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Lessons from Germany to stop the fascist poison spreading

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Issue 2359
Cable Street barricade in 1936 telling Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists “They shall not pass”

Cable Street barricade in 1936 telling Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists “They shall not pass”

The rise of fascism in Italy and Germany could have been averted—but only if the left understood the nature of its enemy. 

In Germany, the Nazis were always smaller than the combined left. Their biggest vote was the 37.3 percent they received in July 1932.

When Hitler became chancellor in January 1933, the Nazis only had a third of the seats in the parliament. The tragedy was that the left was always divided. 

The SPD, equivalent of the Labour Party, was over a million strong. The KPD, German Communist Party, had over 360,000 members. 

Each party’s activists bravely stood up to the Nazis on the streets. But their leaders were sectarian and their tactics for how to win were disastrous.

Nine days before Hitler became chancellor one of the SPD’s key figures announced, “We no longer perceive anything but the odour of a rotting corpse. Fascism is definitely dead—it will not rise again.”

The KPD was no better. Under orders from Russian leader Joseph Stalin, it described its SPD rivals as “social fascists”, while declaring that only they would be the real beneficiaries of Germany’s crisis.

Trotsky desperately urged the KPD to join with the SPD to create a “workers’ united front against fascism”.

“The fascists are attempting to encircle the revolutionary strongholds,” he wrote. “The encirclers must be encircled.

“On this basis, an agreement with the Social Democratic and trade union organisations is not only permissible, but a duty.”

His words weren’t heeded, but Trotsky’s understanding of fascism and the strategy required to defeat it have been passed down the generations.

First build support among those who are prepared to fight fascism, not just revolutionaries who agree with you on everything.

Second, always challenge fascists when they try to gain control of the streets.

This has been the strategy of those who fought at Cable Street in 1936, through the organisation of the Anti Nazi League and Unite Against Fascism.

Fascism is not something that can be toyed or debated with. In order to challenge it the widest forces must be brought together so that it can be crushed.

Fascists in Britain are a long way from their aim of controlling the streets. It’s our job to keep it that way.

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