The face of fascism has changed since the 1930s and 40s. In the decades following the Second World War, small groups of hardcore fascists hoped they could repeat the strategies that brought the German Nazis and Italian Fascists into power.
Groups such as the Union Movement founded by Oswald Mosley in 1948 and the British Movement founded in 1968 copied the tactics, symbolism and uniforms of the 1930s. Their aim was openly to build a street army to shatter their opponents and hunt down migrants and oppressed minorities.
But the broad awareness of the horrors of the Nazis, and the determination of anti‑fascists that this should not be repeated was a massive barrier to their growth. So, without abandoning their central aim, they shifted tactics.
Many turned, or at least half-turned, towards stressing a “nationalist” anti-migration rhetoric. This chimed with, and also encouraged, the racism spewing from mainstream right wing forces.
And, in part, they married their street thuggery with a stress on elections as the route to power. Of course Adolf Hitler had done this in Germany. But the new “Euro-fascists” tried much harder than the Nazis in the 1920s and 30s to present themselves as part of the acceptable range of democratic political parties.
Their leaders wore suits, not boots—although there were always the heavy mob in the background. The French National Front (now National Rally) is one example of this process.
It was founded in 1972 by Jean‑Marie Le Pen, Marine Le Pen’s father. It brought together a clutch of small fascist groupings whose base was largely made up of former military supporters of the colonial war in Algeria.
Many of them were members of the OAS organisation that committed hundreds of terrorist attacks and thousands of murders in Algeria and France in the 1960s.
Like classical fascists the National Front still peddled Holocaust denial, antisemitism and Islamophobia. But this was camouflaged for electoral politics and the street thugs were mostly held from public view.
This laid the basis for electoral success after the mainstream parties both attacked working class people and themselves took up anti-migrant and anti-Muslim racism. Marine Le Pen has taken this a stage further, adopting a “detoxification” strategy designed to obscure the overt racism of her father.
The media has largely swallowed this, presenting her as part of the legitimate political spectrum and only a slightly more developed version of the usual conservative forces. Even many on the left go along with this.
But nobody should be fooled. This is still a fascist outfit rooted in the very same ideas that spawned the organisation in 1972.
The “presentable” fascism of today has the same long term goal as fascists of the 1930s of building a street movement.
But these fascists also use state forces such as the police and border guards to smash left wing and working class opposition.
Le Pen tries to look “reasonable” to grab votes, but boosts the thuggish groups that attacks migrants, LGBT+ people, Muslims and the left.
Narendra Modi, the far right prime minister of India, uses the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) a fascist, Hindu nationalist, paramilitary organisation. The RSS carries out attacks on Muslims while Modi encourages the legal state forces to do the same.
The face of fascism has changed since the 1930s but the threat remains the same. In our next column we will look at how to combat the fascists—and confront the system that produces them.
A tried and tested tactic
Joint struggle can create unity