This resolution, authored by Clara Zetkin, was adopted on June 23, 1923, by the Third Enlarged Plenum of the Executive Committee of the Communist International. It is reprinted from Mike Taber and John Riddell, eds., Fighting Fascism: How to Struggle and How to Win (Haymarket Books, 2017).
Fascism is a characteristic symptom of decay in this period, an expression of the ongoing dissolution of the capitalist economy and the decomposition of the bourgeois state. Fascism is rooted above all in the impact of the imperialist war and the heightened and accelerated dislocation of the capitalist economy that it caused among broad layers of the small and middle bourgeoisie, the small peasantry, and the “intelligentsia.” This process dashed the hopes of these layers by demolishing their previous conditions of life and the degree of security they had previously enjoyed. Many in these social layers are also disillusioned regarding their vague expectations of a profound improvement in society through reformist socialism.
The reformist parties and trade-union leaders betrayed the revolution, capitulated to capitalism, and formed a coalition with the bourgeoisie in order to restore class rule and class exploitation as of old. All this they did under the banner of “democracy.” As a result, this type of “sympathizer” with the proletariat has been led to doubt socialism itself and its capacity to bring liberation and renew society. The immense majority of the proletariat outside Soviet Russia tolerated this betrayal with a weak-willed fear of struggle and submitted to their own exploitation and enslavement. Among the layers in ferment among the small and middle bourgeoisie and intellectuals, this shattered any belief in the working class as a powerful agent of radical social change. They have been joined by many proletarian forces who seek and demand action and are dissatisfied with the conduct of all the political parties. In addition fascism attracted a social layer, the former officers, who lost their careers when the war ended. Now without income, they were disillusioned, uprooted, and torn from their class roots. This is especially true in the vanquished Central Powers [Germany and Austria-Hungary], in which fascism takes on a strong antirepublican flavor.
Lacking historical understanding and political education, the socially variegated and hastily assembled violent bands of fascism expect everything to be put right by a state that is their own creation and tool. Supposedly standing above class and party, this state is to carry out their confused and contradictory program in accordance with or in violation of bourgeois legality, utilizing either “democracy” or a dictator.
In the period of revolutionary ferment and upsurge by the proletariat, fascism flirted to some degree with proletarian revolutionary demands.
The masses following fascism vacillated between the two armies expressing the overriding world-historical class antagonisms and class struggles. However, after capitalist rule was reasserted and the bourgeoisie began a general offensive, fascism came down firmly on the side of the bourgeoisie, a commitment held by their leaders from the very start.
The bourgeoisie was quick to recruit fascism to service and use in its struggle to beat down and permanently enslave the proletariat. As the dislocation of the capitalist economy extends over time and deepens, the burdens and suffering that this imposes on the proletariat become more intolerable. And so, too, the protection against the pressure of the working masses offered to the bourgeois order by reformist sermons on civil peace and democratic class collaboration grow ineffective. The bourgeoisie needs to use aggressive force to defend itself against the working class. The old and seemingly “apolitical” repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state no longer provides it with sufficient security. The bourgeoisie moves to create special bands of class struggle against the proletariat. Fascism provides such troops. Although fascism includes revolutionary currents related to its origin and the forces supporting it—currents that could turn against capitalism and its state—it nonetheless develops into a dangerous force for counterrevolution. That is clearly shown in the country where it triumphed: Italy.
Fascism clearly will display different features in each country, flowing from the given historical circumstances. But it consists everywhere of an amalgam of brutal, terrorist violence together with deceptive revolutionary phraseology, linking up demagogically with the needs and moods of broad masses of producers. It has reached its most mature expression so far in Italy. Here the passivity of the Socialist Party and the reformist trade-union leaders opened every door to it. And its revolutionary language won it the support of many proletarian forces, who made its victory possible.
The development of fascism in Italy expresses the inability of the party and unions to utilize the workers’ occupation of the factories in 1920 to heighten the proletarian class struggle. The fascist victory violently obstructs every workers’ movement, even for simple and nonpolitical wage demands. The fascist victory in Italy goads the bourgeoisie of other countries to have the proletariat struck down in the same fashion. The working class of the entire world is threatened with the fate of its Italian brothers.
However, the development of fascism in Italy displays something else as well. Fascism has a contradictory character and carries within it strong elements of ideological and political dislocation and dissolution. Its goal is to recast the old bourgeois “democratic” state into a fascist state based on violence. This unleashes conflicts between the old established bureaucracy and the new fascist one; between the standing army with its officer corps and the new militia with its leaders; between violent fascist policies in the economy and state and the ideology of the remaining liberal and democratic bourgeoisie; between monarchists and republicans; between the actual fascists (the blackshirts) and the nationalists recruited into the party and its militia; between the fascists’ original program, which deceived the masses and achieved victory, and present-day fascist politics, which serve the interests of industrial capitalists and above all of heavy industry, which has been propped up artificially.
Underlying these and other conflicts, however, are the insurmountable and irreconcilable economic and social conflicts among the different capitalist social layers: between the big bourgeoisie and the small and middle bourgeoisie such as the small peasantry and the intelligentsia. And towering over everything is the greatest of all economic and social conflicts: the class conflict between bourgeoisie and proletariat.
The indicated conflicts have already found expression in the ideological bankruptcy of fascism, through the contradiction between the fascist program and the way it is being carried out. Resolving these conflicts may be hindered for a time by organized armed bands and unscrupulous terror. Ultimately, however, these conflicts will find expression in armed force and will tear fascism apart.
The revolutionary vanguard of the proletariat cannot look on passively as fascism disintegrates. Its historical duty, instead, lies in hastening and promoting this process consciously and actively. Fascism encompasses confused and unwittingly revolutionary forces that must be led to join the proletarian class struggle against the class rule and violent exploitation of the bourgeoisie. The military defeat of fascism must be prepared by surmounting it ideologically and politically.
The conscious revolutionary vanguard of the working class has the task of taking up the struggle against victorious fascism in Italy and the fascism now taking shape around the world. It must disarm and overcome fascism politically and must organize the workers into strong and successful self-defense against its violent actions. To this end, the following tasks are posed:
A special structure to lead the struggle against fascism, made up of workers’ parties and organizations of every viewpoint, must be formed in every country. The tasks of this structure are:
1) Collecting facts on the fascist movement in every country.
2) Methodical education of the working class regarding the hostile class character of the fascist movement through newspaper articles, pamphlets, posters, assemblies, and so on.
3) Methodical education of the masses who have just become proletarians or are threatened by inevitable proletarianization regarding their condition and the function of fascism in assisting large-scale capitalism.
4) Organization of defensive struggles by the working class by forming and arming contingents of self-defense. Given that the fascists concentrate on propaganda among youth and that worker youth must be drawn into the united front, youth who are more than seventeen years old must be recruited into the common factory-based fighting contingents. Workers’ control commissions must be organized to prevent transport of fascist bands and their weapons. Fascist attempts to terrorize the workers and block expressions of their class activity must be mercilessly struck down.
5) Workers of all viewpoints must be drawn into this struggle. All workers’ parties, trade unions, and proletarian mass organizations must be called on to join the common defense against fascism.
6) A struggle against fascism is needed in parliament and in all public institutions. Strong emphasis must be laid on the imperialist and arch-chauvinist nature of fascism, which heightens the danger of new international wars.
Fascist forces are organizing internationally, and the workers’ struggle against fascism must also organize on a world scale. To this end, an international workers’ committee needs to be created. The task of this committee is to exchange experiences and organize international actions, above all against Italian fascism and its representatives abroad. This struggle includes the following measures:
1) A campaign of international education through newspapers, pamphlets, posters, and mass meetings regarding the Italian fascist leadership’s total hostility to workers and its methodical destruction of all workers’ organizations and institutions.
2) Organization of international mass meetings and demonstrations against fascism and against Italian fascism’s representatives abroad.
3) Struggle in parliament. Demand that parliament, the workers’ fractions within it, and international workers’ organizations send commissions to Italy to investigate the condition of the working class there.
4) Struggle for immediate liberation of arrested or imprisoned Communist, Socialist, or nonparty workers.
5) Organization of an international boycott by all workers against Italy. Refuse to ship coal to Italy. All transport workers must refuse to load and ship goods to and from Italy, and so on. To this end, create an international committee of miners, seamen, railway workers, and transport workers in every field.
6) Material and moral support of the persecuted working class of Italy through collections of funds, accommodation of refugees, support of their work abroad, and so on. Expand International Red Aid  in order to carry out this work. Involve workers’ cooperatives in this assistance work.
It must be brought home to workers’ attention that the fate of the Italian working class will be theirs as well, unless they block the influx of less class-conscious forces to fascism through energetic revolutionary struggle against the ruling class. Workers’ organizations therefore must display great energy, in their offensive against capitalism, in protecting the broad masses of producers against exploitation, oppression, and usury. In this way they will counterpose earnest organized mass struggle to the fake revolutionary and demagogic slogans of fascism. In addition, they must strike down the first attempts to organize fascism in their own country, keeping in mind that fascism in Italy and internationally can be most successfully resisted through an energetic struggle against it in their own country.
1. International Red Aid, established by the Comintern in late 1922, defended class-war prisoners worldwide. Clara Zetkin served from 1925 as its president.