Antifaschistische Aktion (German: [ˌantifaˈʃɪstɪʃə ʔakˈtsi̯oːn]), commonly known under its abbreviation Antifa (German: [ˈantifaː]), was an organisation affiliated with the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) that existed from 1932 to 1933.
Under the leadership of Ernst Thälmann, the KPD had become a staunchly Stalinist party, and it had been largely controlled and funded by the Soviet leadership since 1928; the party had adopted the position that it was "the only anti-fascist party" while it regarded all other parties, and especially the Social Democratic Party (SPD), as "fascists." The KPD did not view "fascism" as a specific political movement, but primarily as the final stage of capitalism, and "anti-fascism" was therefore synonymous with anti-capitalism. The KPD stated that "fighting fascism means fighting the SPD just as much as it means fighting Hitler and the parties of Brüning." In 1929 the KPD's paramilitary group Roter Frontkämpferbund was banned as extremist by the governing social democrats. The Antifaschistische Aktion was formed largely as a counter-move to the social democrats' establishment of the Iron Front in 1931, which the KPD regarded as a "social fascist terror organisation." The Antifaschistische Aktion was an integral part of the KPD and was mainly active as a KPD campaign during the elections in 1932. During its brief existence the Antifaschistische Aktion focused in large part on attacking the social democrats, as they were seen by the KPD as the most dangerous and capable fascists; the KPD viewed the Nazi Party as a less sophisticated fascist party and as the lesser evil compared to the SPD, and sometimes cooperated with them in attacking the social democrats.
In the postwar era the historical organisation inspired new groups and networks, known as the wider Antifa movement, many of which use the aesthetics of the historical Antifaschistische Aktion, especially its abbreviated name "Antifa" and a modified version of its logo.
The late 1920s and early 1930s saw rising tensions mainly between three broad groups, the Communist Party of Germany (KPD) on one side, the Nazi Party on another, and a coalition of governing parties, mainly social democrats and liberals, on the other side. Berlin in particular was the site of regular and often very violent clashes. Both the Communists and the Nazis explicitly sought to overthrow the liberal democracy of the Weimar Republic, while the social democrats and liberals strongly defended the republic and its constitution. As part of this struggle all three factions organized their own paramilitary groups.
Under the leadership of Ernst Thälmann the KPD became a Stalinist party that was fiercely loyal to the Soviet government, and since 1928 the KPD was largely controlled and funded by the Soviet government through Comintern. Throughout the Weimar era the KPD regarded the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) as its main adversary, and under Thälmann's leadership the KPD adopted the position that the SPD was the main fascist party in Germany; this was based on the theory of social fascism that had been proclaimed by Stalin and that was supported by the Comintern during the late 1920s and early 1930s, and that held that social democracy was a variant of fascism, and even the most insidious form of fascism. Consequently the KPD held that it was "the only anti-fascist party" in Germany and stated that "fighting fascism means fighting the SPD just as much as it means fighting Hitler and the parties of Brüning."
In the usage of the Soviet Union, the Comintern and its affiliated parties, including the KPD, the epithet "fascist" was used from the 1920s to describe capitalist society in general, and virtually any anti-Soviet or anti-communist activity or opinion. The term "anti-fascist" became ubiquitous in Soviet, Comintern and KPD usage, where it became synonymous with the communist party line. In KPD and Soviet usage "fascism" was primarily viewed as the final stage of capitalism, rather than a specific group or movement such as the Italian fascists or the German national socialists, and based on this theory the term was applied very broadly.
The KPD's paramilitary and propaganda organisation, the Roter Frontkämpferbund (Red Front Fighters League or RFB), had been formed in 1924 and was often involved in violent clashes with the police. In 1929 the Red Front was banned as extremist by the governing social democrats, after rallies escalated on "Maifeiertag" in Berlin. 33 people were killed and many injured in the confrontations between police and protesters. May 1, 1929 was the bloodiest "Maifeiertag" in German history. In 1930, the KPD established its de facto successor, the Kampfbund gegen den Faschismus (Fighting-Alliance against Fascism.) In late 1931, the local Roter Massenselbstschutz (Red Mass Self-Defence, RMSS) units were formed by Kampfbund members as autonomous and loosely organised structures under the leadership of, but outside the formal organisation of, the KPD, as part of the party's united front policy to work with other working class groups to defeat "fascism" as interpreted by the party.
The KPD viewed the Nazi Party ambiguously during the early 1930s; on one hand the KPD considered the Nazi Party to be one of the fascist parties, albeit a lesser evil than the SPD, on the other hand the KPD sought to appeal to the left wing of the Nazi movement by using nationalist slogans. The KPD sometimes cooperated with the Nazis in attacking the social democrats. In 1931 the KPD had united with the Nazis, whom they referred to as "working people's comrades," in an unsuccessful attempt to bring down the social democrat state government of Prussia by means of a referendum.
In October 1931 a coalition of right-wing and far-right parties had established the Harzburg Front that opposed the government of the Centre Party's Heinrich Brüning, and in response the social democrats and affiliated groups had established the Iron Front that sought to defend liberal democracy and the constitution of the Weimar Republic; the latter opposed both Nazism and Communism and was viewed by the KPD as a "social fascist terror organisation."
After a brawl in the Landtag of Prussia between members of the Nazi party and communists left eight people severely injured the KPD under Thälmann's leadership reacted to the establishment of the Harzburg Front and the Iron Front with a call for their own "Unity Front," which they shortly after renamed the Antifaschistische Aktion.
The KPD formally announced the establishment of the Antifaschistische Aktion in the party's newspaper Die Rote Fahne (The Red Flag) on 26 May 1932. The new organisation was based on the principle of a Communist front, but it remained an integral part of the KPD. The KPD described Antifaschistische Aktion as a "red united front under the leadership of the only anti-fascist party, the KPD." According to Langer the Antifaschistische Aktion was largely a counter-move to the social democrats' Iron Front.
The organisation held its first rally in Berlin on 10 July 1932, then capital of the Weimar Republic. Its two-flag logo, designed by Association of Revolutionary Visual Artists members Max Keilson and Max Gebhard, remains a widely used symbol of militant anti-fascism.
How many people belonged to the Antifaschistische Aktion is difficult to determine, because there were no membership cards. Rather the Antifaschistische Aktion developed out of the practical participation. The RMSS units were absorbed into Antifaschistische Aktion, forming the nuclei of the latter's "Unity Committees", organised on a micro-local basis, e.g. in apartment buildings, factories or allotments.
As well as being involved in political streetfights, the RMSS and Antifaschistische Aktion used their militant approach to develop a comprehensive network of self-defence for communities targeted by the nazis, for example in "tenant protection" (Mieterschutz), action against evictions. Initially the RMSS units had minimal formal membership, but in the second half of 1932, local executive boards were created to co-ordinate the activities of the KPD, Kampfbund, RMSS and (now illegal) RFB, with the RMSS given a more distinct and almost paramilitary defence role, often co-operating on an ad hoc basis with the Reichsbanner.
With the Antifaschistische Aktion, the KPD not only wanted to create a cross-party collection movement dominated by KPD, but they also aimed specifically at the Reichstag election on 31 July 1932. The election campaign for the July election in 1932 is regarded as the most violent in German history. In particular between KPD and NSDAP supporters it came to massive clashes and even shootings.
In the postwar era the historical Antifaschistische Aktion inspired a variety of different movements, groups and individuals in Germany as well as other countries, which widely adopted variants of its aesthetics and some of its tactics; this is known as the wider Antifa movement. The modern Antifa groups have no direct organisational connection to the historical Antifaschistische Aktion.