By Hazel Croft and Helen Shooter
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Fascism – what it is and how to fight it

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FASCISTS ARE not just right wing Tories or repulsive racists who scapegoat immigrants. Fascists aim to smash democracy and break all forms of working class organisation.
Issue 1798

FASCISTS ARE not just right wing Tories or repulsive racists who scapegoat immigrants. Fascists aim to smash democracy and break all forms of working class organisation.

Their aim is to control every aspect of society. The last time fascists took control of an advanced industrial country it led to the unequalled barbarity of the Nazi Holocaust. It led to the death camps such as Auschwitz where six million Jews were slaughtered.

Fascism is not just an assault on minorities or socialists. It is a full scale attack on the freedoms of the vast majority of society. Fascists want to end elections. They believe that trade unionists are, as a BNP leader said, ‘people whose freedoms need to be curbed’. They would target working class activists and even prominent members of the Labour Party.

As the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky put it, ‘The historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organisations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.’

Some people argue that the bulk of those who followed the Nazis, or who support the National Front in France or the BNP in Britain, are working class. It is true that fascism can appeal to some workers, in particular to those workers who are the least organised and the most marginalised. But fascism has never penetrated the organised working class movement.

Two years before they came to power, in 1931, the Nazis fought a campaign around elections to factory committees. They won just 5 percent of the votes. Some 83.6 percent voted for candidates linked to the SPD, the German equivalent of the Labour Party. In similar elections in 1933, which took place after Hitler came to power, the Nazis won just 3 percent.

The main support for fascism has always come from the middle class-the people whose lives are torn up by the effects of the system, but who have no collective organisations to fight back. This class-small businessmen, farmers and shopkeepers, managers, lawyers and other non-unionised professionals-do not have the collective power of workers or the economic power of the bosses.

Their lives can be ruined in times of economic crisis and mass unemployment . Trotsky pointed out how these people hate the big capitalists, but they also detest the workers. He wrote, ‘At big business the small man shakes his fist as if he were a socialist, against the worker he shrills his bourgeois respectability, his horror of class struggle, his rabid nationalist pride.’

The fascists try to give the little man a banner to express his despair, and to turn his bitterness against scapegoats. Hitler said, ‘Mass demonstrations must burn into the little man’s soul the conviction that though a little worm he is part of a great dragon.’

Today fascists like Le Pen in France and the BNP in Britain try to present themselves as respectable electoral politicians. But behind the suited fascist leaders stand the street thugs. Le Pen claims to stand up for the little man against the effects of unemployment and globalisation.

He says, ‘Socially I am of the left, economically of the right, but more than ever nationally of France.’ Le Pen is echoing Hitler’s attempt to pose as the force that can provide solutions to the social problems people face. During the election campaign he falsely claimed to stand for ordinary workers and people crushed by the power of the multinationals.

In fact Le Pen’s real economic programme is more privatisation and greater powers for the bosses to sack workers. In Burnley the BNP has also tried to con people into believing that it stands for workers against the elitism and corruption of the political system. In fact its message of division and hatred would make workers weaker in the face of the bosses’ attacks.

Across Europe it is urgent to expose and campaign against the Nazis. Fascism has never ‘crept up’ bit by bit on society. It has only been successful in taking power during periods of deep and brutal social crisis.

Fascism grew before the Second World War when the system was facing the most savage economic crisis in the history of capitalism. The fascist Mussolini came to power in Italy in 1922 at a time when the major banks, steel and engineering firms, and mining and shipping companies had gone bust.

Hundreds of thousands of people had been thrown out of work, and countless small businessmen and farmers found their lives ruined. In Germany Hitler’s Nazis grew at a time of an even bigger economic slump. Unemployment grew to 1.3 million in 1929, soared to three million the next year, and stood at 4.3 million in 1931. In 1933, the year Hitler came to power, it stood at six million. The Nazis presented themselves as the people who could save Germany from the abyss.

Their victory involved persuading important sections of the ruling class that they could deliver what the bosses wanted. For most of the time only a tiny number of big capitalists support Nazis. But when society is gripped by deep social and economic crisis, such as in the 1930s, the bosses find that their usual methods of rule no longer work. They can then take the gamble of embracing the fascists as a way of crushing workers’ resistance and restoring profits.

Today there is not a slump like in the 1930s. But there is growing insecurity about jobs, welfare and housing. The sense of crisis in society is enough for the Nazis to get a foothold-if we let them.

Mass mobilisation not relying on the bosses’ establishment

TO BEAT fascism we need mass activity which draws together all the forces threatened by the Nazis. It needs joint leafleting, marches, petitioning and propaganda involving Labour Party members, Greens, revolutionaries, peace activists, anti-capitalists, trade unionists and socialists.

The most effective campaigning involves exposing people like the BNP as Nazis, and denying them the respectability of being ‘just another political party’. We cannot rely on right wing politicians or parliamentary manoeuvres. Right wing politicians have always been prepared to do deals with the fascists. In Germany the equivalents of the Tory and Liberal parties backed Hitler in the decisive moment in his rise to power.

It was a Tory president who appointed Hitler as German chancellor. And it was the Tory and Liberal parties in the German parliament which voted to give Hitler unlimited power. In Italy, Mussolini’s first government was a coalition with various Tory and Liberal parties.

In France Chirac’s Tory party has in the past been prepared to do electoral deals with Le Pen’s National Front. The fascists see organising on the streets as vital to their growth. That means anti-Nazis need to be prepared to confront the Nazis on the streets-not as individuals but as part of a united mass movement. United mass action can defeat the fascists and kick them back into the gutter where they belong.

But fascism grows out of the despair and bitterness created by the misery, poverty and inequality created by capitalism. As long as capitalism continues to wreck people’s lives through bad housing, unemployment, job insecurity, privatisation, hunger and war, then fascism remains a potential threat.

That is why socialists in the anti-Nazi movement argue that if we want to destroy the threat of fascism for good then we need to do two things. We need to build the biggest and broadest mass movement possible to confront the Nazis wherever they try to organise.

But in the process we need to point to a socialist alternative to capitalism which can meet people’s needs, and end the hopelessness and despair on which the fascists breed.

‘The electors of Millwall did not back a postmodernist rightist party, but what they perceived to be a strong, disciplined organisation with the ability to back up its slogan ‘Defend rights for whites’ with well directed boots and fists. When the crunch comes, power is the product of force and will, not of rational debate.’
Nick Griffin, BNP leader

‘Only one thing would have stopped our movement-if our adversaries had understood its principle and, from the first day, had smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.’
Adolf Hitler. He never won majority support in elections in Germany. He took power only with the support of the bosses

‘I believe that the Holocaust is a historical detail of the Second World War. In a book of 1,000 pages the concentration camps take up two pages and the gas chambers ten or 15 lines. That’s what I call a detail.’
Jean-Marie Le Pen. He, like Nick Griffin in Britain, denies that six million Jews were murdered in the Nazi Holocaust

Trotsky’s writings on the united front against the Nazis are available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop.

Fascism, Stalinism and the United Front

Special offer-£4.95 Phone Bookmarks on 020 7637 1848 or go to

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