“Less-fa”: No, the 1940s US Military was not antifascist
Describing the tolerable parts of capitalism as “leftism” does a disservice to both.
With all the pearl-clutching over the existence of an antifascist movement in the United States, you’d think fascism was a core value. Antifa (a portmanteau of Antifascist Action) has returned to prominence since the latest President came to power in America, and everyone’s got an opinion on it.
Ask almost any leftist about their opinion of antifa, and you’ll get a full-throated declaration of support for its tactics, including those that depart from nonviolence. But as you move rightward, even before you reach the alleged political center, the support wavers. Progressives and liberals are typically much more conflicted about physically opposing fascism instead of Just Voting It Away¹. And for those further to the right — conservatives, alt-righters, and fascists like the current administration — antifa is everything from a terrorist cabal to a communist uprising. While the latter would be extremely exciting, neither is accurate.
Most recently, antifa has appeared at ongoing demonstrations protesting murders by America’s state security forces. Naturally, the fact windows have been broken and cars were destroyed has sent people into the stratosphere. Simultaneously the reason for that property damage — the underlying systematic murder of Black people — is just ‘the way things are’.
In response to conservative Americans screeching that “ANTIFA IS THE REAL FASCISM” (I’m getting repetitive-stress injuries from facepalming), many well-intentioned liberals and lefties have responded with memes like the below. They’re attempting to show the antifa-skeptical that opposing fascism is a good thing, and the US military fought fascists in the 1940s; therefore, the US military was antifa. It’s a nice thought. But the inaccuracy within is a serious issue.
Antifa isn’t government
To explain why this meme is incoherent, we need to emphasize some definitions. Antifa is a decentralized, ad-hoc formation of individuals interested in opposing fascism. It is pan-leftist, meaning it includes marxists, anarchists, democratic socialists, and more. It’s non-hierarchical, meaning it does not have a top-down structure of organization.
It’s a movement that rejects both liberal and conservative styles of anti-fascism. Antifa consists of many individuals and groups, not a capitalist state army. It emphasizes direct action, not statecraft. It seeks to dismantle power structures, not to form new, good hegemons to replace the old, bad ones. It is thoroughly and fundamentally anticapitalist.
Government isn’t antifa
The US Military, and by extension the US State, are not and have never been antifa. By definition, neither a capitalist government nor its military can be antifa. They are bureaucratic entities created in defense of capital, not horizontal assemblies of individuals opposing fascism on all fronts.
Nor have the US or its killing squads ever been socialist. The US is, and has been, one of the most capitalist countries around. Never have the means of production been owned by the American people. Nor is the military an example of socialism. Its workers do not own any of the means of production. (More generally, socialism is not “when the government does stuff”, nor is it “when the military takes out a bad guy.” Socialism has a very specific definition and it has not changed: the people own the means of production.)
The same mistake is made when people say we have “socialism for the rich and capitalism for the poor”. They’re really just describing capitalism. It’s misinformation, and it prevents people from learning about the true extent and goals of leftist politics.
If we look past the letter of the term, it’s clear that nothing about the USA in World War II reflected the spirit of antifascism. It maintained concentration camps (against only its Japanese citizens²). It embraced incredible racism, nationalism, and jingoism. It undertook a massive fusion of corporate and state power³, without providing any benefit to the worker. It persecuted leftists under the Smith Act. It cruelly refused entry to refugees before the war. It continued to deny rights to people of color, even as they died for the war effort. Each of these reflect elements of fascism.
At the end of the war, America (among others) defeated the fascist Axis. But it did not defeat fascism. And by no stretch of the imagination have the US or its armies ever been antifa. Sure, the US was comparatively less fascist than the nations it defeated in the 1940s. But there’s a long way from “less-fa” to antifa.
 Electoralism, as Germany knows, is how you stop fascists.
 The fact that Americans of German and Italian descent were not similarly relocated makes for strong evidence that the camps were about racism more than anything else.
 The military-industrial complex was birthed in WWII. If anything, the war increased American fascism.