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International Socialism, Winter 1981


The European Left and the new fascists


First published in International Socialism 2 : 11, Winter 1981, pp. 84–92.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg, with thanks to the Lipman-Miliband Trust.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


THIS SUMMER the far right in Europe forced itself on the attention of the left. In Italy, West Germany and France there were savage and indiscriminate terrorist bombing attacks. In Britain, the open Nazis of the British Movement began to emerge as the main pole of attraction for disgruntled white working class youth, taking over from the National Front, split and in disarray after its heavy defeat in 1979.

Of course, in each of these cases the actual situation is very different. In Italy, for example, the fascists of the MSI form a substantial far right party with deputies in Parliament and the terrorist groups flourish in their ideological shadow. In Germany, the NPD, while commanding substantial support, has failed to grow as quickly as was feared a decade ago, but secret Nazi groups have begun to command some sort of following amongst youth. In France the fascists appear to have little electoral impact and. have concentrated upon building clandestine fighting organisations, to a great extent inside the police apparatus of the bourgeois state.

The British case is a little different, in that while terrorist organisations such as Column 88 undoubtedly exist, there has as yet been no terrorist bombing of dramatic proportions. Rather there have been attacks on, and murders of, individual blacks, which have been either organised, sponsored or applauded by the fascists. And while electoral support for the fascists seems to be temporarily ebbing, there is no doubt that their ideas retain a hold over sections of youth.

Nevertheless, there is an essential unity behind the national peculiarities. At the most trivial level, the fascist groups are in contact with each other, support each other, and gain strength from their associations. Much more importantly, the growth of fascism in Europe is derived from similar conditions. In each of these countries the rising unemployment, falling living standards, housing problems, etc., which accompany the international capitalist crisis have led increasing numbers of people towards anger and despair. Because of the failure of the traditional mass organisations of the working class to provide any fighting alternative to capitalism, and because the revolutionary left is, in all cases, extremely weak, isolated and tiny, proportion of these despairing and angry people have been drawn towards fascist irrationalism.

The consequences of this are extremely grave. While in no case are the fascists leading mass movements capable of coming to state power in the immediate future, the conditions which have led to their new confidence and aggression will continue and get worse as the crisis intensifies. Therefore, unless they are stopped, the fascists will continue to exist and probably to grow both in size and in activity. At the very least this means a continuation of terrorist outrages, an increase in murderous attacks upon immigrant workers, and the possibility of intimidation and demoralisation of socialist militants in the workplaces.

Therefore it is particularly important to examine the response of the European revolutionary left to these new challenges. In the case of the Italian left, the well-known demoralisation, inactivity and lack of organisation which have been its most prominent and tragic features over the last few years seem to have prevented it making anything but the most general response to the Bologna bombing. In contrast, the organisations of the French revolutionary left remain relatively large, coherent and active. We reprint the responses of two of these groups: that of Lutte Ouvrière, from their newspaper Lutte Ouvrière (LO) and from their theoretical journal Lutte de Classe; and that of the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire (LCR), from their newspaper Rouge. We also print an article from the Sozialistiche Arbeiter Gruppe’s (SAG) paper Sozialistiche Arbeiter Zeitung (SAZ), published in Frankfurt, West Germany. The SAG, fraternal organisation of the SWP in West Germany, is a very small group with limited resources, and their article illustrates the kind of modest response which is possible for an organisation of that size. Finally, we print the views of the editors on these documents; we would welcome any further contributions to the discussion. (Translations: from the French by Ian H. Birchall; from the German by Sybil Cock.)

Fascism and the French Left:
i. Lutte Ouvrière

YES, THEN, today we can demonstrate and do nothing; there are no immediate consequences because there is not really any fascist party posing a threat; there are only outrages which any madman could commit, even on his own.

But a flag has just been set up. A standard has just been raised. Even if it is not the extreme-right which has done it, they are the ones who will take advantage of it when the time comes.

And when the demonstrations are over, we are not safeguarded against any danger. Neither against the madmen and the killers of the extreme-right, nor against the fascist danger of the future.

To forestall the fascist danger of the future, it would have been necessary that here and now, in the present circumstances, at least one party, just one, should have had the strength and the will to say:

‘We shall not answer bombs with bombs, nor revolvers with revolvers, for individual outrages never serve the cause of the oppressed. But, on the other hand, we shall ourselves ensure, by appealing to the whole population, the protection which the police, from which in fact we have everything to fear, is quite incapable of providing. We shall perhaps not be able to prevent all outrages, but by mobilising district by district and street by street, we shall be able to make life very difficult for all the potential killers.’

No, no party has said: ‘Henceforward our militants will protect the places where Jews, Arabs and blacks come together; and let the whole population help us if they will.’

No party which had the strength to say this has taken the risk of saying it for no party, even on the left, wants the population to learn to take law and order into its own hands. Because once it has learnt to do that, it will be free to do it again any time it needs to; and no-one will be able to deprive it of that freedom or of any other.

And this apprenticeship in freedom and strength would be the best guarantee against the birth of a fascist party, in whatever circumstances. But in the event of a crisis it would obviously be the first step to social revolution, to a popular revolution which no party wants, even those that talk about it.

No-one can say if such an economic, social and political crisis will occur in the coming years. But all we can hope is that an anti-fascist, anti-racist and revolutionary party worthy of the name will have come into existence between now and then.

Whoever may have been responsible for the outrage in the rue Copernic, this bomb is perhaps the first and last warning that history will give to us, and to those who in the working class even today — for unfortunately we hear it said every day — think there is too much talk about this affair. For these people should not forget that in the last analysis fascism has the social role of reducing them, the workers, to slavery.

No worker should forget that six million Jews were fodder to the lowest prejudices of a society in decomposition, solely in order that German capital could make millions of proletarians work in military fashion to reconstruct its industry and to manufacture enough war material so that German workers, in green uniforms and steel helmets, should set out to conquer the world.

Four million of them rotted on the battlefields of Europe and Africa in order to fatten German capital, and behind it, international capital which has neither homeland nor race; it leaves that to its slaves.

(Lutte Ouvrière, 11 October 1980)

AND THAT is why there certainly was an immediate reply to be given to the anti-Semitic outrage. There was a policy to be proposed to prepare the popular masses to act for themselves, tomorrow, without relying on the state.

Not only by a call to demonstrate, even if the slogans proposed were correct, which was not even the case for the demonstrations of Tuesday October 7th. A demonstration may express a protest, but it does not prepare the masses to learn to organise themselves in their own defence.

In the specific case of outrages in the immediate future against synagogues or African hostels, the reply would for example have been to take the initiative, in the name of the workers, to appeal to all those — workers, youth, Jews or immigrants — who were ready to organise the protection of all the places liable to be threatened.

It would have been possible to propose to all those willing to give their time and energy to trying to prevent other racist outrages, that they should get organised and mobilised in order to protect, all together and more effectively than the police, the places which the extreme-right might aim at.

And, beyond this specific case, it is a question of seeking out, systematically and with reference to each particular situation, what would enable the workers to acquire habits and structures of organisation which can be easily resorted to when needed.

If tomorrow a social and economic situation offers the fascists the opportunity to develop, it will be through a series of stages that they will do so. Which? We don’t know. We don’t even know whether anti-Semitism can still serve as a demagogic argument to the leaders and mobs of this new Nazism which has not yet declared itself.

But what would be necessary first of all is that at every stage the fascist challenge should be taken up by the working class and in the name of the working class. And that is in the first place a political problem.

It is possible to imagine that groups of young Jews, for example, or other nationalist groupings, should take responsibility for the defence of the Jewish community, or even that they might take on the struggle against the anti-Semitic groups, on the level that these groups are appearing today. But how would that help us for the future?

For even if at present the Jewish community could rely on its own youth to ensure its defence, if for example self-defence groups were in fact created, they could perhaps ensure the defence of Jewish public buildings more efficiently than the police. But to prepare the struggle against a real rise of fascism is something quite different. And above all on the political level. Nationalist Jewish groups, even if they are sufficiently aware of the anti-Semitic aspect of fascism to be willing to defend themselves and the Jewish community by violence, are quite obviously neither willing nor able to struggle in a political perspective capable of mobilising the working class.

It is not only the Jewish community which is threatened by the rise of fascism, even if at present the anti-Semitic aspect is dominant, which will not necessarily be the case (as the example of Italy shows). Fascism is a social phenomenon linked to capitalism in crisis, and at certain moments, the crisis of the society leaves no choice to the human community other than fascism or socialist revolution. And we must act on this basis.

The only force capable of stopping the rise of fascism in a period of crisis, when there is a danger of large social masses crystallising around groups of the extreme-right, is the working class. The only way to be a consistent anti-fascist is to stand on the ground of the proletariat, to speak politically in its name, all the way, that is to say, with the conviction that it is the task of the proletariat to take the leadership of a society in crisis.

Only revolutionary politics, that is, politics which in all circumstances seek to appeal to the working class, could be opposed to fascist politics.

But there is no revolutionary politics possible without a revolutionary party. A revolutionary party capable of making every partial trial of strength with the fascists into the opportunity for a political and organisational apprenticeship for the workers. A revolutionary party capable of taking initiatives which can enable the workers to learn to become aware of their own strength, and their own capacity, and to draw other social categories behind them.

And it is here that a process has begun on which the future depends.

(Lutte de Class, No. 79, October 1980)

Fascism and the French Left:
ii. Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire

THEY HAVE killed. After Bologna, after Munich, it’s in Paris that the black terror has struck, outside a synagogue, on the evening of October 3rd. Today everyone is expressing emotion. But Giscard and Lecanuet were much less indignant when, over five years, the fascists murdered seventy Algerian workers. Bonnet didn’t announce that he was a ‘North African’, but now he has discovered that he is an ‘Israelite’.

For on the 3rd October the police were much more active expelling Simon Malley, editor of Afrique-Asia, than in tracking down extreme-right terrorists. In the prisons of the French state, out of some hundred political prisoners, there is only one who belongs to the extreme-right.

Moreover, it now turns out that this regime has knowingly covered up and encouraged the entry of fascist and Nazi elements into the state apparatus and the police. The responsibility of the government is therefore directly in question.

There have been massive demonstrations in response to the fascist crime. But they did not enable a decisive step to be taken in the anti-racist mobilisation of the workers. What will the morrow show? More than ever the quarrels between the CP and the SP, the refusal of the CGT and the CFDT to sit down at the same table, have limited the impact of the popular reaction. At a time when the regime was confronted with the denunciations of the police unions, when the majority of newspapers were pressing the Minister of the Interior to say how far the infiltration of his services had gone, the division in the working-class ranks prevented the massive anger at the obvious complicity of the government being expressed with full force.

Unity is the token of strength to dismantle all the fascist groups. We cannot count on either Barre or Peyrefitte to put an end to the fascist crimes. Only the establishment of a self-defence agreement between all the political and trade-union organisations of the working class offers an effective response to the machinations of the extreme-right. This is the road we must take.

For some weeks the police unions have been giving information about Nazi penetration into the police and their capture of key posts. All fascists must be driven out of Bonnet’s services. And it won’t be a parliamentary commission that will succeed in doing that. The example of the Poniatowski-de Broglie case has adequately demonstrated that such procedures generally lead to the whole affair being buried.

The various democratic and working-class organisations must establish their own commission of enquiry which, together with the trade union organisations of police and magistrates, will be able to collect together and publish all the information, the names of the fascist officials and of those who are covering up for them.

The new scandal which has sullied the reputations of all the team in power shows the relevance of a united and general mobilisation to get rid of the Giscard regime. For beyond Bonnet, beyond Peyrefitte, it is also Barre and Giscard who must be driven out.

If there is a lesson to be learnt from the latest fascist crime, it is that there must be no repetition of the passivity which generally followed the murders of Algerians, the fires in immigrant hostels, not to speak of the murders of Pierre Goldman and Henri Curiel. The greatest vigilance is necessary!

(Alain Krivine in Rouge, October 10th)

Fascism and the German Left:
Sozialistiche Arbeiter Gruppe

FIGHT Everyday Fascism!

The attempt to bomb Strauss to power as the ‘strong man’ and the ‘saviour out of the chaos’ has failed. However, it would have succeeded had it not become evident that the assassins of Munich were fascists and not left-wingers.

Strauss would have been much more successful in his attempt to put the responsibility for the 13 dead and countless injured on the allegedly-lax hold of the Interior Minister Bolum and the social-liberal coalition if this had not come out.

Meanwhile, the series of racist attacks has not stopped. After the bomb outrages and arson attacks on refugee homes in Zirndorf, Hamburg and Lorrach there was an attack on an immigrant’s home in Munich.

Even after the attack on the Munich Oktoberfest the official reaction was weak enough once it had been established that the attack was from the Right. It is always the case that when it is ‘only’ foreigners who are affected by an attack there is no room for effective public indignation. The news magazine Der Spiegel wrote that: ‘A wide consensus is indicated when citizens articulate massive prejudice against immigrants and, at the same time, neo-Nazis throw firebombs at immigrant workers’ homes.’

The danger lies in the fact that the major parties are determined to stop, or at least strictly limit, the flow of political refugees. This has opened the floodgates for a general campaign of hatred against all foreigners.

Nazis of all descriptions have taken this as their chance. The ‘legal’ efforts of the NPD are far more politically dangerous than any murders or attacks. The NPD’s ‘stop foreigners’ campaign has little to say that the major parties disagree with. Their arguments find sympathy well into the ranks of the SPD and the Trade Unions. The open and hidden discrimination against foreigners in the workplaces, in schools, on the housing market and in all areas of life provides a fertile soil for the racist terror of the neo-Nazis. One case is that of the Frankfurt dancing school Wernedie which refused to allow in foreigners. Racism exists in those workplaces where the owners and foremen are German but the workers are foreigners. Even in the Trade Unions racism is growing. We see racist behaviour daily on the buses and trams. We ask our readers to report to us examples of everyday racism from their workplaces, schools, playgrounds and all other areas of life.

If we really want to stop the bombing terror of the neo-Nazis it is not enough to demonstrate for a ban on Nazi organisations. It is necessary to attack the racism around us before it becomes respectable. Many Germans still do not dare to be open about their prejudices against foreigners. The memory of the persecution of national minorities such as Jews and Gypsies under Hitler is still alive.

In Frankfurt-Bornheim the SAG organised an information table and a leaflet against racism before the election. Twenty people joined us in removing racist slogans and NPD posters. We call upon our readers to follow this example and to start local anti-racist groups. Perhaps we can succeed in making the ‘Rock Against the Right’ into a ‘Rock Against Racism’ movement!

(SAZ, 7.10.80)

Comments from the Editors

WE DO NOT think that extended comment is called for, since the documents largely speak for themselves. In particular, it is clear that the two documents from the French comrades are sadly inadequate and contain serious mistakes.

Consider, for example, the response of Lutte Ouvrière. They argue, quite correctly, that only working-class self-organisation provides any real alternative to fascist attacks and that it ‘... would be necessary first of all ... that at every stage the fascist challenge should be taken up by the working class and in the name of the working class.’ They further argue, again correctly, that such self-organisation has revolutionary implications and that it is therefore a political problem of some importance. It is because of these implications that the large reformist parties are frightened to take such a step and that the initiative has to come from a revolutionary organisation. And then, having made this correct analysis, they offer to their readers their solution to the problem: ‘... all we can hope is that an anti-fascist, anti-racist and revolutionary party worthy of the name will have come into existence’ before a major social crisis.

But revolutionary socialists can do rather more than hope. They can, for example, take whatever steps that are open to them to try to build a revolutionary party worthy of the name. Further, on the issue of anti-fascism, revolutionary socialists can form a united front with other organisations in the labour movement and such a united front provides not only a better chance of stopping the fascist menace but also of winning large numbers of workers away from the leaders of reformist organisations and towards building a revolutionary party. These elementary propositions are quite widely available and are well-argued by, for example, Leon Trotsky in his writings on Germany. Unfortunately, the political leaders of Lutte Ouvrière are either unaware of them or chose to ignore them. There is no mention in either of the articles of concrete attempts to build a united front, the problems and the successes involved, or even of the possibility of such work. All that a reader of that paper is given is a few worthy generalities, all quite correct, and the injunction to hope.

Alan Krivine of the LCR at least seems to be aware of the fact that divisions within the working class movement greatly weaken the ability of workers to fight back against fascist attacks. Unfortunately, he has little to offer apart from bewailing the quarrels of the Socialists and the Communists and calling for an ending of the current government by a ‘united and general mobilisation’. To be fair, he does have one concrete proposition: ‘the various democratic and working class organisations must establish their own commissions of enquiry which, together with the trade union organisations of the police and magistrates, will be able to collect together and publish all the information, the names of fascist officials and those who are covering up for them.’ Now, such enquiries can be politically very useful. Indeed, over the events in Southall in Britain for example, they proved invaluable. But their value exists only in so far as they are part of a campaign which actually mobilises anti-fascists. And on the concrete steps which could be taken to organise such a campaign, Krivine is unfortunately silent.

The article from SAZ is in clear contrast to this. It locates the bombings as part of a general right-wing offensive and points to the responsibility of non-fascist parties in providing the political climate in which such events become more likely. And it argues that these great atrocities are merely the tip of an iceberg of less dramatic racism which permeates every layer of German society. But most important of all, it points to concrete things that its readers can do to organise the fight against racism.

These things are very modest indeed: painting out fascist slogans is very, very limited compared to Lutte Ouvrière’s plans to mobilise the whole working class or the Ligue Communiste Révolutionaire’s call for a ‘united and general mobilisation’. They are, however, of central importance. By putting forward these sorts of activities, the SAZ is able to mobilise a few of the many anti-fascists who are not already committed members of a revolutionary organisation and give them a direction to their work.

The greatest danger of the sort of arguments put forward by the French comrades is not that they are wrong in principle. By pointing only to the grand historic tasks, LO and LCR effectively provide themselves and reformist workers with an alibi for passive inactivity in the face of fascist attack. Nobody seriously believes that either the LCR or the LO are mass working class organisations which can actually put into practice the things they say are necessary. But because they do not provide any perspective that can actually be achieved they are, at best, putting forward worthy propaganda. At worst they remove any possibility of ever building the sort of movement that can realise their large scale demands, since such a movement can only be built on the basis of the much smaller types of intervention which are possible today.

As is well known, the SWP has long advocated this sort of work, and has had substantial success with the Anti-Nazi League (ANL). We must admit that, after the defeats of the National Front in 1979, we made a mistake in supposing that fascism was not any longer of substantial importance in Britain and allowed the organisation to decline. Subsequent events showed how wrong we were and we now face the difficult task of rebuilding the ANL. Now, when we have argued with foreign revolutionaries the value of the ANL-type approach, they have often replied negatively and cited the peculiar national conditions which made it possible. The German example is therefore of substantial importance in this argument, since the German Left is, if anything, more distant from our experience than is, say, the French Left. If such methods can be applied by a tiny and isolated group facing a hostile or indifferent labour movement, and can lead to some small successes, then we believe that the much stronger French left could do very much better.

To put the matter concretely: the French comrades argue that their own weaknesses prevent them engaging in the sort of anti-fascist work that they think valuable. Therefore they use this as an excuse to do nothing. We can only ask them a number of very simple questions:

We would hazard a guess that the answers to all of these questions is ‘yes’. We are therefore forced to ask another question:

We are afraid that, on the evidence before us, the answer to this question is, again: ‘Yes’.

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