Notes of the Month


Fists Against Fascists

(June 1974)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.70, Mid-June 1974, p.5.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

THE QUESTION of how to deal with fascists has been pushed to the fore in recent weeks by the debate over ‘free speech’ in the National Union of Students, by the success of the National Front in getting a small but significant share of the vote in a number of elections, and, above all, by the clashes in Red Lion Square and the police killing of Kevin Gately.

Social democrats of all persuasions have a very simple answer to the problem: to ignore it. They contend that the way to deal with fascists is through rational argument and if that fails, then there is always the Race Relations Act and the police. Even many of those on the left who do see the need for a more activist approach, end up by talking of ‘peaceful pickets’ and implying that the police can ‘stop the fascists’.

But none of these methods could ever be effective against a fascist movement that was really growing. Fascism does not gain its support by rational argument. It grows when crises in the system have a devastating effect on the lives of millions of people and drive them crazy with despair. Fascist organisations are then able to grow, organising large numbers of the middle classes, the unemployed and even some workers by blaming minority groups and organised workers for causing the crisis.

The more successful a fascist movement is in dominating the streets, in lording over its opponents, in attacking groups and workers’ organisations, the more it attracts support. The very momentum of the movement seems to offer hope to hundreds of thousands of people whose lives have been torn apart by the crisis.

Capitalism itself, of course, uses fascist movements to its own ends. They provide a means by which the bitterness generated by the system can be used to defend the system itself. When the crisis cannot be dealt with by other ways, big business turns to it as a weapon for destroying working class resistance completely. But even short of this state of affairs, a fascist organisation can fulfil certain functions for the system. Its violence can be used to counter the growing influence of the revolutionary left and to justify an increasing amount of repression by the state.

Peaceful picket, pious resolutions, rational arguments alone, will not prevent fascist movements from dominating the street and growing. Equally dangerous is any reliance on the state machine to deal with fascists.

A limited amount of police repression is occasionally used against fascists when their actions do not fit in with the immediate plans of the ruling class. This happens especially when some fascist outrage leads to massive indignation and organisation against the fascists. Then the police step in and say that they can deal with the problem. However, what invariably happens is that the repressive forces of the state use the occasion to justify an increase in their own power. Measures introduced apparently for use against the extreme right are then directed against the left – as with the Public Order Act of 1936. For the left to call upon the police force to deal with the fascists is to provide it with a chance to enhance its own powers for attacking the left.

There is only one way to stop a fascist movement in its tracks. Its adherents have to be driven physically from the streets. Fascist movements disintegrate when they can no longer march and threaten those they hate: there is little else to bind them together.

But to define the principles underlying the approach which revolutionaries have to a problem is not the same as to work out the tactics appropriate in a particular situation at a particular point in time. It would be wrong to draw from the argument that only mass mobilisation on the streets can defeat fascism the conclusion that this the main form of activity that should preoccupy revolutionaries in Britain today, as some people seem to.

The main weapon used by the British ruling class today to keep the working class movement in check is not fascism; it is the bureaucracy of the Labour movement. Insofar as this is complemented, increasingly, by forms of direct repression (the Shrewsbury trial, the breaking of picket lines and so on) again, the main means used is not fascism, but the organs of the state machine itself. As the crisis grows worse – in a few years time – the role of the National Front or some other such organisation could increase immeasurably. But at present the main concern of revolutionaries has to be with the main weapons used by the ruling class to defend itself. And that means working to break the hold of the trade union bureaucracy and getting across to workers the role of the state.

An overestimation of the present importance of the fascists can lead to quite important political mistakes – as when some of the left draw the conclusion that the response to the murder of Kevin Gately should be a mass demonstration directed against the National Front, not against the special detachments of police that have been built up for dealing with pickets and demonstrators. Yet these detachments are much more central to the ruling class’s present strategy than is the National Front.

That does not mean that revolutionaries should ignore the fascists. By hindering their activities now we can make it more difficult for them to develop into an important force at a later stage. It would be criminal of us to neglect this task. But it has to be seen as subordinate for the time being to the work of extending the influence of revolutionary ideas and organisation in the localities and in the factories.

Last updated on 18 November 2009