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The united front—beating back Nazis with mass action

The final of our three columns on fascism looks at the tried and tested tactic to win against the Nazis—the united front
Issue 2805
Protesters from the united front Stand Up To Racism cheer and shout as they confront a demo for the Nazi Tommy Robinson in 2018

The United front in action against the Nazis (Picture: Guy Smallman)

In our last two articles, we looked at how Nazi organisation grows and changes. But—out of that—we also need to know how to beat them.

Even when Nazis adopt electoral strategies—such as Marine Le Pen in France—what makes them unique is that they rely on street forces to smash the left and working class organisation. The response has to be a tactic that unites working class organisations and parties—revolutionaries and reformists—to beat them.

In other words, it needs a united front.

This is not a cosy combination of MPs or an agreement by revolutionaries to stop all criticism of other political forces it works alongside. It is a limited, specific agreement for action—not just words—in the streets and workplaces.

In the case of fascism, it might be to oppose Nazi growth by confronting their mobilisations in the streets and closing down as far as possible their meetings.  It might also be about launching mass propaganda against them inside the working class.

In Britain, united front organisation has beaten back the Nazis time and again. It beat the Nazi National Front in the 70s and 80s. It stopped the BNP on the streets and in elections in the 1990s and 2000s. And it has repeatedly stopped Tommy Robinson’s attempts to build racist street movements.

A united front against fascism today would include revolutionaries and Labour Party members, trade unionists and faith and community groups to organise in every town and workplace.

When Nazis march, the united front should mobilise to deny them control of the streets. Wherever possible it would confront them with mass mobilisations to force them—physically—off the streets. When they stand in elections, the united front would campaign to expose and discredit them.

This doesn’t mean that all the forces involved must agree, say, on immigration controls, who everyone should vote for, or what strategy can defeat racism more generally. In fact, because a united front involves diverse forces, it’s inevitable there is disagreement on wider issues.

The revolutionary Leon Trotsky argued passionately for a concrete and defensive alliance in action between the German Communist Party and the Labour-type Social Democrats against Hitler.

He didn’t forget that the leaders of the social democrats were responsible for the murder of revolutionaries Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht a few years previously. But that didn’t remove the need for all workers and working class organisations to act against the fascists.

Far from burying those disagreements, united fronts can bring them out into the open. For revolutionaries, they’re an opportunity to prove the power of workers’ action—not parliament—and exposing the limitations of reformist leaders. As Trotsky wrote, it’s a process of “dragging the reformists from their asylums and placing them alongside ourselves before the eyes of the struggling masses.”

People can draw confidence from the united front in their own collective power.  This is what makes the united front different to both “squadist” and “popular front” tactics against Nazis.

The first relies on small groups of people committed to confronting Nazis physically themselves, rather than mass action. Meanwhile, popular fronts focus on electoral alliances between workers’ parties and “progressive” liberals.

In practice, it really does mean burying working class, socialist politics in the interests of an electoral alliance with forces who champion austerity and racism. It can even demobilise the very forces that can beat the Nazis on the streets.

A united front, on the other hand, brings that mass action to the fore. It’s a place where socialists can argue for—and prove in practice—the need for revolutionary organisation.

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