — Nazi Germany. Hill has done a good amount of research to expose moments in history that have largely been downplayed or ignored and a lot of this is extremely interesting for those unfamiliar with the bravery of the opposition to Mussolini’s thuggery or the proud Polish Partisans part in the Second World War.
Of course, no history of fascism and its opponents could be told without documenting the horrors of the Spanish Civil War where the war machinery such as the Stuka dive bomber got its first test runs before wreaking havoc on the rest of Europe in the Second World War. The global response to this conflict lead to the formation of the International Brigades comprising over 40,000 volunteers from 50 countries including the Canadian Mackenzie-Papineau Battalion and Abraham Lincoln Brigades. Among these fighters was Dr. Norman Bethune, honoured for his contributions to mobile army medical units — precursors to the M.A.S.H. units utilized in later conflicts.
Spain, Italy, Germany, other countries — the one consistent thing that the Antifa Comic Book reminds readers of in its stories is that those opposed to fascism almost seem to always lose in the short term as the majority of society decides to “stay the course.” Eventually, this leads to assimilation into the fascist political system or violent ejection from it.
As Mark Bray (Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook) notes in his forward, this has lead to catastrophic implications for so many. The Antifa Comic Book joins a growing body of political analysis and commentary being published in graphic novel form. Yes, it can be argued that the medium oversimplifies the message. But from Art Spiegelman’s Maus to the works of Joe Sacco and Hill, perhaps comics are continuing their original goal of fighting fascism.