Chris Harman


The fascist menace –
and how to fight it

(June 1968)

From Socialist Worker, No. 84, June 1968, pp. 4 & 5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE STRIKES AND DEMONSTRATIONS that followed Enoch Powell’s outburst in Birmingham at the end of April emphasise the need for socialists to take racialism seriously and to reorganise their forces to combat this menace. The traditional labour movement has proved incapable of doing this. The long observed isolation of the left in the Labour Party from the mass of workers was starkly exposed.

With only a few honorable exceptions, trade union officials preferred to ignore what was happening, at best piously passing paper resolutions. Although many Communist Party members resisted the racialist wave, the party itself did little to help them. It did not immediately produce internationalist propaganda or organise counter demonstrations – indeed the Morning Star refused an advert for the May 1st demonstration in London.

The immediate upsurge of racialist agitation rapidly died down. But it revealed a real long-term threat. The question of how to deal with this must be central to any socialist strategy.

The experience of Germany and Italy before the last war proved that when capitalism is in decline the alternative to a socialist society is a fascist one. For this to occur two parallel processes have to take place.

First, the ruling class has to decide that it can no longer afford liberal democracy. It begins to see even the very marginal reforms that reformist Labour parties and trade unions win for the workers as a threat to its profits and to its very existence. It is prepared to utilise any means – even if this involves certain hardships for some of its own members – to destroy these organisations.

Every possible measure is taken to physically liquidate workers organisations, however corrupt their officials are, if in any way they defend workers interests. Thus in Germany even trade union and social democratic leaders who had participated in the handing of power to the German bourgeoisie in 1918–19 – a process which involved the murder of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht – were put into concentration camps by Hitler.

But the ruling class cannot smash working class organisations completely in an advanced industrial country on its own. It is too small a section of the population. Even the forces of the state are miniscule compared to the total numbers of organised workers.

Organisations have to exist with hundreds of thousands of members, with tentacles reaching into every section of society. These can only grow through a second, and at points independent, process. The very decline of capitalism can begin to breed them.

Under certain conditions the frustrations and tensions that individuals feel as a result of living in capitalist society are utilised to build such a movement. This is possible if people can be persuaded that their country or their race are more important than their class, and that active participation in a movement concerned with these can begin to solve their problems.

But this does not mean that racialism or chauvinism alone constitute fascism. They form a basis on which it can build, but little more.

Under capitalism they are ideologies that most of the population suffer from most of the time. As Marx used to say: “The ruling ideology is the ideology of the ruling class.”

Because this class controls the press, the educational system, the whole development of culture, it also determines the way in which people think most of the time. The working class certainly has not been immune to racialist myths pumped out to justify a hundred years of imperialism.


But for most people most of the time this ideology is a passive one. It is perhaps one of the factors that prevents them challenging the present system, but it does not determine positively how they behave. And it is constantly being eroded by other factors – such as working alongside immigrants.

Fascism can only develop if this racialist mentality can be made into the central preoccupation of millions of individuals. They have to be so committed to it that they regard it and the phoney solutions it offers to their problems as more important than their private lives, their organisations or other concerns. The identification with the leader of the fascist organisation and his definition of their problems has to be complete.

Nothing like this exists in Britain at the moment. Enoch Powell has prepared the ground for the beginning of a serious fascist movement. But this is the beginning of the process not the end.

The speed with which the rest of the representatives of the ruling class disowned him shows that they have not yet completely given up hope of solving their problems by traditional means. They still put their faith, although to a decreasing extent, in buying off trade union leaders and keeping the working class complacent and apathetic.

They believe that provided the government holds the line on incomes policy, provided shop stewards accept productivity deals, and provided the international monetary problems can be solved, their profit margins will be secured. They are not yet desperate enough to need extra-parliamentary forces to destroy the working-class movement.

The racialism of the mass of people is still essentially passive. We have not yet reached the stage in which there are large and systematic attacks on immigrants by gangs of thugs. Even avowed racialists feel they have more important things to do with their time.

The fascists can lead a few workers in peaceful marches; they cannot yet lead millions against the immigrant community.


But this should not make us unduly optimistic. If unemployment increases, wages continue to fall, rents to rise, the frustration and disillusion for fascists to exploit and misdirect will increase. Already they are probably preparing to develop fascist cadres and propaganda among those sections of the population that proved most amenable to Powell’s speech.

How can we fight this development? Against fascists there is only one weapon: physical force.

We have to utilise every means at our disposal to stop them mobilising their forces. We must be prepared to unite with any one, however much we might disapprove of their other policies, to achieve this.

Fascist movements depend for their success upon their ability to fill their followers with the vicarious thrills of action for the sake of action as they mobilise against the imagined enemy. It is this mobilisation we have to prevent.

But racialism is not fascism and our tactics in relation to it have to be different. We have to show those who define society in racialist terms that they are wrong. The only way this can be done is to work with them in struggles against real enemies, to offer real alternatives to the privations of capitalist society, not phoney ones.

What is required is the development of organisations and forms of activity that can begin to offer genuine revolutionary alternatives. The sort of united organisations that are necessary to keep fascists off the streets cannot serve this task, for many of these will be only worried about racialism and fascism, without caring about their real causes.

They do not mind the problems people suffer under capitalism, they merely object to them looking for racialist solutions to them. It is not surprising that some workers, when they are offered a choice between these people and the fascists choose to follow the latter. That is why Danny-Lyons, who bravely stood up against the racialists on the Royal Group of docks, was silly to think he could do so with two priests.

In their day to day struggles against capitalism, racialism is of no use as an ideology to workers. They have to see the world in class terms. The danger is that as the new situation of crisis that British capitalism has entered forces people to look for generalised forms of activity, these will be offered by people like Powell and Colin Jordan, but not by socialists. This makes it more than ever necessary for revolutionary socialists to come together to fight racialist ideologies and build a unified struggle against the real enemy.


In Italy and Germany, fascism only triumphed when, despite massive socialist organisation and support, the established leaders refused to create a real challenge to capitalism. Disillusioned millions then followed Hitler and Mussolini.

There is nothing intrinsic about Britain that make it immune to such developments.

Last updated on 11 October 2020