Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2301

The two faces of fascism

This article is over 12 years, 0 months old
Fascists use the street and the ballot box to push their agenda, writes Weyman Bennett, and we need to fight them on both fronts
Issue 2301
Racist supporters of the English Defence League protesting near Liverpool Street Station in London last year  (Pic: Kelvin Williams)
Racist supporters of the English Defence League protesting near Liverpool Street Station in London last year (Pic: Kelvin Williams)

The slogan “never again” was first raised when the horror of the Nazi Holocaust became known to the world. It’s a principle that has guided anti-fascists ever since.

When we see the nucleus of a Nazi movement emerging on our streets, we have a duty to stop it. History has warned us about what happens if we let these movements grow and fester.

That’s why thousands will be in Luton this weekend to protest against the English Defence League (EDL)—an anti-Muslim race hate organisation with a core of committed Nazis at its heart.

The EDL’s ambitions are not confined to the streets, however. Senior EDL members have helped form a new far right political party—the British Freedom Party.

The EDL wants to use its Luton march as a launching pad for a dual strategy. On the one hand, they want to take to the streets to attack ethnic minor­ities and the left.

On the other hand they want to present themselves as a “legitimate” political party in order to push their message of hate further into the political mainstream.

This dual strategy is a classic fascist tactic. It is one of the features that mark out fascists from racist and far right movements in general.

The Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky analysed fascism in the 1930s. He mainly looked at fascist movements in Italy and Germany, but his analysis still applies today.

What distinguished fascists from other kinds of reaction­aries was their emphasis on trying to building a mass movement on the ground that intervenes directly in struggles.

This reactionary mass movement is based in the lower middle class—small traders, the self employed, minor professionals, what Marxists call the “petty bourgeoisie”.

It is a violent movement that sets out to terrorise minorities, the left and workers. But its aims go much further than that.

Ultimately fascists want to use their political influence and their movement on the ground to seize power and smash all forms of democracy and workers’ power. They want to roll back everything that workers have won from the bosses.

Benito Mussolini’s original National Fascist Party in Italy is an example of this. It rose to power in the aftermath of the First World War. Mussolini organised war veterans into squads to beat up socialists and trade unionists.

At the same time the fascists put on a “respectable” face and presented themselves to Italy’s ruling class as a solution to the crisis engulfing the country.

The strategy succeeded. Italy’s rulers handed power to Mussolini in 1922. The fascists proceeded to destroy democracy and crush the militant workers’ movement in the country.

Today’s fascists cannot simply reproduce the tactics of the interwar period, however. They no longer openly proclaim their support for Hitler, Mussolini and genocidal racism. They speak in code instead, talking in terms of “culture” rather than “race”.


This strategy was pioneered in France by the fascist Front National, which came third in last month’s presidential elections with 18 percent of the vote.

The mainstream parties legitimise the EDL’s racism and Islamophobia. David Cameron gave a major speech attacking multiculturalism and scapegoating minorities on 5 February last year—the very same day as the EDL’s last visit to Luton.

More recently in parliament Tory bigot Philip Davies jumped on the anti-Muslim bandwagon. He introduced a bill to demand the compulsory labelling of halal and kosher meat.

The bill was narrowly defeated. But 70 MPs voted for it, including Labour’s Jim Fitzpatrick and Simon Hughes of the Liberal Democrats.

The main electoral threat from fascists in Britain recently has been the British National Party (BNP), a dedicated Nazi organisation.

The BNP broke through on the electoral front ten years ago when it grabbed three council seats in Burley, Lancashire. It built up more councillors over the years and won two seats in the 2009 Euro elections.

But the BNP’s electoral strategy has since been shattered by determined and unrelenting campaigns against them led by anti-fascists, socialists and trade unions.

In 2010 all 12 BNP councillors in its former stronghold of Barking, east London, lost their seats. Last year it was wiped out in Stoke-on-Trent. This year it could well lose its sole remaining councillor in Burnley.

The BNP’s electoral success came at a price. It had to rein in its hardcore elements and pull back from building on the streets. The EDL has grown to fill that vacuum.

But the EDL has suffered setbacks too. Their thugs were defeated in Tower Hamlets, east London, last year when thousands mobilised against them to defend the local Muslim community. The EDL failed to set foot in the borough.

Adolf Hitler wrote that mass fascist rallies can make small worms feel they are part of a mighty dragon. But mass anti-fascist counter demonstrations can block that process.


Counter demonstrations isolate the EDL’s fascist hardcore by cutting them off from the large numbers of bigots that may other­wise be attracted to them.

This shatters the fascists’ confidence and prevents them from growing. That’s why it is so important to build anti­fascist demonstrations on as broad and united a basis as possible.

But we cannot be complacent. Whatever blows we land on the fascists, they can draw strength from two sources and bounce back.

The first source is the state, which does not play a neutral role when it comes to fascism. The police in particular are typically keen to “facilitate” the EDL’s marches while going out of their way to undermine and harass anti-fascist protesters.

In this the police are playing their historic role. In 1936 the police attacked anti-fascist demonstrators at the “Battle of Cable Street” in east London.

The police battered the anti-­fascist protest, trying—and failing—to force open a passage for Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts to march through the area and terrorise Jews living there.

The other source that gives strength to fascists is capitalism. This system is currently caught in a global crisis. Governments everywhere are implementing cuts and lashing out at Muslims, immigrants and other minorities.

In the 1930s similar conditions proved ideal for fascist parties to grow.

The same is true today. The fascist rats of the EDL and BNP emerge from a sewer of capitalist crisis, cuts and racism.

To destroy the rats we have to destroy the sewer that breeds them. That is why the fight against fascism has to be part of the wider battle against the capitalist system itself.

Weyman Bennett is joint secretary of Unite Against Fascism and a leading member of the Socialist Workers Party

Read more:

Leon Trotsky’s classic analysis of fascism is available as a pamphlet from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop.

Phone 020 7637 1848 or go to to get your copy. Or you can read the text online at

Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance