An intergenerational dialogue on the meaning of feminist antifascism.
Anti-Fascism Against Machismo collects and continues a conversation begun by Tammy Kovich (as “Petronella Lee”) in 2019. Four feminist, antifascist revolutionaries jump off from each other’s reflections and bring the particularities of their varied contexts to bear on one central problem: What has and will a women’s war against fascism look like?
Kovich kicks things off with a probing look at the central importance of gender to fascism, and its particular formulations in today’s far right. She continues by examining the historic role of women as partisans in three antifascist wars of the 1930s and 40s—Ethiopia, Spain, and Yugoslavia—contrasting this with the restrictive image of “antifa” as a young, Euro man of a particular subcultural aesthetic and antifascist activity as not much broader than street fights. Finally, she builds on this to propose what an antifascism that takes a fight against patriarchal domination—on the right and the left—seriously.
“We have to interrupt the antifa narrative we have always been given. That’s the heroic men’s tale that is always just assumed to be true. That while romanticizing a few women, is always shrinking, domesticizing, marginalizing the whole of women’s own rising against fascism. For there has never been antifascism ever without the militant participation of women. But women have been scrubbed from his-story, so that new women always have to try and reinvent our wheel all over again.” -Butch Lee
Butch Lee, a white woman who worked in support of Black revolutionary movements and who sought to elaborate a vision of what a women’s revolutionary movement must be, responded to Kovich’s zine a few months later. The 80-year-old Amazon theorist brings her life of experience and study to bolster Kovich’s main points, while asking questions about some limits she sees in the work. From 1950s white, small town New Jersey to the civil rights struggle in Southside Chicago, refugees from Tsarist pogroms to the fighters of the Black Liberation Army, Lee’s most autobiographical public writing—the last before her death in 2021—questions Kovich’s framing of antifascism as a limited struggle that must expand to meet the needs of a properly revolutionary politics.
“i’ve been writing this to help keep the discussion going. To point women towards Petronella Lee’s advance in our political understanding. And to make what contribution i can, far away now from the battlefield. If i can suggest anything useful at all, it would be to move women’s whole tumult and outrage and resistance into a larger political picture. By which i don’t mean something philosophical or more intellectual.” -Butch Lee
While Kovich’s work focuses on the position of revolutionary women, stuck between misogynist fascists and macho antifascism, Butch Lee reframes the discussion around the position of white women: the reproducers of the “white race,” colonized for the role, yet so often participants, willing collaborators in the extension and preservation of white supremacy. Lee asks what it means to see today’s fascists as transcending their previous role as fringe cosplayers, now becoming something more intractable and more deeply rooted in the changes occurring in global patriarchal capitalism.
“What we’re all fighting over is really simple — the end of men’s white race. The end of folks’ whiteness as a very artificially constructed but ruling identity on the ground. Along with their ‘great’ nation-empire. All into the big swirling garbage disposal drain of modern history.” -Butch Lee
Veronica L. then offered her own contribution, advancing the conversation by seeing the ways in which the analyses of fascism offered by Lee and Kovich each illuminated different aspects of what they all see as profoundly inter-related phenomena. She also applies the earlier works to her own experiences as a white woman organizing without cis men (inspired by the LIES journal) and to the new context made by the experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic and the mass antiracist and anticolonial reverberations of #ShutDownCanada and the George Floyd rebellion, which had each reshaped the political context since Kovich and Lee’s 2019 writings.
“How do we build a movement without men that is committed to an expansive understanding of anti-fascism and that embraces feminist militancy? How do we do that while avoiding the missteps of the past?” -Veronica L.
The book also features a new introduction by El Jones, which continues and frames the discussion through her own experiences as a Black antifascist, antiracist, abolitionist organizer and educator on occupied Mi’kmaq land on Canada’s east coast. Jones draws out the critical connections between the neocolonial suppression of Black and Indigenous movements and the white male resentment against societal change, the linkages between the far right and ongoing colonialism, all against a backdrop of persistent white male violence and equally persistent resistance by oppressed peoples, with women time and time again at the forefront.
In both Jones’s introduction and an epilogue by Veronica L., these two writers reflect on what Butch Lee meant to them as a theorist, and mourn her passing in a way that honours her life’s work: by advancing the project of a women’s struggle against men’s white race.
“Because there’s no sense in fighting for freedom in general if you don’t free yourself along the way. Actually, it is the only way that it works.” -Butch Lee
In these times of rising instability, fracturing identities, and a resultant rise in challenges to and defences of white supremacist patriarchy, Antifascism Against Machismo makes a powerful contribution to the understanding needed for a revolutionary resistance at the same time as it offers a model for political discussion. Women building revolutionary theory together, between different contexts, across borders and generations, and beyond the stale fences of political sects.
What People Are Saying
“So exciting in that it opens a door of understanding for women. [Kovich] has to start pointing us towards the upped white fascist threat to women, because few others are systematically doing it. The usual white macho antifa sure hasn’t. It turns out that gender as well as race are central to the cutting edge of the story. And central to the larger roadmap.” --Butch Lee
“In these times, we are in need of principled, historically grounded, ethical, feminist organizing. Kovich provides us with a text that offers us these tools.” -El Jones