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Chris Bambery

The lessons of the past
and current tasks

(Autumn 1993)

First published in International Socialism 2 : 60, Autumn 1993, pp. 3–75.
Transcribed by Marven James Scott.
Marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

We are witnessing the beginning of a great fear, the fear that fascism is once again a political force in Europe. The fire bombings and racist murders that have accompanied the rise of Le Pen’s National Front in France and of the Republican Party in Germany and their counterparts throughout Europe have fuelled the forebodings of millions. But concerned newspaper articles and TV exposes, however welcome, have not stemmed the tide. More worrying still, even the protests of hundreds of thousands of anti-Nazis across Europe have not brought the growth of the Nazis to a halt.

In such circumstances fear can turn to paralysis. The feeling that history, the history of Nazi triumph in the 1930s, is repeating itself can begin to numb the sinews of resistance. But history need not repeat itself – so long as we learn from the past. However, to learn from the past requires precision about what fascism is and what causes it, about which strategies have failed and why, and about how to avoid repeating past mistakes. Being precise about the use of the term fascism is important, not for pedantic reasons, but because in the 1920s and 1930s a lack of clarity over the nature of the fascist menace helped pave the way for the success of Hitler and his Italian counterpart, Mussolini.

The greatest source of such confusion today is the establishment politicians of the major powers. The Gulf War of 1990–1 resounded to rhetoric stemming from the 1930s. The Western powers had to wage war on Iraq otherwise they would be guilty of ‘appeasement’, the term used to describe the policy of collaboration employed by the Western powers towards Hitler immediately before the Second World War. The Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, was presented as the ‘new Hitler’. Again, when it came to the war in former Yugoslavia the supporters of Western intervention described the horrors of ethnic cleansing as a new Holocaust and were quick to label Serbia a fascist state.

All this debases the memory of the victims of Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship. Whatever the horrors inflicted by Saddam Hussein or by the war in former Yugoslavia they pale before the fate of the six million Jews, 2.5 million Poles, half a million Gypsies, over 400,000 Russian prisoners, 100,000 ‘inferior’ people condemned because of mental or physical illness plus tens of thousands of socialists, communists, gays and other ‘unhealthy’ elements who were systematically murdered by Hitler. Neither do such comparisons come to terms with the fact that this scientific murder programme was unleashed by one of the world’s most developed, industrialised states.

Such casual references to the Holocaust only help those who seek to diminish the horror inflicted by the Nazis. But, worse than this, such abuse of the term fascist blurs the distinction between a Nazi social movement and other authoritarian regimes. It blinds us to the unique nature of fascism and hinders us in adopting a response which can counter this particular threat.

But establishment politicians with their own contemporary projects in mind are not the only ones who misuse the term fascism. Academics with a historical axe to grind can be just as cavalier. One British academic blames fascism on an ‘activist tradition’ stemming from the Enlightenment of the 18th century and from the French Revolution of 1789. This tradition stretches from the French revolutionaries Robespierre and St Just, to the champions of Italian re-unification Garibaldi and Mazzini, down to Lenin and the Bolsheviks and on to Rudolph Hess, the commandant of Auschwitz, who admitted responsibility for the gassing of 2 million prisoners! Thus:

For Robespierre, the enemies of freedom were priests and aristocrats; for Lenin, they were ‘bourgeois’ groups like the Kulaks; for the Nazis, they happened to be the Jews. In each case freedom was to be achieved only by the appropriate extermination campaign. [1]

Again one exile from Nazi Germany talks of ‘the fusion of Bolshevism with fascism in the fully developed Stalinist system around 1940’. [2] Once more, the horror of the Stalinist system notwithstanding, the effect of this collapse of a number of very different historical circumstances into one mould is to make it more difficult to see the specific features of fascism and, therefore, to diagnose a specific cure.

Even the left have not been immune to this kind of error. The Communist Parties of the 1920s and early 1930s often saw fascism as merely another form of capitalist rule not qualitatively different from other authoritarian regimes or even from parliamentary government. The Communist Parties even went so far as to argue, in Stalin’s words:

Fascism is the bourgeoisie’s fighting organisation that relies on the active support of Social Democracy. Social Democracy is objectively the moderate wing of fascism ... These organisations do not negate but supplement each other. They are not antipodes, they are twins. [3]

This policy helped to divide the working class movement in the face of the Nazi challenge.

When the scales eventually dropped from the Stalinists’ eyes, the Communist Parties somersaulted from outright hostility to any form of accommodation with reformist workers to believing that alliance with ‘progressive capitalists’ would somehow stave off the fascist threat. From sectarian refusal to ally with reformist workers in the fight against fascism they moved to uncritical worship of sections of the very class in whose interests the fascists acted. This policy led to the Communist Parties restraining the direct struggle against the Nazis and their capitalist backers in the name of ‘unity’.

Today the left across Europe can be found repeating elements of both mistakes. The autonomists of Berlin directly and physically confront the Nazis without ever concerning themselves with the question of building a united front with reformist workers. SOS Racisme in France and some anti-racists in Britain confuse the fight against the Nazis with the wider struggle against racism and then, in confronting the Nazis, tie themselves to the kind of activities which their backers among the liberal sections of the bourgeoisie are willing to tolerate.

An effective strategy to beat the Nazis needs to be clear that: i) fascism is the product of capitalism in crisis, ii) it differs from other forms of pro-capitalist government in that it has at its core a petty bourgeoisie mass movement, iii) it aims to destroy working class organisation by dividing it against itself. This is the clear pattern which emerges from the history of the fight against fascism in the 1920s and 1930s in Italy, Germany and France.

On the road to the new Rome

Fascism first came to power in Italy in the 1920s, indeed fascism is an Italian word. But to understand Italian fascism we have to understand the realities of Italian society at the beginning of this century. Italy underwent its industrial revolution in the period prior to the First World War. Industrial production almost doubled between 1896 and 1914. National income grew by approximately 50 percent and industrial investment trebled. [4] This enormous and speedy industrialisation was concentrated on the ‘industrial triangle’ of the northern cities of Genoa, Milan and Turin.

Yet even at the end of this period Italy still remained more an agricultural than an industrial society. All the classic problems of under-development existed in central and in particular southern Italy, with its chronic unemployment or under-employment. The south, although it was home to 40 percent of the population, was relatively unaffected by industrialisation. The changes of these years meant that the disparities between north and south were more pronounced than at the time of unification half a century before. These disparities were reflected in Italian politics. The Italian Marxist Gramsci wrote, ‘The intrinsic weakness of capitalism, however, compelled it to base the economic disposition of the bourgeois state upon a unity obtained by compromises between non-homogenous groups’. [5]

In the period before and after the First World War a system of patronage and manipulation evolved, dominated by the figure of Giovanni Giolitti, who was premier five times and minister of the interior twice. Basing himself on the northern industrial core Giolitti incorporated the swollen bourgeoisie and petty bourgeoisie of the centre and south into the state by providing sinecures and subsidies. He balanced between the industrialists of the north, who identified with the Liberal Party, and the Catholic political bloc which represented the older, more agricultural sections of the ruling class. He was also relatively successful at incorporating the leadership of the Socialist Party, the PSI, and the main trade union federation, the CGL.

This system provoked a backlash. Following Italy’s defeat by Ethiopia at Adowa in 1896 the Italian ruling class pulled back from a policy of imperialist expansion. A new romantic nationalist literature sprang up, best represented by the poet D’Annunzio, which rebelled against this retreat from imperialism and demanded Italy embark on its historic mission of overseas expansion – particularly into the Adriatic region. A section of Italian capital around steel and shipbuilding were increasingly drawn towards such nationalist rhetoric. Against Giolitti they supported a policy of imperialist expansion for which they hoped to win support from France and Britain in the coming war.

Within the PSI there was also a reaction to its leadership’s accommodation to Giolitti. This was articulated by Benito Mussolini – the son of a socialist blacksmith and a schoolteacher from the radical Romagna region. Mussolini was formed, above all, by Italy’s years of deep crisis, 1911–12. In 1911 Giolitti began the conquest of Libya, provoking an outburst of imperialist frenzy. In response the CGL called a general strike which met with widespread support. Mussolini was arrested for ripping up railway tracks and shared a cell with a future Socialist leader, Nenni, then a Republican.

Over the next few years there were huge struggles – particularly in Turin, home of the rising car giant FIAT. The leadership of the PSI and CGL only maintained control with difficulty. As editor of the Milan paper Avanti, Mussolini became the representative of the left. Avanti doubled its circulation to 60,000 by 1914. Mussolini’s politics centred on an ‘act of faith’ by a minority elite. For him the Italian working class had to ‘live a heroic and historic day’. Already in contact with nationalist circles Mussolini shocked his comrades in October 1914 when he wrote an article advocating Italy’s entry into the war on the side of France ‘so that socialism committing itself to the “nation” and its problems, might achieve their “revolutionary” solution’. [6]

The PSI was opposed to the war and Mussolini was expelled. He then launched Popolo d’Italia with subsidies from the Perrone brothers of the shipbuilding giant, Ansaldo. In the new paper he developed the fascist ideology. The fascists began as an association of war veterans. Mussolini took over and developed the movement for his own ends, renaming it the Fasci di azione rivolzionaria.

The First World War was a disaster for Italy, one of the weak links of European capitalism. The experience of war only heightened deep seated tensions. ‘Some 5,750,000 men were drafted; 600,000 were killed, 700,000 permanently disabled.’ [7] In October 1917 the Italian army was routed at Caporetto and the area around Venice was occupied, leaving the Italian High Command complaining that officers were openly insulted and abused on the streets.

In the aftermath of Caporetto a breakneck policy of industrial development began. Italy would end the war with more artillery than Britain and as an exporter of trucks and aircraft to its allies. Steel production increased by 50 percent. Output of electricity doubled. Giant concerns like FIAT, Ansaldo, Ilva and Pirelli dominated Italian industry. By the end of the war there were half a million workers in engineering. The workforce of FIAT increased from 7,000 to 30,000. The trade unions swelled in size to 3 million. Yet inflation undermined working class living standards and matters were made worse by serious food shortages as Italian agriculture could not feed the new industrial centres. In contrast the industrialists’ profits grew and grew. This was accompanied by a number of scandals. Pirelli was under suspicion of selling tyres to the Austrians. Three industrialists were arrested in 1918 for selling silk to Germany through Switzerland. Merging into this cocktail was great unrest on the land. In August 1917 bread riots erupted in Turin.

The end of the war saw two developments – a huge explosion of working class militancy and a shattering of the established political order. Far from benefiting at the hands of its victorious allies, Italy was denied the territory it desired – in particular Dalmatia which was incorporated into the new Yugoslav state, part of a cordon of states created to police Germany’s borders. Italy was as much a victim of the Treaty of Versailles as defeated Germany. Nationalist ideas which had been on the fringe of Italian politics now began to find a mass audience, particularly among the demobilised officers and NCOs of the army and the remaining officer corps.

In September 1919 the Italian garrison began withdrawing from the Adriatic city of Fiume in line with the Treaty of Versailles. The nationalist poet D’Annunzio, by now a war hero, occupied the town with 2,000 mutinous troops. The Italian government was only able to gain his withdrawal after direct negotiations in which the army high command clearly sided with D’Annunzio. This action gave a tremendous boost to the nationalists and the emerging fascists. It showed them that the government was weak and that they had friends in the army. At this stage Mussolini’s fascists were able to gain a degree of support: ‘The appeal of fascism the elite among the ex-servicemen, to the arditi [shock troops] above all, to the volunteers and to the officers in general’. [8] In April 1919 such elements carried out the first attack by an organised squad of fascists, burning down the Milan office of Avanti. But as 1919 progressed the far right were sidelined by events.

The two red years of 1919 and 1920 – the Biennio Rosso – saw a real revolutionary upsurge of the masses unmatched in Western Europe outside Germany. Industrial workers won better wages, the eight hour day, general recognition of collective contracts and a voice in production through ‘factory committees’. There were 1,663 strikes in 1919, rising to 1,881 in 1920. In Genoa and other northern ports the dockers’ strike beat the powerful ship owners. In September 1920, when the engineering employers responded to a strike with a lockout, half a million workers simply took over the factories, declaring workers’ control. The owner of FIAT, Agnelli, offered to turn his factories over to the workers! In the national elections the PSI emerged as the largest single party with 156 seats.

That revolution was a possibility is demonstrated by this exchange over the telephone between Albertini, the editor of the Milan paper Il Corriere della Sera, the main bourgeois paper, and his political ally in Rome, Amendola:

Rome [Amendola]: “But what can be done in this situation?”
Milan [Albertini]: “Give power to the CGL.”
Rome: “But that’s the end!”
Milan: “No, no its much better than what’s happening now. It is not possible to go on like this, my dear fellow.”
Rome: “But what you’re saying is – let’s make the revolution and goodbye! And it’s finished! But isn’t there anything we can do not to make the revolution?”
Milan: “Precisely, the only way to avoid the revolution is to give power to the CGL.” [9]

In Turin the factory occupations took on elements of ‘dual power’, as working class power opposed that of the official government. Armed workers defended the factories and the elected factory councils took on the nature of Soviets in the city. Revolutionaries were central to events in Turin. A young Sardinian intellectual, Antonio Gramsci, editor of the newspaper L’Ordine Nuovo, argued that the factory councils could become the basis for genuine soviet power. From the beginning these ideas, which captured a majority of the Turin section of the PSI, met with ‘fierce resistance from trade union officials, the leadership of the socialist party and Avanti’. In a report to the Communist International written in July 1920, Gramsci argued that the aim of the councils was ‘to win the trade unions to the cause of communism, to shift trade union struggle from the narrowly co-operative and reformist field to the terrain of revolutionary struggle, the control of production and the dictatorship of the proletariat’. [10] Looking back in 1924, Gramsci wrote:

During 1919–1920, we committed very serious errors which we are now paying for in full. For fear of being called arrivistes and careerists, we did not form a fraction [i.e. a separate revolutionary party] and try to organise it throughout Italy. We did not want to make the Turin factory councils into an independent directive centre which could have exercised an immense influence on the whole country, for fear of splitting the trade unions and of being prematurely expelled from the Socialist Party. [11]

The CGL and PSI leaders, on the other hand, played for the highest stakes. At a joint conference in Milan in September the CGL leaders offered to hand over their power to the PSI leadership if the latter agreed to make the revolution. The PSI directorate refused the offer. The issue was then put to the conference with the CGL leaders proposing that the movement be aimed at securing union control of industry and the PSI leaders moving a motion in favour of revolution! The CGL motion was carried. But while the movement’s leaders debated revolution in Turin the factory council leadership refused to move towards an insurrection.

This vacillation allowed the ‘old fox’, Giolitti, who had been recalled to the premiership amid this crisis, to make a deal with the CGL which promised a joint commission of the unions and employers to establish union control over industry. The engineering union confederation took the deal to a referendum which it won easily, despite widespread abstentions. The factory occupations were over by the end of September.

Meanwhile the peasants showed no less Fighting spirit. Returning from the trenches they demanded the division of the land. Land reform had been promised by the government but, when it was not forthcoming, the peasants seized the land. In September 1919 the government was forced to accept this situation, on condition the peasants organised themselves into co-operatives. The agricultural day labourers formed strong unions, the ‘red leagues’, which won recognition and other important concessions from the landowners. During the two red years strikes swept the Po Valley, Veneto, Umbria and Tuscany. Such was their strength that even the Catholic trade unions took part. The landowners complained of lack of government protection and began to look to other forces for aid.

Whilst the struggle was at its height Mussolini was forced to bend with the prevailing wind. In Milan he personally called on the head of the engineering union at the height of the crisis to tell him, ‘It mattered little to him if the factories were in the hands of the workers rather than the industrialists and that if the occupation developed into a constructive revolutionary movement, he would be on the side of the revolutionaries.’ As the chief Italian historian of the factory occupations comments:

However personal the opportunism which drove him to tail along behind the movement, it shows how powerful the thrust of workers’ attack was in the early days and how total the paralysis in conservative circles. A squadrista [the fascist squads] reaction in the great cities of the triangle was still utterly unthinkable. [12]

And Carocci, the historian of Italian fascism, points out, ‘So long as the wealthy remained on the defensive, fascism was not even modestly successful’. [13]

But with the threat of expropriation now lifted the Italian industrialists – notably the ship owners of Genoa – were ready to go to any lengths to escape the spectre of ‘workers’ control’. They were reinforced by the landed proprietors who wanted to smash the rural labourers’ unions. In March 1920 the first conference of industrialists was held at Milan and from it was launched a much stronger General Federation of Industry – the Confindustria. With the immediate crisis of the occupations past, the industrialists now wanted to move beyond Giolitti’s policy of co-option and take the offensive. But they themselves could not undertake the fight against a highly organised and militant working class. The army had proved unequal to the task. It had encircled Turin during the occupations, but the high command dared not attack when they were confronted with determined workers’ resistance and the uncertain loyalty of the ranks.

For this job the employers now called in the armed gangs of Mussolini’s fascists. As soon as the trade union and PSI leaders had moved to end the occupations Mussolini’s tone had changed. He came out roaring, ‘At this moment – we repeat at the top of our voice – we will resist a Bolshevik experiment with all the means at our disposal’. [14] Looking back in July 1923 he pointed out that the Italian left had not known how ‘to profit from a revolutionary situation such as history does not repeat’. [15]

Money had already come his way from the Milan business world as early as 1919 but, ‘It was above all in the fall of 1920, after the workers’ occupation of the factories, that the subsidies of the industrialists and the landowners rained into his coffers.’ [16] Heavy industry – particularly steel, armaments and the ship owners – provided the finance but it was the landowners who first turned the blackshirts loose:

The winter and spring of 1920–21 was the decisive period of fascist expansion. The fascist squadristi conducted a systematic campaign of terror 11 against the socialists and their local institutions (communal councils, party branches, trade unions, co-operatives and even cultural circles). The reaction spread through the whole of the Po Valley, and with even greater ferocity throughout most of Tuscany, Umbria and Apulia.’ [17]

The fascists could not have won so many victories without the support of the military. An army colonel toured the country as an expert on civil war. He produced a detailed plan for an ‘anti-socialist offensive’. He now advised:

There must be added an idealistic militia organised by the most expert, courageous, strong and aggressive among us. This militia must be capable both of military resistance and political action. [18]

Already the military wanted to recruit 25,000 mercenaries to impose order. General Badoglio, the chief of staff, sent out a circular to commandants of all military districts instructing that all officers then being demobilised (there were 60,000 in total) should be sent to the most important centres and required to join the fascist squads. The chosen place for this offensive to begin was the ‘red’ centre of Emilia, Bologna. The city’s bourgeoisie had been shaken by a general strike in April 1920 following the shooting of eight workers by the police. The local black-shirt leader, Arpinati (an ex-anarchist) wrote:

It is certainly true that these Bolognese bourgeois (and to say Bolognese is to say apathetic and cowardly) never made a move until, with the last strike, they felt themselves menaced in their own security and their own pockets; but should we, for this reason, not accept the money arm which is so necessary for our battle, and which these bourgeois (granted from fear alone) are offering us at this moment. [19]

During 1921–2 a major slump in the economy provided the opportunity for the employers to go on the offensive. The fascists decided to test the PSI leaders when they marched that May Day. Arpinati describes how ‘our patrols made various sorties, crossing the city by the principal streets to the sound of the Giovinezza [the fascist youth song], but without ever meeting resistance ... I am convinced they [the socialists] will never make a revolution’. [20] One Bolognese fascist recollected, ‘A few bands of youths ... had been able to check the revolutionary movement; they were now joined by the best sections of the citizens, the rich, the agrarians, and the traders ... little by little the movement of defence became a movement of offensive, and while formerly the red domination had to be suffered, now the fascio rules.’ [21]

In November the Blackshirts attacked the Municipal Council which had a Socialist majority. By the spring of 1921 the blackshirts had a membership estimated at between 5,000 and 8,000 in the city. Having met no serious resistance from the PSI or the unions and having effective control of the city, their action squads moved out into the surrounding countryside to break the Socialist agricultural union. In the first six months of that year the fascist squads: ‘...destroyed 59 case del popolo [houses of the people], 119 camere [meeting rooms], 107 co-operatives, 83 peasant leagues, 141 socialist centres; they killed over a hundred, wounded thousands and terrorised whole communities, forcing socialist municipalities out of office’. [22]

The economic crisis deepened. By January 1921 there were 600,000 unemployed. Giants like the steel and engineering firm Ansaldo, the mining and ship owning concern Ilva and their bank, the Banca di Sconto, crashed. These were some of the chief backers of fascism. Increasingly, big industry demanded the government rescue them by granting tax exemptions and subsidies, tariff controls, armament orders and, above all, help with breaking working class organisation and in cutting wages. Mussolini adopted all the main demands of the industrialists. In particular this meant focusing on the growing dissatisfaction with Giolitti’s policy of co-opting the PSI and CGL leadership. The recession allowed the employers to develop an alternative policy:

During 1921 and 1922, the situation changed. The slump enabled the employers to recapture the initiative. Strikes were ineffective in a period when unemployment was growing and leading militants could be victimised. [23]

Giolitti attempted to co-opt the fascists, believing they could be tamed by parliamentary politics. In the spring of 1921 he called an election and stood in a ‘national bloc’ which included Mussolini. Thirty fascist deputies were elected, providing them with a national platform.

In the beginning of 1922 fascist columns – sometimes numbered in thousands – were terrorising the countryside. In August 1922 they felt strong enough to seize the city halls of Milan and Leghorn (both had socialist councils) to occupy Genoa’s docks in order to break the power of the union, and to burn down the premises of scores of left wing newspapers.

Giolitti was no longer in control of events – there was no real government. The Liberal Party was split with its industrial core tilting towards fascism. The Popular Party which had a rural Catholic base was the second largest party next to the PSI, but the polarisation on the land had led to an effective split, its petty bourgeois support sliding away to the fascists. It was clear that fascism was now an independent force that could be checked only by force of arms. Sections of the Italian ruling class – including in all likelihood the King – did not like Mussolini but the general interest of the ruling class prevented the ‘national’ forces from tearing each other apart.

This was the background to the March on Rome, Mussolini’s seizure of power. The magnates of the Confindustria and the Banca Commerciale (newly formed from the remnants of the Banca di Sconto) came together in early October to guarantee the money for Mussolini’s move. On 28 October:

Some very lively conferences took place between Mussolini ... and the heads of the General Federation of Industry, Sig. Benni and Olivetti. The chiefs of the Banking Association, who had paid out 20 million to finance the March on Rome, the leaders of the Federation of Industry and of the Federation of Agriculture, telegraphed Rome that in their opinion the only possible solution was a Mussolini government. [24]

The Pope made his support for Mussolini clear with the Vatican paper Observatore Romano announcing, ‘We observe, with the greatest satisfaction, how the intentions of the supreme authorities, the will of the parties, and he who is now called to form the government have up till now conformed to the pious exhortation of Pius XI.’ [25]

At this stage the political balance was so fine that the slightest push was decisive. Mussolini’s March on Rome was designed to provide that push. The plan was for Mussolini’s blackshirts to assemble – by train – at four points around the capital. Lyttelton describes the mobilisation by Mussolini’s fascists thus:

In reality, the March on Rome, in the strictest sense, was a colossal bluff. The city was defended by 12,000 regular army, under the loyal General Pugliese, who would have been able to disperse the fascist bands without difficulty. Many of the fascists failed to arrive at their point of concentration; they were travelling by train and were stopped by the simple expedient of taking up a few yards of track. Those who did arrive were poorly armed and they were short of food. They could do nothing except hang around miserably in the torrential autumn rain. The grandiose ‘pincer movement’ on Rome could never have been carried out with any chance of success. [26]

Mussolini arrived in Rome on the morning of 30 October 1922 by sleeping car. He was driven, wearing his black shirt, to be presented to the King. He is said to have announced, ‘Majesty I come from the battlefield – fortunately bloodless’. [27] The March on Rome was political theatre, but at this stage it was enough to secure power.

Who were the Blackshirts ?

Two cities, Arezzo and Genoa, provide a good illustration of the fascists’ support. The composition of the fascist squads in Arezzo shows that ‘roughly 50 percent came from the lower middle class of shopkeepers, traders and employers, and another 25 percent was made up by the professional classes and students ...’ In Genoa: ‘The fascio of the city of Genoa ... was a relatively homogenous organisation; it did not really recruit much from the working class, but had a good base among the white collar workers and the petty bourgeoisie, and the less prosperous professional classes, especially among the newcomers to the city who coveted and resented the superior position held by the respectable “native” bourgeoisie’. [28]

The fascists also recruited among the unemployed, from those who had been most demoralised and degraded, and were most cut off from the working class movement. Often the squadrons of action they formed adopted names reflecting their situation – ‘The Savages’, ‘The Desperate’ and ‘The Damned’. One fascist wrote that ‘Mussolini and fascism had called upon the dregs of society’. [29] In terms of working class support fascism made little inroad, even after it came to power:

In 1921–22 about a third of the total membership [of the Fascist Party] were listed as workers and peasants, although many of these had undoubtedly joined out of fear or to avoid unemployment. The results published by Silone show that by 1927 the numbers of workers and peasants combined seldom exceeded 20 percent of the membership. My own samples of the membership in two big cities, Rome and Milan, at the beginning of 1926 show a working class membership of only 10–12 percent. [30]

The fascists created unions, but:

The mass of the membership came from the agricultural labourers of the regions under fascist control; next in numerical importance were the workers in the docks where the fierce competition for employment induced many of the casual labourers to join the unions and even the party; the fascist unions also enrolled a considerable number of workers in the transport, municipal and service sectors; but among workers in large scale industry they had little success ... The labour aristocracy [sic] of printers, engineers, metallurgical workers, builders etc. remained obstinately faithful to the CGL. [31]

In 1923, in the shopfloor elections to the commissioni interne, the factory commissions, the fascists’ share of the vote nowhere exceeded 10 to 15 percent, while two years later the Communists were able to win a clear majority on the FIAT committee.

So on what basis did Mussolini recruit his shock troops? The starting point was his image as the man of destiny, a semi-mystical cult of the personality around the figure of the leader, Il Duce. In Milan a ‘School of Fascist Mysticism’ was founded which reflected Mussolini’s own statement that ‘fascism is a religious conception’. [32] The symbols of fascism, the military image, the ‘comradeship of the trenches’ developed among war veterans and at the huge rallies and parades which were all vital to creating an image of a strong movement in which the small man could lose himself in pursuit of dignity. Above all fascism presented itself as the ‘religion of the fatherland’. On the eve of the March on Rome, Mussolini declared, ‘Our myth is the nation. Our myth is the greatness of the nation’, adding, ‘Imperialism is the eternal and immutable law of life.’

Italy was projected as the ‘proletarian nation’ – the one nation which had lost out in the imperialist division of the world. This drive towards the creation of a new Roman Empire was an important part of fascist ideology. It had a particular appeal,

... the slogans of fascist imperialism had greater efficacy among the impoverished middle classes (the morti di fame), the rural population and the lumpen proletariat of the Southern cities. Italian imperialism, it has been observed, was an ‘imperialism of poverty’, which shared with National Socialism a central concern with the problem of overpopulation.

This nationalism naturally had an immensely racist nature in relation to Slavs, Greeks and Africans – the victims of Italian expansionism – but it could not take on the extreme racial characteristics of German National Socialism with its glorification of the Aryan ‘race’. In a country where only a minority of the population spoke the ‘national’ language, where there were intense regional differences and there were significant minorities within the country’s border who spoke German, Greek, Albanian and French, the glorification of a ‘pure’ Italian race had limited mileage. [33]

What resistance was there from the left?

Throughout the rise of Mussolini the Socialist and trade union leaders obstinately refused to mobilise against the fascist threat. In March 1921 the Socialist leader Matteotti advised:

Stay home: do not respond to provocations. Even silence, even cowardice, are sometimes heroic. [34]

In the absence of any lead from the Socialist Party or CGL unions various left wingers and ex-servicemen formed an anti-fascist militia, the Arditi del Popolo, which included many PSI members and supporters. [35] Lenin reported to the Comintern’s Third Congress that in July 1921:

A meeting was held in Rome to organise the struggle against the fascists in which 50,000 workers took part, representing all parties – Communists, socialists and also republicans. Five thousand ex-servicemen came to the meeting in their uniforms and not a single fascist dared to appear on the street. [36]

On the rare occasions when the anti-fascists offered an organised resistance to fascism they won the upper hand, as in Parma in August 1922 when the Arditi del Popolo organised a mass response which drove the Blackshirts back. But just as this movement was being thrown up the PSI signed a ‘peace pact’ with Mussolini in which both sides promised to disarm. Needless to say, this pact remained a dead letter on the side of the blackshirts. In the localities the authorities used it as a pretext to raid workers’ organisations for the few arms which had been accumulated.

The CGL and the engineering union leaders were more concerned with crushing the factory councils which had been created round the factory occupations. In April 1921 FIAT declared 1,500 redundancies in Turin, which included the leaders of the councils. In negotiations the company owner, Agnelli, demanded the workers implement the national agreement with the engineering union which involved the dismantling of the councils. The workforce struck. But faced with opposition from the trade union leaders and with virtual civil war waging around the city, the militants were extremely isolated. By 26 April half the workforce had returned to work, accepting the company’s abject terms. On that day a fascist column entered the city and burnt down the people’s house, the strike centre. By the beginning of May the strike was called off. Well might Gramsci ask in February 1921, ‘Does the CGL exist?’ [37]

In February 1922 the CGL formed an alliance of various trade unions in defence of democracy. On 31 July it suddenly called a general strike at a day’s notice. Not surprisingly the response was weak and the strike was called off almost immediately. The strike’s collapse merely intensified the fascist assault on the working class. The CGL now entered into negotiations with Mussolini and by the time of the March on Rome it was prepared to consider Mussolini’s offer of a cabinet seat!

Opposition to the PSI and CGL leadership was, from January 1921, centred on the Communist Party. The Italian Communist Party (PCI) was born from a split from the PSI. At its birth it had 40,000 members. That figure fell to 25,000 by late 1922. [38] The Socialists retained 80,000 members. The PCI was:

overwhelmingly working class ... It was concentrated in the north and dense in Piedmont-Liguria. Its great stronghold was Turin. At least 98 percent of its membership was working class. [39]

The dominant figure in the new party was Amadeo Bordiga who, on principle, opposed any collaboration with the socialists, arguing against Lenin and Trotsky’s policy of the united front. At this stage Gramsci and others were staunch supporters of Bordiga’s position. At the party’s 1922 congress Bordiga ‘rejected the hypothesis of fascism’s taking power and believed a compromise among all the bourgeois parties was inevitable’. This flowed from his denial that fascism represented a particular danger, being simply another form of bourgeois domination:

The attitude of the whole PCI leadership at the time tended to be that the destruction of the liberal bourgeois state was hardly a matter of concern for communists; that the advance of fascism would lead to the exposure of the reformists and maximalists of the PSI; and that these would be eliminated as direct rivals to the Communist Party. [40]

As the blackshirts were mobilising on 28 October 1922, Bordiga sent out a circular to PCI branches stating that ‘the March on Rome will never take place’. The historian Gwyn Williams writes that the Italian Communist Party ‘believed that fascism would prove a temporary phase of re-integration in a capitalist system which, in order to survive, would assume social democratic form’. [41]

For much of the left in Italy during the early 1920s it was all too easy to see fascism as simply another form of capitalist reaction. On this view fascism was no different in essence from liberal democracy or, indeed, from the rule of reformist socialism, Social Democracy. This was reflected in numerous contributions made within the discussions of the Communist International at that time. So it was that Gramsci, after Mussolini took power in October 1922, stated:

Fascism, by shattering the working class, has restored to ‘democracy’ the possibility of existing. In the intentions of the bourgeoisie, the division of labour should operate perfectly: the alternation of fascism and democracy should serve to exclude for ever any possibility of working class resurgence. [42]

In this situation revolutionaries should simply shout, ‘A plague on all their houses’, and concentrate on achieving the socialist revolution. Just three months before Mussolini’s March on Rome, with the Socialists and the trade unions threatening a general strike in defence of parliamentary democracy, the PCI’s central figure, Bordiga, wrote:

Do the fascists want to demolish the parliamentary side-show? Well we would be only too delighted. Do the collaborationists [the PSI and the trade union leaders] want a general strike – which they have always opposed and sabotaged when it was for effective defence of the workers – if it is necessary to help their manoeuvres in the crisis? Excellent. The greatest danger is that they will all get together and agree not to rock the boat, in the interests of a legal and parliamentary solution. [43]

Yet before long Gramsci at last realised:

Out of the small number of working class papers, however, the destruction has already taken place of Il Lavoratore from Trieste, of Il Proletario from Pula, of La Difesa from Florence, of La Giustizia from Reggio Emilia, and of Avanti in both its Milanese and Roman editions ... the premises of the working class, the Chambers of Labour and the Socialist and Communist sections, have been burned down in their tens and hundreds. Even the streets are denied to the popular masses ... A hundred armed individuals – guaranteed impunity for any violent act they may commit and the unconditional assistance of the forces of public order in case of need ... is sufficient to hold the proletariat in check and deprive it of its freedom to come and go, its freedom to meet and discuss. [44]

And others also challenged this line of argument. A Hungarian Communist, Gyula Sas, who was in Italy during the period of Mussolini’s rise to power, wrote:

There is no reason either to try and cover up the error of the PCI. Its error consisted in not having attributed any particular importance to fascism at an early stage, and in having subsequently seen it merely as an extra-legal military force of the bourgeoisie, which the young Communist Party could not yet confront with its own military force, it failed to confront it physically, although the fascist victory even in Italy was not merely a victory of arms, but a political victory as well ... a political victory that alone made possible a military one. The political victory of fascism was the necessary condition for the victory of fascism’s arms. [45]

And another PCI leader, Togliatti, later admitted:

Right up to the eve of the March on Rome, and even while it was taking place, the Communist Party was denying the possibility and the actuality of the coup d’état. Immediately after the march on Rome the party’s theoretical journal published an article which maintained that the advent of Mussolini to power would not substantially change the country’s political situation. [46]

Underneath it all Bordiga and until too late Gramsci, and the other PCI leaders stood for a ‘pure’ Communist Party, a committed minority, which could not compromise its principles by collaborating with non-revolutionaries. So the PCI refused to work within the Arditi del Popolo counterposing a demand for Communist led defence squads. Looking back in 1926 Gramsci would write that Lenin had told the communists:

‘Separate yourself from Turati [the PSI leader], and then make an alliance with him’. This formula should have been adopted by us to the split ... In other words, we should – as our indispensable and historically necessary task – have separated ourselves ... But after that, though continuing the ideological and organisational struggle against them, we should have sought to make an alliance against reaction. [47]

The veteran socialist Clara Zetkin, a close comrade of Rosa Luxemburg and a founder of the German Communist Party (KPD), obviously had Italian events in the forefront of her mind when she delivered this speech to the Executive of the Communist International in June 1923:

Self-defence of the proletariat is the demand of the hour. Fascism is not to be fought in the manner of the Italian reformists: ‘Don’t touch me and I won’t touch you’. No. Force against force. Not force in the form of individual terror – but force as the power of the organised revolutionary class struggle of the proletariat ... But proletarian struggle and self-defence must mean a proletarian united front. Fascism does not enquire whether the factory worker owes his allegiance to the white and blue of [far-right dominated] Bavaria, to the black, red and gold of the bourgeois Republic, or to the red flag with the hammer and sickle. It does not ask whether he supports the return of the Wittelsbachs [the Bavarian royal family overthrown in 1918], is enthusiastic about Ebert [the Social Democratic president of Germany], or would rather see our comrade Brandler [a leader of the German CP] as president of the German Soviet Republic. It is enough that fascism sees a class conscious proletarian in front of it. The workers must therefore make common cause in the struggle, without distinction of party or trade union organisation. The self-defence of the proletariat against fascism is one of the strongest factors making for the organisation and consolidation of the proletarian united front. Without the united front it is impossible for the proletariat to accomplish its own defence successfully. [48]

Zetkin’s speech represented a continuation of Lenin and Trotsky’s policy, adopted in 1921, after they realised that capitalism had stabilised itself and that the Western working class had been thrown onto the defensive. Such defensive struggles required a degree of unity with the Social Democratic parties from which the Communists had recently broken. Had the PCI adopted the approach Zetkin outlined there would still have been time, even after the March on Rome, to stop Mussolini.

The consolidation of fascist power

Mussolini, unlike Hitler, was faced with ruling class institutions much less deeply rooted than those in comparatively advanced Germany. Hitler had to remould much of the state machinery and create his own special detachments loyal to the regime, the SS for instance. Mussolini could more easily integrate fascist rule with the existing institutions. Consequently the fascist militia in Italy never corresponded to the SS.

The police remained the chief instrument of repression:

The state police, however, were the central and dominant instrument of control under the regime ... In Germany the police administration fell into the hands of an ideologically inspired elite, originating in the ranks of the party. In Italy, it remained under the control of trained bureaucrats, and this was a fact of decisive importance. [49]

The German ruling class, unlike its Italian counterpart, was relatively homogeneous. Mussolini had to operate in a situation where the old divisions within the ruling class could reappear. Another difference was that in the beginning Mussolini had a parliamentary minority – just 35 seats. In order to establish the dictatorship he had to undermine his allies in his first government, the Liberals and the Popular Party in particular. Mussolini demanded and got from his allies full control of taxation, the ability to reorganise all state organs, except the legislature, including the magistracy, the army and the schools. The Liberals accepted this – as did the CGL!

In December 1922 Mussolini ordered the arrest of the PCI leadership. Hundreds of party members were also imprisoned. The Blackshirts ‘devastated working class Turin ... they finally destroyed the office of L’Ordine Nuovo’. [50] The following month the fascist squads were reorganised into the state run fascist militia. In July 1923 the Liberals accepted a piece of ballot rigging which guaranteed that in future elections two thirds of all seats would go to the biggest party. In July 1924 Mussolini felt able to call elections having created a powerful list of candidates on the fascist ticket:

For the elections the Government was able to obtain a massive official contribution from the Confindustria and the Associazione fra le Societa per Azioni; they formed a central election fund financed by a regular levy on the capital of their members ... The captains of industry were present in force in the Government list, led by the President and Secretary of the Confindustria, Benni and Gino Olivetti. They included Motta and Donegani, respectively from the Edison and the Montecatini, the most powerful enterprises in the hydro-electrical and chemical sectors; another great electoral magnate, Ponti of the SIP; Marzotto of the famous dynasty of textile industrialists from the Veneto; the President of the Lega Industriale from Turin; Mazzini; and the Ligurian shipowner Biancardi. [51]

The fascist squads were once again turned loose and the election ‘took place in an atmosphere of violence and terror’. [52] Owing to the new electoral system the fascist list took 286 seats, an absolute majority. The CGL said its members were free to vote how they liked, ditching their links to the Socialists in a desperate move to curry favour with Mussolini. The PSI leader Turrati even had a debate with a fascist in Turin. Blackshirts guarded the entrance. Despite all this:

In none of the other large cities, except Rome, did the national list obtain an absolute majority: in Milan it had 34.4 percent of the vote (16,000 less than the combined vote of the working class parties), in Turin 36.6 percent, in Genoa 47.2 percent, in Venice 36.5 percent, in Naples 49.6 percent and in Palermo 30.4 percent. [53]

In spite of the fascists’ success, there still remained a strong opposition in parliament. More important, the trade unions still existed and the PCI, while driven underground, was able to win seats and their deputies operate with parliamentary immunity. Within the fascists’ ranks there was also considerable disquiet as the party became more bureaucratised and more integrated with the state. The promised ‘national revolution’ seemed not to have occurred. The local party in Bologna demanded that Mussolini shut down parliament.

Mussolini ordered a special squad operating from the interior ministry to beat up some of his opponents in parliament. After a stinging speech by the socialist deputy Matteotti, denouncing the election frauds, this squad picked him up on a Rome street on 10 June 1924. Matters seemed to have gone further than intended and Matteotti was murdered. The reaction took Mussolini by surprise, ‘Spontaneous demonstrations in favour of the Opposition broke out in the streets, which was something that had not been seen for a long time.’ [54] Another source writes:

The murder aroused great anger in Rome and other cities. The widespread sympathy which fascism had aroused diminished or melted away, and in the week that followed the crime the government might easily have been toppled. Mussolini was frightened. Luckily for him, none of his opponents was up to the situation. All they did was walk out of the Chamber as a protest ... [55]

In Rome Mussolini’s initial response was to call out the fascist militia. Gramsci wrote, ‘The first attempt to mobilise the national minority failed utterly, with only 20 percent answering the call; in Rome only 800 militiamen presented themselves at the barracks’. [56] This failure meant ‘that between 14 June and 16 June the anti-fascists had a chance to control the piazza’. [57]

This was the crucial turning point. But the PSI tied themselves completely to the dissident Liberals and other bourgeois politicians:

‘At the unique moment’, Nenni [a PSI leader] writes, ‘for calling the workers into the streets for insurrection, the tactic prevailed of a legal struggle on the judicial and parliamentary plane’ ... ‘What are our opponents doing?’ Mussolini mocked in the Chamber. ‘Are they calling general strikes or even partial strikes? Are they organising demonstrations in the streets? Are they trying to provoke revolts in the army? Nothing of the sort. They restrict themselves to press campaigns’. The Socialists launched the triple slogan: Resignation of the government, dissolution of the militia, new elections. They continued to display confidence in the King, whom they begged to break with Mussolini; they pushed for his enlightenment, petition after petition. But the King disappointed them a second time. [58]

The King had already granted Mussolini an audience a week after the murder to demonstrate his support for Il Duce. Giolitti backed him. The philosopher Croce voted for him saying fascism had ‘done much good’. The Pope blocked the Popular Party from allying with the PSI over the affair. The Communists refused in principle to mobilise over the affair or to approach the PSI locally or nationally for joint action.

The opposition boycott of parliament was as far as matters went, ‘The idea that a dignified but essentially passive protest would bring about the fall of fascism was a dangerous illusion.’ [59] Soon after the murder Mussolini was able to mobilise 1,600 fascist militiamen in Florence and 1,200 in Milan. In the absence of any demonstrations he was then able to concentrate the provincial militiamen in the capital.

By December the fascist squads went on the rampage in Florence, Pisa and Bologna against the Liberal opposition smashing the printing presses of their papers, their Masonic lodges and their lawyers’ offices. The next month the King gave Mussolini a free hand to dissolve parliament. The industrialists and the Liberals voted in favour of dissolving it. A wave of repression followed: ‘Circles and clubs were closed; branches of opposition parties were dissolved; the Italia Libera organisation of ex-combatants was suppressed altogether; and even wine shops suspected of serving as the meeting place of “subversives” were closed down ...’ In October 1925 Matteotti’s own party was banned and then all other opposition parties. The PCI deputies, including Gramsci, were arrested. The PCI was subject to severe repression. The Matteotti affair then ended with the consolidation of the dictatorship.

Having delivered a knockout blow to the opposition, Mussolini was now able to turn on his own supporters. Those who had dreamt that the fascist revolution would see the triumph of the ‘little man’ were rudely awoken. The blackshirts were brought to heel. After October 1925 the majority of the squads were dissolved. In January 1927 Mussolini sent a circular to all prefects confirming state authority as supreme, saying, ‘The suppression of all opposition parties and of local elections made it possible drastically to reduce the functions of the fascist party.’ [60] Lyttelton concludes:

There was a ‘crisis of silence’; the fascist movement became increasingly absorbed in the performance of routine bureaucratic tasks, and the indoctrination both of party members and of the neutral mass of the population was neglected ... These cliques of leaders became in most cases intertwined with the local business establishment. They might indeed be directly dependent upon it: great companies like the Terni could dominate a whole federation. More usual, perhaps, was a kind of mafia situation, in which party and business were equal partners. The party leaders exercised control and got rich by means of their business contacts; but business in turn needed them to get things fixed, to get favours from the administration and to discourage competitors ... after 1926 pure careerism of a pedestrian kind predominated over a more adventurous and aggressive spirit; fascism developed a middle aged spread. Rank and file membership in the party came to signify less and less. This was a predictable evolution, observable even in totalitarian regimes where the party or movement obtained recognition over the organs of state as in Nazi Germany. [61]

The German disaster

The scale of the economic and political crisis which swept Germany between 1929 and 1933 was greater than that in Italy. The Great Slump ushered in by the Wall Street Crash of 1929 hit Germany hard and sharpened divisions in a country which was already polarised on class lines. Between 1929 and 1932 industrial production collapsed by 42 percent. Unemployment rose to 5.5 million – 30 percent of the total workforce and 45 percent of trade union members. In order to solve that crisis a ‘cure’ was needed by the ruling class which was even more extreme than Mussolini’s fascists. Arno Meyer writes, ‘Germany occupied a decidedly more crucial position in the international system and the ideology of German fascism – of National Socialism – was more universalising and creed-bound, in addition to being impregnated with anti-semitism’. [62] Hitler styled himself ‘a revolutionary against the revolution’. It is a fitting description.

In the early 1930s the German Social Democratic Party (SPD) was the largest working class party in the world. The German Communist Party (KPD) was the largest outside Soviet Union, this in a society which had already gone through two revolutionary upheavals – at the end of the war in 1918–19 and again in 1923 when only the procrastination of the Communist Party prevented the working class taking power. In order to defeat the first revolutionary wave a weakened German capitalist class had to create ‘volunteer corps’ and ‘combat leagues’ composed of demobilised soldiers. The most important were the Freikorps – a shadow army organised by the High Command. In Munich one such gang took the name ‘National Socialist Party’.

German capitalists had another use for these gangs. The Treaty of Versailles had stripped them of raw materials and vital industrial areas in Lorraine, Silesia, the Saar and elsewhere. In 1919 big business bankrolled the 50,000 ‘Baltikum’ corps which entered Lithuania to crush Soviet power and to ensure the newly created Baltic states remained within the German orbit. In 1923 the Black Reichswehr, as these different divisions were called, resisted the French occupation of the Ruhr, stiffening the official ‘passive resistance’ of German business and authorities. In the wake of the Wall Street crash, big business began to look back at the methods it had employed successfully in the past.

The recession had an enormous effect on the middle classes in Germany. They had already suffered from the concentration of production and retailing in the hands of fewer and fewer major concerns:

With the crisis of 1930, the third station of the cross began for the middle classes. They suffered more severely from it than did the proletariat, which was protected to a certain extent by union contracts and unemployment allowances. The situation of small commerce and industry became desperate. Office workers and technicians often saw their salaries sink lower than those of skilled workers. They were thrown into the street like authentic proletarians. [63]

But the middle classes’ support for the Nazis was not inevitable. In 1919 large numbers of the middle classes had voted for the Social Democrats for the first time. Many office workers and functionaries joined trade unions. In 1923, at the time of the occupation of the Ruhr and with hyper-inflation wiping out their investments and dividends, many a ruined, desperate, petty bourgeois came over to Communism. But in 1919 the Social Democratic Party were in government and used the Freikorps to break the revolution. In 1923 the Communist Party failed to seize the revolutionary opportunity. The two working class parties had disappointed their new supporters. In 1929 the government was presided over by a Socialist, Richard Müller, with the SPD’s economic expert, Rudolf Hilferding, as finance minister. The middle classes blamed it, along with the parties of the centre, for what befell them. They became resentful of the working class and were terrified of losing their status in society.

The ‘genius’ of Hitler was to understand the fears of these people. In Mein Kampf he had written that ‘for people of modest situation who have once risen above that social level, it is unendurable to fall back into it even momentarily’. From 1929 he seemed to voice their inner thoughts and to offer them dignity. Trotsky would write, ‘Not every exasperated petty bourgeois could have become Hitler, but a particle of Hitler is lodged in every exasperated petty bourgeois’. [64]

Who was Hitler? Born in 1889 in Linz, Austria, where his father was a customs official, he gained from his teachers a grounding in anti-semitism and pan-German nationalism, becoming a reader of the anti-semitic paper, the Linzer Fliegende Blätter, while still at school. Having moved to Vienna he was refused admission to the city’s Academy of Art in both 1907 and 1908. Hitler lived on the verge of Viennese society, finding jobs on building sites. In Mein Kampf he confesses his workmates inspired in him only disgust and that he was threatened with being dumped off a scaffold for not complying with union discipline. He found solace in the ideas and methods of the city’s mayor, Karl Lueger. This demagogue had built a powerful political machine among the city’s middle classes, presenting his party as that of the ‘little man’. In order to achieve this he had to undermine the existing Liberal and Clerical Parties. Anti-semitism was the means he used. In Mein Kampf Hitler would write of Lueger:

He saw only too clearly that, in our epoch, the political fighting power of the upper classes is quite insignificant ... Thus he devoted the greatest part of his political activity to the task of winning over those sections of the population whose existence was in danger and fostering the militant spirit in them rather than attempting to paralyse it.

Hitler left Vienna for Munich in 1913 as, in his own words, ‘an absolute anti-semite, a sworn enemy of the whole Marxist world outlook and pan-German in sentiment’. Writing in 1940 Trotsky said:

Hitler exhibits traits of monomania and messianism. Personal hurt played a tremendous role in his development. He was a declassed petty bourgeois who refused to be a workingman. Normal workers accepted their position as normal. But Hitler was a pretentious misfit with a sick psyche. He achieved a vicarious social elevation by execrating Jews and Social Democrats. He was desperately determined to rise higher. Along his way he created for himself a ‘theory’ full of countless contradictions and mental reservations – a hodgepodge of German imperial ambitions and the resentful day dreams of a declassed petty bourgeois. [65]

In 1914 Hitler was among the jubilant crowds who filled the city’s main square to greet Germany’s declaration of war. Hitler volunteered and won five awards for valour, including the Iron Cross, First Class. He would end the war in hospital after being gassed. For a frontline fighter like Hitler, one versed in the new shock troop tactics which almost carried Germany to victory in 1918, there was a keen sense that Germany had not been militarily defeated but had been ‘betrayed’ by collapse on the home front, by the outbreak of revolution.

After the war Hitler was engaged as a military spy in Bavaria and it was in that role that he joined the German Workers Party in 1919, a small far right party of 50 members. By the following year he had taken it over and renamed it the National Socialist German Workers Party – the Nazi party.

In 1920 the state of Bavaria became the bastion of the most right wing elements within federal Germany, after the Freikorps crushed the Soviet Republic in Munich. The Interior minister formed a ‘home guard’ and co-operated with Hitler’s Nazi party. By January 1923 Hitler could deploy 6,000 storm troopers, members of the SA, the Sturm Abteilung.

As Germany moved towards revolution Hitler threw himself into the nationalist agitation over the occupation of the Ruhr and against the effects of the hyper-inflation. By October he could review 100,000 supporters in Munich. Joining him on the platform were General Ludendorff, second in command of Germany’s army during the war, and Admiral Scheer, the country’s top naval officer.

In emulation of Mussolini, Hitler believed that the local military commanders would join him in taking power in Bavaria. He could then carry out a March on Berlin. But with the collapse of the revolutionary threat from the working class this scenario failed to materialise. Hitler led 2,000 or so of his supporters out of a beer hall only to be dispersed by a volley from the state police. He fled the scene and was later jailed for some months, though in remarkably liberal conditions. The defeat in Munich was important for Hitler’s subsequent strategy:

Hitler was no slavish imitator; he learnt in 1923 the danger of sticking too closely to Mussolini’s prescription. Hitler had to adopt the ‘legality tactic’ and rely on mass propaganda rather than the violent conquest of local power to extend the influence of his movement. This in turn made it necessary to build up apolitical machine which was vastly superior to that of the Fascist Party. With the aid of this machine, Hitler was able to carry through his ‘revolution from above’ with far greater speed and thoroughness than had proved possible for Mussolini. [66]

Despite the collapse of the beer hall putsch, the Nazis were able to take over the remnants of other far right groups elsewhere in Germany. The core of the party’s leadership was already in place; Hermann Goering, the son of a former governor of German run Namibia (South West Africa) and a fighter ace in the war, the poultry farmer Heinrich Himmler, the former officer and merchant’s son Rudolph Hess, the architect Alfred Rosenberg, the lawyer Wilhelm Frick and the party’s Berlin chief, Josef Goebbels. Nevertheless, the popular appeal of the Nazi party was limited during much of the 1920s. In February 1925 Ludendorff ran in the presidential elections on the far right ticket but only polled 285,793 votes (1.1 percent). In September of that year one party member complained that ‘Hitler’s activities are currently restricted to work on the second volume of his book Mein Kampf’. [67] In May 1928 elections for the national parliament, the Reichstag, the Nazi party won 810,000 votes, 2.6 percent of the poll.

The crisis which broke in the following year saw a drastic change in the Nazis’ fortunes. During 1929 the party’s membership rose to 175,000. By the end of 1931 it stood at 800,000 with the SA deploying 225,000 storm troopers. The shift in Hitler’s electoral fortunes was even more dramatic. In the Reichstag elections of September 1930 (caused by the resignation of the coalition led by Müller of the SPD) the Nazis took 6,409,000 votes, 18.3 percent of the poll, mainly from the centre parties whose middle class voters were deserting them. But this was only one side of an extreme social polarisation. Less dramatic, but nevertheless substantial, was the increase in support for the Communists whose vote increased by 40 percent to 4,592,000. The KPD would grow: ‘From a fairly steady total of 125,000 in the late 1920s its membership rose to 170,000 in 1930, to 240,000 in 1931 and to 360,000 on the eve of the catastrophe’. [68]

However, only the SPD vote – which still fell by over half a million – was bigger than that of the Nazis. The SPD, despite its lost electoral support, was still a powerful organisation. Some 3,500,000 workers were affiliated to the Reichsbanner, its paramilitary wing committed to the defence of the republican constitution. More importantly, its base was in the organised working class. In September 1930, 89.9 percent of elected factory committee members stood as SPD supporters.

In contrast a survey of the KPD’s membership in Die Kommunistche Internationale reported, ‘In Berlin itself it was even worse: only 1.5 percent of the members worked in factories employing over 5,000 people ... The big factories are dominated above all by the SPD’. [69] As one eyewitness recalls: ‘... the KPD drew its support from the growing number of unemployed or petty bourgeois who had fallen on hard times, while Social Democracy mostly influenced factory workers and the majority of trade unionists’. [70] This was a disparity that any serious revolutionary party would have had to address.

The key to attracting the SPD’s base in the factories was to relate to the growing dissatisfaction of the SPD’s membership with the policy of the party leadership. But, rather than exploiting the passivity and shortsightedness of the SPD’s leaders, the Communists acted in the most sectarian way, alienating the bigger party’s members and supporters. This sectarianism had a real appeal in the KPD’s ranks. After all, in 1929 the Social Democratic government in Prussia banned the KPD’s May Day demonstration in Berlin and, when the Communists took to the streets, the SPD head of police, Zorgiebel, ordered his men to fire. Twenty eight workers were left dead. Whole districts of the capital were placed under martial law, the KPD daily and the party’s provincial press were banned for several weeks and the party’s paramilitary wing, the Leagues of Red Front Fighters, was banned.

Nevertheless, the evidence suggests that, where a united lead was given, workers fought back successfully against the Nazis. In the town of Brunswick in the Autumn of 1931 the working class mobilised to drive out the SA who were holding a convention there. Significantly Brunswick was an engineering centre with a strong tradition of workers taking action independently of either the SPD or KPD leaders. There had to be mass expulsions from the KPD in the town to enforce the line that the reformists were ‘social fascists’, little better than the Nazis themselves.

In April 1932 the KPD launched Antifa (Anti-Fascist Action). Initially it met with some success. An interior ministry report told of ‘the formation of a united front on the local level, sometimes on the basis of decisions of local trade union federations, the formation of anti-fascist unity committees and of anti-fascist defence staffs, joint mass demonstrations etc.’ [71] The SPD responded by issuing a circular instructing its organisations to avoid ‘local negotiations’ which produced ‘only disunity and confusion’. The KPD leaders followed suit. The historian E H Carr reports:

Some time in June instructions were sent to the KPD [from Moscow] ... branding as ‘opportunist errors’ the ‘open letters’ sent to social democratic organisations with proposals for common action and other forms of fraternisation; and the central committee of the KPD, in obedience to this protest, sent a circular letter to its branches and organisations, explaining that the social-democratic workers were not yet ripe for common demonstrations with the KPD. [72]

This meant that, although ‘the setting up of Antifa (Anti Fascist Action) groups corresponded to a real need to defend working class organisations and areas against the increasingly bold intervention of the Nazi storm troops,’ the party’s ‘insistence that non-communists could only participate as individuals, under communist leadership, and that there could be no “return to the Weimar Republic” even in case of successful defence meant that it turned into a purely communist operation’. [73] Thus the CP’s sectarianism cut them off from reformist workers just at the moment when the SPD leaders were making it easy for the CP to influence SPD members.

There followed two crucial tests of strength which paved the way for Hitler taking power. In July 1932 the Hamburg working class area, Altona, rose to stop the Nazis marching through their streets. Nineteen people died and 285 were injured but the Nazis were routed despite the support they got from the police. The government under von Papen decided to test the resolve of the SPD and trade union leaders in the wake of this victory. The central government announced the dismissal of the SPD government in Prussia, arguing it had not been able to maintain law and order in Altona.

The SDP prime minister of Prussia, Severing, told von Papen that he would ‘yield only to force ... a republican minister does not quit his post like a deserter’. Later the new commissioner arrived to take his place accompanied by the newly selected police chief and an army officer. They invited Severing to leave but he refused. He was then told that the authorities would resort to force. Severing replied that he did not want to give the signal for bloodshed in Germany and that in ‘the interests of Germany and Prussia he would yield to force’. That afternoon an armoured car with a captain, two lieutenants, and 123 soldiers drove up to the police headquarters. The three ousted police chiefs – all SPD members – surrendered meekly. As they were being led away the armed police stood to attention!

The SPD leaders had proclaimed the Prussian government with its 50,000 police, many of them party members, as a key obstacle to fascism. Now they allowed it to fall without a whimper. Many SPD members were not so sanguine. One eyewitness recounted the contrasting response of the SPD leadership and membership:

On the evening of 19 July, great mass rallies took place in Berlin and other cities. The newspaper Vorwärts [the SPD daily] reported that when the speakers claimed ‘the German working class’s determination to wage a united struggle against the fascist danger, the cry “Freedom! Freedom!” came from the lips of thousands as they raised their fists as if taking an oath’. As soon as the government’s provocations became known, the members of the Iron Front [the Reichsbanner allied with trade union sports clubs] and SPD membership rushed to their rallying points to await the call of battle. The Iron Front and SPD leadership put out a leaflet in which they warned against provocations and advised waiting for the decisions of the responsible leaders. The ‘responsible leaders’ decided to do nothing. There was not one hour of general strike, not a protest. Thus, the fortress of democracy’ was surrendered without resistance. This was the dress rehearsal for the seizure of power by the Nazis six months later’. [74]

The trade union leaders declared ‘the situation not sufficiently grave to justify the workers preparing for a struggle to defend their rights’. [75] The KPD refused to mobilise against this attack as it would have meant defending ‘social fascists’.

The second crucial test came when President Hindenburg appointed Hitler as Chancellor, just as support for the Nazis seemed to be waning. In the Reichstag elections in November 1932 the Nazi party’s vote fell from 13.7 million to 11.7 million, less than the combined SPD-KPD vote. One eyewitness reports that the news of Hitler’s appointment:

brought out what were in fact the most impressive demonstrations of the German workers’ will to resist. In the afternoon and evening of 30 January spontaneous and violent mass demonstrations took place in German cities. Delegations from the factories ... from all parts of the country arrived on the same day in Berlin in expectation of battle orders.

The official history of the German union IG Metall reports that in this situation ‘the working class waited in vain for a signal to act’. The SPD paper, Vorwärts, printed a special edition saying, ‘In the face of a government that threatens a coup d’etat, the Social Democracy stands firm on the grounds of the Constitution and legality’. [76] The official line of the KPD was that Hitler would not remain in office long, his appointment heralding the final revolutionary crisis. The Nazis would collapse and then, in the words of one KPD leader, ‘After Hitler, our turn!’ [77] The Communist Party’s leadership kept up its barrage of attacks on the SPD but now issued a call for a general strike. But the party’s lack of roots in the factories became all too apparent:

On 31 January, the day after Hitler’s seizure of power, the German CP called a meeting of the plant councils. Despite heavy attendance, no decision could be made to launch a mass political strike against Hitler ... The CP was isolated from the unions, and on this occasion also the union bureaucracy was able to sabotage the struggle. [78]

On 7 February 1933 the head of the SPD in Berlin gave this instruction:

Above all, do not let yourselves be provoked. The life and health of the Berlin workers are too dear to be jeopardised lightly; they must be preserved for the day of struggle. [79]

The workers of Berlin would wait in vain for such a day.

In order to consolidate his position Hitler was determined to secure an electoral victory amidst a climate of fear and repression. The KPD’s meetings were banned, and their press closed, while a police auxiliary of 50,000 recruited from the SA carried a campaign of terror into Berlin’s working class areas. In the run up to the elections on 5 March the Nazis put a plan into operation. On 24 February there was a huge raid on the KPD’s headquarters. Hitler’s deputy, Goering, announced the discovery of a blueprint for an imminent Communist revolution. Then on 27 February the Nazis started a fire in the Reichstag claiming it was the signal for a Communist uprising. The next day President Hindenburg signed a decree suspending the sections of the constitution guaranteeing freedom of expression, press, assembly, association and other civil liberties. Thousands of KPD and SPD officials were rounded up. Only the Nazis and the right wing parties were permitted to campaign in the last week before the election. Despite all of this the Nazis still failed to win an overall majority, gaining just 43.9 percent of the vote. The SPD still polled 7,182,000 votes while the illegal KPD received 4,848,000 votes. On 24 March the new deputies – minus the Communists who were in jail or exile – voted Hitler the power to legislate ‘without following the procedure established by the Constitution’. The SPD voted against but made clear they would play the role of a ‘responsible opposition’ and would do nothing ‘illegal’. Two months later the SPD were banned and the trade unions dissolved.

The trade union officials had tried everything to keep their positions intact. The German General Labour Federation sent a protest to Hindenburg after the Reichstag fire, pleading:

The unions have always opposed terrorism in all its forms. They have educated their members to struggle for a new social order without using violence. [80]

After the elections they formally severed their links with the SPD and issued a manifesto stating, ‘The social task of the unions must be carried out, whatever the nature of the state regime’. [81] On May Day they told their members to join the Nazi organised ‘National Day of Labour’ parade. But in the end it did them no good. The cream of the German working class were put behind wire. ‘By the end of 1933, 130,000 Communists had been thrown into concentration camps and 2,500 murdered’. [82]

Hitler used a twin track approach of parliamentary legal means along with street terror. While Mussolini took three years to consolidate his dictatorship, Hitler achieved his goal within a few weeks of his appointment.

Who were the Nazis?

The German working class remained relatively immune to penetration by fascism. In 1931 the Nazi ‘trade union’, the NSBO, ran a vigorous campaign round the factory committee elections. Despite that it only received 5 percent of the vote against 83.6 percent for the independent unions which were linked to the SPD. ‘Again in March 1933, with Hitler in power, despite all its efforts, in the partial elections for factory committees it received only 3 percent of the votes.’ [83]

Erich Fromm surveyed 1,100 activists from all parties (these are the forms he was able to collect and process before being exiled). He broke them down as follows: [84]





Unskilled manual




Skilled manual




White collar












The Nazis were able to win some support among the most backward and least organised workers. But often these were people on the divide between the working class and the petty bourgeoisie. A survey of Communists and Nazis arrested in Berlin in November 1932 found that:

... of workers in the food trades: a dairy hand, a sweetboiler, a dairyman, a brewer, three butchers and fully 12 bakers ... 11 of them were Nazi party and only three Communists. Whether we choose to see in this the mobilisation of the declining small tradesmen conventionally attributed to the National Socialist movement or of a section of the labour force which was traditionally under-organised ... it is clear that this group represents the epitome of right wing radicalism among the manual trades. [85]

Fromm reports:

These workers who sympathised with, or belonged to the Nazi party, expressed through their negative attitude towards rationalisation measures [redundancies], a basic hostility towards capitalists. In the political sphere this hatred was deflected and diverted by Nazi propaganda onto specific groups such as rapacious capitalists, owners of department stores, or the Jews. [86]

The most important group of workers among whom the Nazis were able to win a following were the unemployed:

... in 1932, 26 percent of the unemployed were less than 24 years old. Large numbers of young proletarians had to abandon the family roof and wander through the streets and the highways, without hope of finding work again, or without having ever worked. Uprooted, declassed, often delinquent, these young vagabonds no longer expected their salvation from the action and triumph of their class. They joined the army of unemployed young intellectuals. [87]

The Nazis sought ways of recruiting them:

In some areas the National Socialists were able to establish their own ‘labour exchanges’, to promise jobs to their members as a result of their good relations with businessmen. More common was the provision of on-the-spot relief in the form of food and shelter – in its canteens and soup kitchens and above all in the SA taverns that doubled as dormitories. [88]

The unemployed were divided between those who looked to a united fightback and those who were cast down into despair:

There seemed to be two groups among the unemployed: some viewed unemployment and social deprivation as alterable, and believed that improvement could only be expected by a transformation of the existing economic system. Others had come to the conclusion that they were incapable, worthless and responsible for their own critical situation ... Thus the majority, 59 percent, of National Socialists believed in significant contrast to the left wing parties, in the self-responsibility of the individual. [89]

But the core of the Nazi party came from amongst the urban and rural petty bourgeoisie. As we have seen, Hitler played on the insecurity of these people. He was also able to articulate their fears and to offer hope:

The petty bourgeois is hostile to the ideas of development for development goes immutably against him; progress has brought him nothing except irredeemable debts. National Socialism rejects not only Marxism but Darwinism. The Nazis curse materialism because the victories of technology over nature have signified the triumph of large capital over small ... The petty bourgeoisie needs a higher authority, which stands above matter and above history, and which is safeguarded from competition, inflation, crisis and the auction block. To evolution, materialist thought and rationalism – of the 20th, 19th and 18th centuries – is counterposed in his mind national idealism as the source of heroic inspiration. Hitler’s nation is the mythological shadow of the petty bourgeoisie itself, apathetic delirium of a thousand year Reich. In order to raise it above history, the nation is given the support of race. History is viewed as the emanation of the race. The qualities of the race are construed without relation to changing social conditions. Rejecting ‘economic thought’ as base, National Socialism descends a state lower: from economic materialism it appeals to zoological materialism. [90]

Hitler could attack big capital, but he did so because it did not ‘serve the nation’. ‘The nationalisation of the masses’ was, in Mayer’s words, ‘the highest aim of the Nazis’. This creed of the blood depended on racism. Anti-semitism allowed Hitler to create a scapegoat onto which the resentment of the small man towards the trusts, the big banks and cartels could be diverted. To quote the German socialist August Bebel, anti-semitism was ‘the socialism of fools’ [91], while Mayer argues that ‘part of a great leader’s genius is to make even widely separated adversaries appear as if they belonged to one category’. The Jew was presented as: ‘the antithesis of German Aryan, prime mover of parasitic capitalism, the agent of Marxist subversion, and the master of Bolshevik Russia’.

Hitler’s programme also had an appeal for the ruling class. The German ruling class were terrified that when an economic recovery arrived working class organisation would remain intact. Lebensraum, the living space Hitler wanted to carve out in the east for the German nation, fitted with the imperialist ambitions of the ruling class. They were at one with the Nazis in their hostility to Communism, socialism, the trade unions and Versailles. Hitler told them ‘no internal peace until Marxism is finished off’. Internal peace was necessary to wage war. And by Marxism Hitler meant all working class organisation.

Hitler’s new Nazi state was from 1935 one based on ‘the preparedness economy’. Lebensraum would, Hitler promised, ‘command a secure supply of raw materials and foodstuffs for our people’. Major capitals would remain intact but their individual interests were to be subordinated to the central war drive. This territorial policy meant reducing the export sector in favour of heavy industry essential to modern warfare. When Hitler’s old paymaster, Fritz Thyssen, opposed this his factories were expropriated. Yet action against individual capitalists, no matter how wealthy, did not make this an ‘anti-capitalist revolution’. German capitalism as a whole made enormous profits from National Socialism.

Stalin’s Comintern and the rise of the Nazis

The rise of the Nazis is, as we have seen, incomprehensible without an understanding of the role of the KPD. But the role of the KPD was greatly shaped by Stalin’s Comintern.

The Fifth Congress of the Communist International in 1924 was the first to be held after Lenin’s death. Trotsky was already marginalised. The Congress’s theses stated that:

As bourgeois society continues to decay, all bourgeois parties, particularly Social Democracy, take on a more or less fascist character ... Fascism and Social Democracy are the two sides of the same instrument of capitalist dictatorship. [92]

Stalin started to develop this formulation with a vengeance in 1928 and 1929. The idea that fascism and social democracy were ‘twins’ and, indeed, that social democracy was the principle enemy of the working class, was reflected in the practice of the KPD through to the terrible conclusion of Hitler’s coming to power in January 1933. Why was this?

The answer lies in the foreign policy of Stalin’s Russia. At the beginning of 1928:

Stalin was observing with anxiety the policies of Britain and France ... He thought that a new anti-Soviet intervention was being planned ... that determined the ultra-left direction then taken ... This was no time for liquidating the Comintern, but on the contrary ... for hurling it into a furious offensive against the Social Democrats and the Catholic Centre Party in Germany, against the Socialists and the Radicals in France, and against the Labour Party in Britain – all of these being seen as the most dangerous potential accomplices in an Anglo-French war of intervention? [93]

E.H. Carr reports that the Kremlin saw the German Grand Coalition government of 1929, presided over by the Social Democrat Richard Müller, as being particularly dangerous. In 1930, Carr says:

Fear of war, obsessive in Moscow since the late 1920s, now assumed, more immediate and menacing dimensions. The deepening of the crisis brought nearer the dreaded danger that the imperialist powers would seek to reconcile their mutual animosities by a combined assault on the USSR, and that Germany, crippled and desperate, would be forced or cajoled into this combination. [94]

Stalin’s concern was not with stopping the Nazis, but with the economic development of Russia. In November 1931 he is said to have asked one KPD leader, if the Nazis came to power in Germany, would they ‘concern themselves so exclusively with the West that we can build socialism in peace?’ [95]

Sectarianism towards German Social Democracy was carried to lunatic conclusions. Speaking in 1932, on the eve of disaster, the German Communist leader Ernst Thaelmann argued:

Nothing could be more disastrous than an opportunistic overestimation of ‘Hitler-fascism’ ... Social Democracy, now as previously ... represents the most important mass base in the working class for the fascist development of bourgeois policy ... the main thrust must be directed against Social Democracy ... There must be no joint meetings held between the KPD, the SPD, the SAP or the Brandler Group. [96]

Such conclusions could only prevent the Communist Party and its supporters from adopting the correct tactics towards the SPD, a precondition of stopping Hitler coming to power.

The tactics of Stalinism

It is often argued that physical confrontation is the key to successfully fighting the fascists. There is an element of truth in this assertion, but physical confrontation must be combined with the correct political strategy, as the experience of the KPD shows. In 1931:

the party returned to the slogan, ‘Smite the fascists wherever you meet them’; heard first in 1924. There were battles in the streets between the RFB and SA. The main thrust of the party’s verbal attacks was against Social Democracy, but the physical conflict was with the fascists? [97]

Just the two months of October and November of that year:

saw 21 reported killed and 1,138 wounded in all of Germany; of the dead 14 were Nazis, six Communists, one a Reichsbanner member ... Between January and September 1932, the Prussian territories alone reported 70 Nazi, 54 Communist, ten Social Democratic and 21 ‘other dead’. [98]

The problem was not a lack of street fighting. It was the KPD’s dead end political strategy. Eve Rosenhaft has produced a study of the KPD’s resistance to the Nazis in Berlin. With 30,000 members in the capital and a third of the popular vote the KPD should have been able to mount an effective resistance. But it ran into problems. It refused to unite with non-Communist workers. Instead it looked to the efforts of its own members and supporters. Also it saw the key as street confrontations pure and simple:

The ‘battle for the streets’ with the SA, defined by both parties as a fight for and about the neighbourhoods, fitted directly into the ‘street politics’ of the KPD. Indeed the ‘ street politics’, [was] itself a direct response to the way that conditions of mass unemployment affected the possibilities of working class action. [99]

Forty five percent of manual workers in Berlin were unemployed. Of the Berlin-Brandenburg district of the KPD, Rosenhaft reports:

Of the roughly 30,000 KPD members there at the end of 1930, about 40 percent were working in factories, while another 51 percent were unemployed ... In Berlin, 396 of 621 new members in one local were under 30, 237 under 25. The majority of these new recruits were unemployed ... The end of 1931 left the Berlin-Brandenburg Party with 451 factory cells for the whole district, as against 605 street cells. [100]

Under these circumstances the KPD’s members in the factories could not pull strike action and because of the party’s ‘social fascist’ line they were unable to link up with those SPD workers who wanted to fight but were not yet ready to break with reformist politics.

The Nazi onslaught began in August 1929 after a 60,000 strong rally in Nuremberg. SA storm troopers under the leadership of Horst Wessel ‘cleaned up’ two KPD taverns in the Kreuzberg area. [101] The Berlin Nazi leader, Goebbels, boasted of having ‘sought the enemy in its own fortress’. The police chief, Grezesinski, reported that ‘ordinary brawls had given way to murderous attacks’; he dates the beginning of a spiralling series of political murders from the killing of the Communist Heimansburg in May 1930. [102]

It was now that the KPD daily raised the slogan, ‘Hit the fascists wherever you meet them’. The Red Front fighters carried the battle into the streets. But this raised political problems:

Insofar as the RFB had an attraction after 1929 [when it was banned], it lay precisely in the romance of conspiracy which could be maintained only at the price of mass appeal ... As early as May 1930 the leadership in Berlin had to censure the RFB locals for ‘left sectarian tendencies’ – reluctance to recruit new members and failure to involve the masses in their own actions (especially against the Nazis) – and the complaint that in spite of all directives the RFB was still mobilising only its own members became routine. [103]

The leadership of the KPD complained of a militarist mentality which prevented mobilisations in response to the storm troopers since ‘all too often ... because of a Nazi attack, for days, even in some cases for weeks, no revolutionary work was done except practising ‘civil war’ in miniature’. [104] There were complaints that RFB fighters played ‘wild west’ with their guns, shooting them off in bars and so on (the KPD had access to weapons collected for the aborted insurrection of 1923). After the mass resistance by Braunschweig [Brunswick] workers against the SA convention in their city during October 1930 the KPD leadership tried to draw a line between ‘mass terror’ and ‘individual terror’:

But each attempt to introduce a modification in the wehrhafter kampf [physical fight] met with resistance, and by the end of 1931 sections of the movement were in open revolt over the leadership’s attempt to suppress ‘individual terror’ once and for all. Those who revolted were the groups most deeply involved in the wehrhafter kampf, the Party’s youth and the antifascist defence organisations ...

But the young workers who bore the brunt of the street fighting, while they may have yearned for a revolution as the only solution to intolerable circumstances, appear to have seen the fight against fascism almost entirely in terms of answering the threat the SA posed to their freedom of movement and way of life [105]

The fight against fascism was now reduced not just simply to the minority of workers grouped around the Communist Party but to the young ‘hardmen’. There were constant problems with these ‘squaddists’ who glorified a ‘laddish’ life style. There were reports of bullying within the RFB. In one instance, Rosenhaft describes RFB fighters inviting SA men into their tavern to join them for beers at Christmas time. Some ‘squaddists’ even went over to the SA when the KPD tried to modify its line. These attempts to modify the line were half hearted. Even the Stalinist leadership were eventually forced to admit their failure:

Viewed on the national scale, the trend towards individual terror appears as a reflex response to accumulating evidence of the futility of mass action ... It was clear by the end of 1932 that the policy of mass self-defence was not being carried as intended ... Political strikes were no easier to organise than economic ones ... What Die Rote Fahne headlined as a ‘strike movement’ in Berlin after the Felsenech shootings [of KPD supporters] in January 1932 amounted to no more than a half hour protest strike on the part of 180 workers, the entire workforce of a manufacturing plant, and a series of protest meetings and resolutions in other factories ... an Inprekor [the magazine of the Comintern] correspondent reported: ‘although there were nearly 100 political strikes in July this year, this fight [against the Nazis] took place largely on the streets. The factories and mines were only slightly involved’. In December the Political Secretary for Berlin, a specialist in strike tactics, was heard to admit that the KPD was in no position to carry out a general strike on its own. In the view of the leadership, individual terror was the easy way out: it arose not from disappointment with methods tried and found wanting, but from despair of the possibility of success. [106]

Trotsky’s analysis of the Nazis

Trotsky’s analysis of fascism was diametrically opposed to that developed by Stalin’s Comintern and it resulted in very different tactical recommendations. For Trotsky fascism was not just another form of capitalist rule or reaction. Rather he warned in November 1931:

The coming to power of the National Socialists would mean first of all the extermination of the flower of the German proletariat, the destruction of its organisations, the eradication of its belief in itself and in its future. Considering the far greater maturity and acuteness of the social contradictions in Germany, the hellish work of Italian fascism would probably appear as a pale and almost humane experiment in comparison with the work of the German National Socialists. [107]

Trotsky was correct about the ferocity of German fascism in relation to its Italian counterpart. He went on to draw a distinction between fascism and other forms of dictatorship:

Fascism is not merely a system of reprisals, of brutal force, and of police terror. Fascism is a peculiar governmental system based on the uprooting of all elements of proletarian democracy with bourgeois society ... To this end the physical annihilation of the most revolutionary sections of the workers does not suffice. It is also necessary to smash independent and voluntary organisations, to demolish all the defensive bulwarks of the proletariat, and to uproot whatever has been achieved during three quarters of a century by Social Democracy and the trade unions. [108]

The Nazis did indeed burn not just the works of Marx but also those of Darwin; they outlawed not just left wing parties and the trade unions but all organisations independent of the state, including the boy scouts and the YMCA. Hitler’s aim was to reduce society to the level of an army barracks.

This was repression qualitatively different from a military or police dictatorship. Take, for example, the Spanish dictator, Primo di Rivera who ruled Spain from 1923 till 1929. During this period, in alliance with the industrialists of Barcelona, he waged all out war against the anarcho-syndicalist union, the CNT. Di Rivera was appointed by King Alfonso XIII and ruled through the police, the state bureaucracy and the officer corps topped by a thin veneer of parliamentarianism. This dictatorship of ‘order’ attempted to present itself as being raised above the different classes and parties in Spanish society – though in reality it was summoned forth in order to preserve the status quo. But in a situation of heightened class tension this provided too narrow a basis of support for the regime. Di Rivera attempted to find some independent support by brokering a deal with the Socialist trade union leader, Largo Caballero. This eventually proved unsuccessful. All that was required to topple the government was a series of powerful street demonstrations.

Fascism may be an extreme solution, even for the ruling class, but less extreme solutions, like military coups, also entail great risks. In Germany in March 1920, for instance, the German army, the Reichswehr, marched into central Berlin and announced that the government was toppled. An obscure civil servant, Kapp, was appointed Chancellor. The president, Ebert, and the war minister, Noske, the two SPD leaders who had allied with the same officers now leading the coup to crush the 1919 revolution, fled Berlin offering no resistance. Not a shot had been fired. Yet despite its military success the coup failed because there was one force it could not beat – united working class resistance.

Not all of the reformist leaders were as happy to relinquish office as Ebert and Noske. It was one thing to ally with the military against revolutionaries like Rosa Luxemburg, it was another to bow down before them when a coup threatened the very existence of the SPD and its associated trade unions. A right wing trade union leader, Legien – a vicious opponent of the left – initiated a general strike call which was taken up immediately. Across the industrial areas of Germany the Communists took up that call and went further in seizing control of their towns and arming the workers. They were able to carry tens of thousands of SPD supporters with them.

Such a bold reaction had another effect. Many of the more conservative white collar workers and sections of the middle class who had been moving to the right in the months after the defeat of the initial revolutionary uprising a year before, backed the opposition to the coup. As the Communist Party Congress was told a month later:

The middle ranking railway, post, prison and judicial employees are not Communist and will not quickly become so. But for the first time they fought on the side of the working class. [109]

Despite its military success even the whole army could not cope with a united, determined general strike. The coup attempt collapsed. The whole experience acted as a spark which re-ignited working class militancy.

This experience was still very fresh in the minds of the German ruling class in 1933. As Trotsky wrote in September 1932, ‘A hundred thousand soldiers, no matter how cohesive and steeled they may be (which is still to be tested), are incapable of commanding a nation of 65 million torn by the most profound social antagonisms’. [110]

This is where fascism enters the scene. It was able to provide much wider forces than those of the army and the police – fighters who were more politically and ideologically committed than the ordinary squaddie or cop. These core fighters, Trotsky argues, are drawn from the petty bourgeoisie – in the classical Marxist definition, the professional classes, the peasantry, supervisory workers and so on. Fascism:

raises to their feet those classes that are immediately above the proletariat and that are ever in dread of being forced down into its ranks; it organises and militarises them at the expense of finance capital, under the cover of the official government, and it directs them to the extirpation of proletarian organisations, from the most revolutionary to the most conservative. [111]

Trotsky added:

Fascism unites and arms the scattered masses. Out of human dust it organises combat detachments. It thus gives the petty bourgeoisie the illusion of being an independent force. It begins to imagine that it will really command the state. It is not surprising that these illusions and hopes turn the head of the petty bourgeoisie. [112]

That the petty bourgeoisie could be won in large numbers to fascism was not a foregone conclusion. After all in 1918 the German middle classes had enthusiastically supported the overthrow of the emperor and voted for the parties of the left (the SPD primarily). In 1920, as we have seen, decisive action by the working class against the Kapp coup had drawn the petty bourgeoisie behind it in support. But to make such gains secure the strategy followed by the major working class parties needed to be able to raise the prospect of further success. The SPD’s and the KPD’s failure in this respect was tragic.

Finally, it is important to see this balance of class forces in its broad context. Trotsky argues:

... fascism is each time the final link of a specific political cycle composed of the following: the gravest crisis of capitalist society; the growth of the radicalisation of the working class; the growth of sympathy towards the working class and a yearning for change on the part of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie; the extreme confusion of the big bourgeoisie; its cowardly and treacherous manoeuvres aimed at avoiding the revolutionary climax; the exhaustion of the proletariat; growing confusion and indifference; the aggravation of the social crisis; the despair of the petty bourgeoisie, its yearning for change; the collective neurosis of the petty bourgeoisie; its readiness to believe in miracles; its readiness for violent measures; the growth of hostility towards the proletariat which has deceived its expectations. These are the premises for a swift transformation of a fascist party and its victory. [113]

Trotsky argues for the United Front

Mass working class action was the key to stopping the rise of the Nazis. This alone could break the cycle which Trotsky described as the mechanism by which Nazis came to power. In November 1931 Trotsky wrote that:

On the scales of election statistics, a thousand fascist votes weigh as much as a thousand Communist votes. But on the scale of revolutionary struggle, a thousand workers in one big factory represent a force a hundred times greater than a thousand petty officials, clerks, their wives and their mother in laws. The great bulk of the fascists consists of human dust. [114]

The KPD could not win such mass action on its own. It required the involvement of the majority of employed workers, organised by the Social Democratic Party and its unions. Half the Berlin working class continued to follow the lead of the SPD leadership – the percentage was even higher outside the capital. A way had to be found to get their support in the fight against the Nazis. This involved confronting their line of ‘do nothing’ when faced with the Nazi menace. There was only one way to do this – to apply the tactic of the united front as worked out in the early years of the Communist International.

In 1921, after the initial post-war revolutionary wave had receded and the working class across Europe was on the defensive, Lenin and Trotsky had argued that the young Communist Parties who had just broken from the Social Democrats had, nevertheless, to address themselves to the reformist workers and look for joint action with them. Trotsky had drafted the Comintern’s theses which explained:

... the working masses sense the need of unity of action, of unity in resisting the onslaught of capitalism, of unity in taking the offensive against it. Any party which mechanically counterposes itself to this need of the working class for unity in action will unfailingly be condemned in the minds of the workers ... we are, apart from all other considerations, interested in dragging the reformists from their asylums and placing them alongside ourselves before the eyes of the struggling masses. With a correct tactic we stand only to gain from this ... In the event that the reformists begin putting brakes on the struggle to the obvious detriment of the movement and act counter to the situation and the moods of the masses, we as an independent organisation always reserve the right to lead the struggle to the end, and this without our temporary semi-allies ... For this reason any sort of organisational agreement which restricts our freedom of criticism and agitation is absolutely unacceptable to us. [115]

Again and again the Communist Party should have been inviting the Social Democrat leaders to engage in united action against the fascists. Let the Social Democrats and the Communists together defend Social Democrat premises from Nazi attack and then go on to defend Communist premises from the same attacks. The Social Democratic leaders would try to avoid such united actions by any means at their disposal. But such was the Nazi threat to their organisation that they could not always say no without the risk of driving many of their members to united action with the Communists in any case. If the appeal was made to the Social Democratic leaders for united action, then united action would eventually result – whether with or without these leaders.

The German Communists refused to make that appeal. Instead of teaching workers to oppose reformism while at the same time fighting alongside reformist workers against the Nazis, the KPD committed a historic crime. The people who benefited most from this were the leaders of the SPD. They could always excuse their disastrous passivity by blaming the Communists for dividing the class. Squadism reinforced the blind alley politics of the KPD. It substituted the action of a dedicated minority for that of the masses. Rosenhaft, drawing on the success of the mass action in Braunschweig [Brunswick], writes:

If we consider the incidents that the KPD itself held up as models of mass terror at a certain period, those in Braunschweig [Brunswick] and Nowawes in the autumn of 1931, it is clear that their principal basis was the ad hoc cooperation of sections of the working class – which usually meant the realisation of a local ‘united front’ between Social Democrats and the Communist Party ... it is clear that the voluntaristic conviction of the KPD leadership, that if only all Communists did exactly as they were told the Party could transform the situation single handed, was a dangerous illusion. [116]

Fascism stalled: France 1934–36

The victory of fascism in Germany had a radicalising effect on European workers. An anti-fascist reflex was accompanied by a growing hostility to capitalism in response to the Great Slump. The reformist line of ‘do nothing’ in the face of fascism was discredited among wide sections of workers and left wing tendencies sprang up in the Social Democratic parties and in the unions. In February 1934 the socialist militia in Vienna fought bravely but unsuccessfully against the dictatorship of Dollfuss, and in October Spanish workers in Asturias rose in rebellion against a right wing government which seemed to be paving the way for fascism.

Fascism seemed to be either triumphant or at least gaining ground everywhere. Looking at Europe Trotsky argued:

Mussolini is not an Italian but a world phenomenon. The gangrene of barbaric reaction is spreading over one land and another. France is next in order. [117]

France was plagued by political instability and scandal: ‘In the 18 months preceding 1934 there had been five different governments, but with virtually the same forces in each’. [118] In 1928 the former finance minister, Kloetz, was arrested for issuing dud cheques. In 1930 there was the ‘Oustric scandal’ involving a bogus banking empire built on loans gained from the Bank of France. The government fell.

Then in January 1934 came the biggest scandal. A Ukrainian Jewish speculator, Stavisky, was found shot dead in an Alpine resort. Officially it was described as suicide, but there was a widespread belief that he was shot by the police to stop him revealing his connection with top politicians. Stavisky had a seemingly unlimited number of contacts in politics, in the press and the judiciary. A case outstanding against him had been postponed 19 times. The public prosecutor involved was the prime minister’s brother in law. On 30 December 1932 there had been a major scandal involving the issue of millions of francs based on the assets of Bayonne’s municipal pawnshop. It was quickly pinned on Stavisky. The Mayor of Bayonne, a Radical Party deputy, was arrested and there were indications that bigger fish were involved.

The Stavisky scandal brought angry crowds to the doors of the National Assembly shouting, ‘Down with the criminals’. The government resigned. In this situation the forces of French fascism took the offensive. On 6 February Action Française, edited by the vicious anti-semite Charles Maurras [119] (executed in 1945 as a Nazi collaborator) declared:

The thieves are barricading themselves in their cave. Against this abject regime, everyone is in front of the Chambre des Deputes this evening.

Twice the Camelots du Roi, the shock troops of Action Française, smashed their way through to the Assembly. In the event ‘out of 40,000 demonstrators, 16 had been killed and at least 655 known to be wounded; well over 1,000 policemen received injuries’. [120] The next day Colonel de la Rocque, leader of the Croix de Feu (a far right association of ex-officers) declared from his secret ‘battle headquarters’ that ‘the Croix de Feu has surrounded the Chamber and forced the Deputies to flee’. [121] The acting premier, the Radical Daladier, resigned and ex-president Gaston Doumerge took over, promising a strong government of order. Seventy-seven year old Marshal Petain was appointed minister of defence as a sop to the leagues, as the Croix de Feu, Action Française and other outfits were termed. After the war Petain would be presented as a befuddled old man. The truth was that already in 1934 he had ambitions to become dictator of France and that he was up to his neck in political intrigue.

All of this took place while the recession raged and alienation from official politics grew. ‘Although the slump hit France later than the rest of the world it lasted much longer.’ [122] It created a class polarisation which affected the Radical Party in particular:

The Radical Socialists (or Radicals as they were more commonly known) were in fact neither radical nor socialist. In the early 20th century they had been the party most committed to the defence of the Republic. This made them stridently anti-clerical and situated them on the left. But their electoral support came especially from what the French call the classes moyennes – peasants, shopkeepers, small businessmen and so on. Since the war the social conservatism of this electorate had conflicted increasingly with the party’s attempts to remain faithful to its origins on the left ... In effect, therefore, the Radicals had become a centrist party of government indispensable to the formation of almost any coalition of left or right. [123]

The Radicals were the party most implicated in the various scandals and were renowned for cynically trading government offices themselves.

The recession hit the classes moyennes particularly badly. Peasant incomes fell by 30 percent in the five years after 1930 and those of small businessman by 18 percent over the same period. All of this seemed to presage the inevitable rise of fascism in France:

After 6 February, the fascist menace lingered. The leagues continued their agitation, and their violence against workers, of whom a mounting number fell victim to the paramilitaries. The Croix de Feu held a continual series of motorcades and their leader took every opportunity to announce that the ‘Day of Reckoning’ was at hand. [124]

What altered matters was the dramatic entry of the working class onto the centre stage. The leader of the CGT, the main trade union federation, Jouhaux, understood the need for some form of action after the 6 February manifestation. He called a strike for 12 February. The Socialist Party reluctantly backed the strike call and called a demonstration through central Paris on the day.

The French Communist Party (PCF) had 30,000 members in 1933. It was still suffering in the wake of the German defeat. And it was still committed to the ‘social fascist’ line. That meant that on 6 February it had refused an offer for joint action from the left-led Seine Federation of the Socialists. Instead L’Humanité, the CP paper, called a demonstration at the same time and place as the fascist leagues, declaring, ‘At one and the same time against the fascist bands, against the Government and against Social Democracy’. In the resulting confusion Communist members became involved alongside the fascists in fighting the police. Two Communist leaders bemoaned ‘painful scenes ... of fraternisation between workers ... and Camelots du Roi ... of workers “mixed in with fascists”’. [125] Now faced with the joint CGT and Socialist call for a strike and demonstrations on 12 February the PCF initially denounced the call, explaining in L’Humanité:

But how can we have unity of action with people who vote for governments who cut wages? With people who break strikes? With people who abandon the class struggle to collaborate in the defence of the capitalist system, and who, in France as in Germany, prepare the ground for fascism? [126]

Instead they counterposed their own demonstration in Paris on 9 February, and called on the slogans:

Immediate arrest of Chiappe [right wing security minister] and the leaders of the fascist gangs! Down with the butchers Daladier and Frot [Radical leaders] Disband the fascist gangs! Defence of wages and salaries! Down with the reactionary and fascist National Government prepared by the Radical and Socialist Parties! Long live the workers’ and peasants’ governments! [127]

If these slogans were to be taken seriously they would have amounted to a call to insurrection. Instead only Communist Party members and supporters gathered in east Paris. Seizing on their isolation the police went on the rampage killing six workers. As late as 11 February L’Humanité kept up its onslaught on the CGT-Socialist mobilisation denouncing them as ‘social fascists’ and predicting that ‘the workers will repulse the Socialist leaders in disgust’. But during the night of 11 and 12 February the party leadership could not hold this line among the rank and file. Support grew for a united front with the CGT and the Socialists.

On the day two columns met in central Paris, one led by the Communists, the bigger one by Jouhaux and the Socialist leader, Leon Blum. The two spontaneously joined together amidst constant chants of ‘Unity, unity’ and ‘They shall not pass’. The CGT estimated one million workers in the Paris region struck, in total four and a half million workers stopped work across France and in Marseilles 100,000 demonstrated. [128] Elsewhere in towns across France there were 346 demonstrations (19 of which contained more than 5,000 participants and 161 of which involved both Socialists and Communists). [129]

In the immediate aftermath the PCF did not change its line. But the left was growing in influence within the Socialists. Two conflicting pressures came into play. The first was again spontaneous. A young civil servant and some of his intellectual friends formed a Vigilance Committee against fascism immediately after 12 February. Across France similar organisations sprouted up: ‘In Languedoc alone 47 were formed between 12 February and 15 July; by May 1934 there were 74 in the single department of Lot and Garonne.’ One PCF leader reported the membership were ‘voting with their feet’ to join the united organisations. [130]

The successful mobilisations in response to the fascists fed into a renewal of wider working class resistance. In August 1935 the government announced a ten percent pay cut for all state employees. In the naval dockyards of Brest and Toulon there were strikes and, in what amounted to uprisings, troops killed five workers. The CGT leader, Jouhaux, would write later that:

The movement began without anyone knowing how or where. We were faced with an explosion of discontent by masses who had been humiliated and repressed for years. [131]

This groundswell of working class anger followed 15 years of little struggle and weak trade union organisation in which the Socialist Party had allied with the Radicals in what was termed the ‘Left Bloc’.

The second pressure came from Moscow and the PCF. In Moscow the complacency with which Stalin had viewed Hitler’s rise had changed to alarm, as he himself admitted:

Of course we are far from being enthusiastic about the fascist regime in Germany. But it is not a question of fascism here, if only for the reason that fascism in Italy, for example, has not prevented the USSR from establishing the best relations with that country. But it’s a different matter if Hitler took a ‘new’ policy, which in the main recalls the policy of the former German Kaisers, who at one time occupied the Ukraine and marched against Leningrad ... this ‘new’ policy is obviously gaining the upper hand. [132]

Stalin now looked for a pact with Britain and France to offset the new Nazi menace. On 23 May 1934 Pravda signalled that agreements between Communist and Social Democratic parties were now permissible. On 25 June the PCF leader, Thorez, wrote an article in L’Humanité appealing to the Socialists for:

Unity at any price ... Neither from the mouth of any of our propagandists, nor from the pen of any of our writers, in L’Humanité or even in Cahiers du Bolchevisme as in our entire press, will there be the slightest attack against those organisations or the leaders of the Socialist Party.

On this basis a common pact was signed between the two parties. In May 1935 Stalin and the Radical leader Laval – who was moving rightwards to become deputy to Petain in Vichy France – signed a mutual assistance pact. The official communiqué stated: ‘M. Stalin understands and fully approves the French national defence policy which requires a level of armed force sufficient to meet the needs of her security’. [133] This totally contradicted the PCF policy of opposing France’s defence spending. Performing a rapid U-turn the party printed posters overnight declaring, ‘Stalin is right’.

The PCF now proposed to extend its pact with the Socialists to include the Radicals. The ‘theoretical’ argument used to justify this alliance was that it would signify an alliance between the working class, as represented by the Socialists and Communists, and the middle class, as represented by the Radicals – an alliance which would block the growth of fascism among the classes moyennes. The new Popular Front was signed and celebrated with a monster demonstration in Paris on Bastille Day. Its programme was limited to the positions of the Radicals. The slogan now raised was, ‘Peace, Bread, Freedom’. The Communist leader Thorez boasted that they had rescued the tricolour, the French national flag, and the Marseilleise, the French national anthem, from the right.

In 1934 Trotsky had already warned that:

Yesterday the greatest danger was the sabotage of the united front. Today the greatest danger lies in the illusions of the united front, very closely related to the parliamentary illusions: the diplomatic notes, the pathetic speeches, the handshaking, the bloc without revolutionary content – and the betrayal of the masses. [134]

Later, in 1936, Trotsky would add:

The job of the cartel [i.e. the Popular Front agreement] always consisted in putting a brake upon the mass movement, directing it into the channels of class collaboration. This is precisely the job of the People’s Front as well ... Joint meetings, parade processions, oaths, mixing the banner of the Commune and Versailles, noise, bedlam, demagogy – all these serve a single aim: to curb and demoralise the mass movement ... a classic definition of the People’s Front: a safety valve for the mass movement.

The Radicals themselves were a party torn apart by contradictions as their middle class support was pulled towards the left and the right. The fascists reviled the corruption of the Radicals and the Third Republic which the Popular Front was committed to defend. So Trotsky warned:

The political essence of the crisis lies in the fact that the people are nauseated by the Radicals and their Third Republic. The fascists seek to profit from this. But what have the Socialists and Communists done? They have become the guarantors of the Radicals before the people. They have portrayed the Radicals as slandered innocents. They have assured the workers and peasants that complete salvation lies – in the ministry of Daladier. [135]

Thorez put matters more bluntly, saying, ‘The Communists have become in literal truth the trustees of bankrupt capitalist culture.’

Class polarisation increased between 1934 and the fall of France in 1940 until the French bourgeoisie and sections of the middle classes accepted the slogan, ‘Better Hitler than Blum’. Under such circumstances the working class wanted unity because it grasped it as the key to beating back the fascists and defending living standards. But between February 1934 and March 1937 ‘unity’ could mean taking the working class struggle from the defensive to the offensive, or ‘unity’ could mean, as the Popular Front meant, ensuring that struggle was contained and defused.

The elections of May 1936 demonstrated the shift away from the Radicals as the Popular Front achieved victory:

The Radical vote fell in 66 departments. The Radicals lost electors on both the left, owing to their identification with conservative governments between February 1934 and February 1936, and on the right, owing to their new identification with the Popular Front. Centrist politics became increasingly untenable. [136]

The main winners were the PCF whose share of the seats rose from ten to 72! The first Popular Front government was to have been led by the Radical leader Daladier. Now the Socialist leader Blum had to take the premiership. The left’s victory was the signal for an explosion of working class militancy as the greatest strike wave the world had yet seen swept France through May and June:

Over three quarters of the June strikes (8,941) consisted of factory occupations. Alexander Werth described the extraordinary sight of the Paris suburbs during June 1936: ‘building after building – small factories, even comparatively small workshops – were flying red, or red and tricolour flags – with pickets in front of the closed gates’. [137]

One Radical, a supporter of the Popular Front, would complain to his party members:

The occupation of the factories, shops and farms was not in the programme of the Popular Front ... It is not only illegal, it is something worse: a humiliation for the patron [the employer]. The occupations must cease. [138]

Amidst all this the working class was continuing to resist the growing threat of the fascist leagues who were gaining from the Radicals and the traditional right. The Croix de Feu’s membership grew from 50,060 in February 1934 to 450,000 in June 1936. In that month Blum banned it under popular pressure. But de la Rocque simply reformed it as the French Social Party, which, by the beginning of 1938, had grown from 700,000 to 1.2 million members. Its ‘defence squads’ were replaced by ‘flying propaganda units’. The French People’s Party, launched in June 1936 with money from Mussolini and sections of business, claimed 100,000 members in October of that year. By the beginning of 1938 that figure had risen to 295,000. One right wing Catholic intellectual caught the mood of the rich when he wrote, ‘If we ever take power, this is what will happen: at six o’clock, the Socialist press is suppressed; at seven o’clock freemasonry is forbidden; at eight o’clock, Blum is shot.’ [139]

But it was the workers who were now carrying the fight to the fascists:

The leagues still managed a big demonstration in front of the statue of Joan of Arc on 17 May [1936]. but in the continuous guerrilla warfare between sellers of the workers and fascist press, the latter rarely commanded the field. They were usually isolated, while the worker militants received the support of the local people. [140]

In June the Socialist interior minister told deputies, ‘In the Lille suburbs the workers armed themselves with their tools, or improvised weapons in order to defend themselves against a supposed fascist threat. [141] All through the months after June 1936 de la Rocque’s PSF kept up their agitation:

Fights with worker militants went on unabated. The PSF tried to prevent a Communist rally in the Parc des Princes in Paris by a forcible occupation of the stadium, but the attempt was unsuccessful. [142]

In this situation of rising working class confidence and social division Trotsky declared that June, ‘The French Revolution has begun’. [143] There was only one party with the strength in the working class to contain this upsurge – the Communist Party. The Communists rallied the best worker militants with the most confidence and ability. Their membership had swollen to 288,000 in June 1936 with a further 100,000 in the Young Communist Leagues. But the French Communists were determined to preserve the bloc with the Radicals and, with it, Franco-Soviet co-operation. The Russian foreign minister, Litvinov, had already said after the May elections:

What is essential is that France should not allow her military strength to be weakened. We hope no internal troubles will favour Germany’s designs. [144]

In June Thorez, echoing this argument, made the following statement:

Given the development of campaigns by the right, which are a source of worry and doubt amongst ordinary people, it is better not to employ this form of struggle [occupations]; given the development of reactionary campaigns that sow trouble and uncertainty among the common people ... We must know how to end a strike. [145]

On 14 June L’Humanité declared that, ‘The Communist Party means order’. The PCF used all its strength to end the strikes through an agreement with the frightened bosses which guaranteed paid holidays and a 40 hour week.

In July a new crisis broke over the Popular Front with the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The Spanish republican government asked for planes and arms in accordance with past agreements. Blum initially agreed but backed down under pressure from his Radical colleagues and the military. As one defender of Blum, Colette Audry, wrote:

The Socialist leader of the government of the French People’s Front held in his hands the fate of two proletariats, and it would have been enough for him to allow a bourgeois commercial treaty signed by his predecessors to be honoured, and advantage taken of a common frontier, in order to save the one proletariat and strengthen the other. Such an opportunity does not come twice in a lifetime. [146]

At this crucial moment the PCF downplayed agitation for aid for Spain:

When the Spanish Civil War broke out the Communists immediately spoke out for intervention but in fairly restrained tones. In August they launched the idea of a ‘French Front’, an extension of the Popular Front coalition to include sections of the right. [147]

Thorez even extended ‘a hand’ in a radio speech to members of the Croix de Feu. All through that autumn the PCF was successful in dampening down workers’ struggles. The price would not be long in being paid. In March 1937 the PSF was due to hold a meeting in Clichy in Paris. The Popular Front parties led 10,000 protesters away from the hall but workers broke away to go there. The police opened fire and five workers were killed. At their funeral 80,000 marched behind the coffins. Despite the efforts of the CGT and PCF there were a number of protest strikes. The Blum government fell during the subsequent bitter clashes.

In November 1938 a Radical-led government of the right rescinded the 40 hour week won in June 1936. The CGT – now strongly influenced by the PCF – called a general strike but insisted on no demonstrations or shows of strength. The strike was patchy and the CGT called it off. At Renault, ‘The defeated workers were forced by the police to march out of the factory making the fascist salutes to cries of “Long live the police”, while a policeman banged an iron bar, shouting “One for Blum, One for Timbaud [the Communist engineering union leader], One for Jouhaux”.’ [148] Thorez had warned:

We must think what would become of our country if the fascist gangs in the service of capital were to succeed in provoking, here as well, disorder and civil war, especially at a moment when besides the internal reasons that dictate calm and tranquillity there are also imperative necessities of an external order. Everyone realises that a France wounded by civil war would soon fall a prey to Hitler. [149]

Yet by following Thorez’s advice this is what exactly befell France in June 1940. As one of the founders of the Vigilance Committees back in 1934 wrote, ‘We had wanted to fight fascism and war, and we had both – with defeat as a bonus’. [150] The parliamentarians – minus the outlawed Communists – voted to hand over power to Petain in June 1940. Indigenous fascism had been too weak in the face of massive working class resistance to follow the lead of Mussolini and Hitler. The French ruling class had to find a saviour from outside their borders.

Trotsky on France

In late 1934 Trotsky had written that fascism in France:

is still too weak for the direct struggle for power but it is strong enough to attempt to beat down the working class organisations bit by bit, to temper its bands in its attacks, and to spread disarray and lack of confidence in their forces in the ranks of the workers ... Fascism finds unconscious helpers in all those who say that the ‘physical struggle’ is impermissible or hopeless. [151]

The Popular Front parties argued for state bans to stop the fascists. Trotsky argued for the working class to set up its own militia to defend itself. In a situation of mass strikes, factory occupations and mass battles with the fascists this was an argument which fitted the situation. The possibility existed of organising tens of thousands of working class fighters in a mass democratic fashion which united all shades of working class opinion. As he explained:

‘We are for active self defence – including armed self-defence. This active self-defence can be successful when it is supported and covered by the understanding and sympathy of the great mass of workers, and the Social Democratic workers first of all. [152]

But Trotsky saw that such struggles must be mass struggles, as is shown by his comments on an earlier fascist rally in the Parisian area of Menilmontat. The PCF called their own demonstration denouncing the Socialist ‘social fascists’. On the day 60 fascists turned up in a café. Ignoring them the Communists attacked the police, building barricades in a revolutionary ‘show of strength’. A construction worker was shot dead in the ensuing battle. Trotsky commented:

The task is to involve the workers in increasing numbers in the fight against fascism. The Menilmontat adventure can only isolate a small, militant minority. After such an experience, a hundred, a thousand workers who would have been ready to teach the young bourgeois bullies a few lessons will say, ‘No thanks, I don’t want to get my head broken for nothing’. [153]

Among the left wing of the Socialist Party, Trotsky’s arguments found an echo, but raised fresh issues:

In the ranks of the Socialist Party sometimes this objection is heard: ‘A militia must be formed but there is no need of shouting about it’. One can only congratulate comrades who wish to protect the practical side of the business from inquisitive eyes and ears. But it would be much too naive to think that a militia could be created unseen and secretly within four walls. We need tens and later hundreds of thousands of fighters. They will come only if millions of men and women workers...understand the necessity for the militia and create around the volunteers an atmosphere of ardent sympathy and active support. Conspiratorial care can and must envelope only the technical aspect of the matter. The political campaign must be openly developed, in meetings, in factories, in the streets and on public squares. [154]

Trotsky’s supporters inside the Socialist Party succeeded in setting up defence guards, the Toujours Prets Pour Servir (TPPS) in 1935. One of them remembers:

It was not simply a military organisation, but a grouping of activists, ready for any task at any time organised in tens, thirties and hundreds, with their leaders elected by the rank and file. The TPPS went out at night to fly-post, paint slogans in red lead, and throw leaflets into factories. The TPPS were likewise mobilised to steward meetings, and where necessary were sent as reinforcements when a fight was expected. They went to defend Working class paper sellers, and sometimes stopped the fascists selling their papers. There’s no need to add that they were very badly armed (usually one revolver among six, the rest having truncheons or improvised weapons). Sometimes they were routed... Usually the fascists were dealt with. Everywhere they were driven out of working class quarters. [155]

This sounds excellent but a year later Trotsky noted, ‘The TPPS disappeared in its time almost without a trace because its leadership was a technical and not a political leadership ... the political factor dominates and determines the physical struggle. [156]

The politics of fighting fascism, of the experience of Mussolini’s Italy, Hitler’s Germany and France in the 1930s, are that fascism aims at: the total destruction of all independent working class organisation, the permanent mobilisation of a mass political base in its initial stages at least, the suppression of all forms of independent political organisation including those of the ruling class itself, the defence and rationalisation of capitalism tied together with a militarist and expansionist ideology. These, in brief, are the conclusions reached by Leon Trotsky in a series of writings in the 1930s. Such an understanding is vital if we are to successfully confront the Nazis of the late 20th century.

Fascism towards 2000

In 1989, as the Berlin Wall fell, there was widespread optimism about the future of capitalism and the prospects for the ‘new’ unified Europe. Yet today we live in a world dominated by the third recession since 1973, a recession that has spread to include ‘motor force’ economies like Germany. Across western Europe ‘one in every four young persons aged between 18 and 25 is jobless’. [157] Only a few hours drive from Venice war is being waged on the European continent for the first time since 1945. The ideas that dominated the 1980s – those of Thatcher, Reagan and ‘monetarism’ – have fallen from favour. Deepening political instability has eroded support for Italy’s main ruling class party, the Christian Democrats, created a crisis in the German and French Socialist parties and fed the rise of racism and fascism.

Of course the level of economic crisis does not match that of the 1930s. Nowhere is unemployment running at 40 or 50 percent as it was in Germany prior to 1933. Nor have we seen political instability reach the point where the very structures of parliamentary democracy have been undermined as in Weimar Germany. But whilst the crisis is not as deep, it carries with it in embryo all the elements of the cycle in which Trotsky saw fascism as the final link – confusion among the bourgeoisie, radicalisation of the working class, dissatisfaction amongst the petty bourgeoisie, a deepening alienation from ‘official’ politics and the weakening of established political structures.

In Italy, even before the Tangentopoli crisis – the great bribery and corruption scandal which shattered the political establishment in 1993 – one commentator noted how deep alienation from the system ran:

In reply to the question: ‘Are you satisfied with the way democracy works in your country?’, an average 75 percent of Italians in the decade 1978–87 replied that they were ‘not at all satisfied’ or ‘not very satisfied.’ These levels were far higher than in any other of the major European nations. Comparative figures for France were 45 percent, for Britain 38 percent and for West Germany 22 percent. [158]

Now Tangentopoli has seen the former Christian Democrat and Socialist premiers, Andreotti and Craxi, under investigation for corruption and links with the Mafia.

In Germany one influential commentator admits the country ‘is slithering into an economic crisis and no one knows how to pull it out’. [159] Despite this the Kohl government sought to deny reality claiming in a diplomatic statement:

‘I am certain we will be able to resolve our economic problems – not overnight to be sure, but within a reasonable period of time.’ This assessment, given by Chancellor Kohl on 2 October 1990, the eve of German unification, continues to be correct two years after that historical date. [160]

By the beginning of 1993 there were 3.5 million unemployed in Germany, 2.5 million in the west and one million in the east, with another 1.5 million on government work schemes. [161]

This crisis has coincided with a decline in the traditional working class parties, be they Social Democratic or Communist. There is, for instance, atrophy at the roots of the SPD in Germany. [162] The percentage of manual workers joining the SPD has slumped from 55 percent in 1958 to 21 percent in 1982. The proportion of students joining the party fell from nearly 16 percent in 1972 to 12.8 percent in 1982. [163] The party’s decision in 1992 to back limiting the asylum provision in the German constitution helped intensify a crisis within the party’s ranks with 30,000 members leaving the party in 1992. [164] Members of the Young Socialists, the Jusos, took part in anti-racist activity and opened up a debate on the future of the party.

A similar crisis in France under a Socialist presidency created the conditions for the FN’s growth, the defeat of the Socialist government in March 1993 and an internal party crisis which saw the former Socialist prime minister, Pierre Beregovoy, commit suicide after leaving his local May Day rally.

There is a real ‘vacuum on the left’ caused by the withering of Social Democracy’s roots and the collapse of the Communist Parties in the wake of the USSR’s disintegration and the East European revolutions. All of this has been accompanied by the demise of much of the far left thrown up in the wake of 1968.

The longer the economic crisis lasts without either the ruling class or the working class being able to offer a solution, the more the attraction of racism and indeed fascism is likely to increase. In France we have seen that Le Pen has been able to establish himself in a respectable niche.

He gained only 0.3 percent of the poll in the 1979 European elections, but in 1984 his Front National took 10.9 percent, winning ten seats. In the 1983 elections for the National Assembly the FN garnered 2.7 million votes, taking 35 seats. In 1988 in the first round of the presidential elections Le Pen won 4,367,926 votes, or 14.4 percent. After the March 1992 regional elections the FN had 239 councillors. In the national elections in the following March the FN were squeezed out of winning seats but held their vote at 13 percent, coming within five percent of the Socialists, the defeated government party.

Le Pen aims to create an aura of democratic legitimacy around the FN and act in concert with sections of the established right. His hopes must be of forming a bloc with these organisations in order to establish an even bigger milieu for his ideas.

But Le Pen is anything but ‘respectable’. Jean Marie Le Pen was a former paratrooper involved in torture during the Algerian war, a member of the OAS (the terrorist group which fought Algerian independence), a veteran member of various far right and fascist groups, a peddler of Nazi records who has been convicted at least three times for racialism. One of his best known remarks was that the Holocaust was ‘only a detail in the history of the Second World War’ accompanied by the claim that ‘a Jewish International operates against the French national interest’. [165] One of his Front National’s most used posters reads, ‘Two million immigrants equals two million unemployed’. Le Pen’s overall vote is already greater than Hitler’s in 1928 prior to the Great Slump. The FN claims 100,000 members – though NonnA. Mayer claims the figure is in reality 50,000. Its daily paper, Present, sells 100,000 and its weekly, National Hebdo, 200,000. The cadre at the core of the movement has clearly developed in size. It clearly also has the potential to grow further.

But none of this means that the FN’s growth is inevitable. The FN’s 50,000 membership is smaller than that of the Hitler’s Nazi party in the 1920s and Le Pen does not command tens of thousands of battle hardened storm troops. Neither can the FN or any other of the new fascist groupings hope to achieve what Mussolini could, in what was still a relatively underdeveloped country, taking control of whole areas of the countryside from which to launch his bid for power. The overall proportion of the classic petty bourgeois is far smaller today than either in Germany in 1933 or in Italy in 1922. So the prospects for anti-fascists, providing they adopt the correct strategy, are good.

In Germany in January 1989 the Republikaner Partei (REP) with just 300 members in the city, polled 90,000 votes in West Berlin. Two months later the REP’s rival, the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDP) gained seven seats in Frankfurt. In June 1989 the Republikaner took 2 million votes in the European Community elections, winning six seats and European Parliament funding. The leader of the Republikaner Partei is Franz Schönhuber, an ex-member of the Waffen SS, who has said that ‘the history of Germany should not be reduced to Auschwitz’, whose ‘divine mission’ is the creation of a ‘Greater Germany’ and whose response to being questioned about an increase in anti-semitism was, ‘It is the Jews who have asked for it’. The party stands for the subordination of trade unions, compulsory training of girls for the role of wife and mother, censorship and withholding social security and political rights for foreigners.

An SPD MEP stated that, ‘The rise in the REP’s political significance has been paralleled by a rise in the number of violent attacks on foreigners in the FRG [Federal Republic of Germany]’. [166] The French paper Le Monde reported that following the Republikaner’s initial breakthrough in West Berlin such slogans as ‘Liquidate the Turks’ and ‘Turn the Jews into smoke’ appeared across the city. [167]

Meanwhile in Italy a new right wing force has emerged which is more ambiguous than the Front National or the Republikaner. The Northern Leagues are not fascist but they are xenophobic, populist and reactionary. The Guardian’s Ed Vulliamy talked of the Leagues in Milan as ‘the new brash alliance of the lower middle class, business interests, the Roman Catholic Church’s boot boys from the soccer terraces and half of the town’s poor’. [168] The racism it advocates is aimed at blacks, Arabs and southerners.

When journalists confronted the League youth leaders, accusing them of supporting ethnic cleansing, they did not deny they supported repatriation for foreigners and southern Italians.

In 1987 the Northern Leagues only gained 0.5 percent of the vote nationally. By 1992 they won 8.7 percent of the vote, emerging as Italy’s fourth largest party. In the regional elections of June 1993 the Leagues took 40.8 percent of the vote in Milan with their candidate, Formetini, taking the mayor’s office, 23.4 percent in Turin and 44 percent in Pavia.

The Leagues have profited from the Tangentopoli crisis, the resulting collapse of the Christian Democrats, the splitting up of the Communist Party and the failure of its main successor, the PDS (Democratic Party of the Left) and the main trade union federation, the CGIL, to reflect the mounting anger among Italian workers.

This ambiguity of the Leagues’ politics means their anti-government rhetoric has allowed them to build some degree of support in the working class and to attempt to build their own ‘trade union’, the Autonomist Lombard Union (SAL). In reality the SAL stands for a cross-class ‘alliance of Lombard producers’. According to the Leagues’ leader, Umberto Bossi:

The SAL must not fight so much through strikes, an instrument now outmoded: it must act in a differentiated way towards its counterpart, the employers; hard struggle against big capital but a benevolent approach to the small and medium entrepreneur. We are an expression of the middle classes and we will not betray them as fascism did.

That attitude has helped limit the SAL’s success and prevent the Leagues turning their electoral appeal into something more tangible in the workplaces.

Bossi’s ambitions could carry him in a fascist direction, but he and the Leagues can also shift in a very different direction:

The year between the April 1992 general election and the April 1993 referendum [scrapping Italy’s system of proportional representation] has seen Bossi increasingly willing to abandon his separatist dream of a Republic of the North in favour of devolution, as he saw the seductive possibility of becoming Italian prime minister in a coalition government after new elections that inflicted further defeats on Old Corruption. [169]

The evolution of the Leagues will depend on how Italy’s crisis develops and, above all, on the scale of opposition to racism and the ruling elite. They can either evolve into a classic party of the ‘centre right’ or move in an openly fascist direction.

Italy’s main fascist organisation, the Movimento Sociale Italiano, was led, until his death in 1988, by a former minister in Mussolini’s government, Giorgio Almirante. Founded in the 1950s it was able at different points to win large numbers of votes: 5.8 percent in the 1953 elections, 5.1 percent in 1963 and its highest ever vote in 1972 with 8.7 percent. But the MSI’s main base was in the south: ‘Their votes came mainly from the southern cities ... among the southern students, urban poor and lower middle classes.’ [170]

At the time of writing, despite the fact that its membership seems to be declining in the face of the rise of the Leagues, the MSI retains 35,000 members and frightening potential, as the success of Mussolini’s granddaughter in the Naples election shows. [171]

Elsewhere the FPO, the Austrian Freedom Party, won 780,000 votes in the 1990 elections, and in January of the following year it took 22.6 percent of the vote in Vienna. The party is led along dictatorial lines by Jörg Haider. In October 1992 he unveiled a 12 point plan for dealing with Austria’s ‘immigrant problem’: ‘Among other things Haider wants a total ban on immigration, immediate deportation of all foreigners with criminal records, draconian border controls staffed by special forces and drastic limits on the number of foreign children allowed in any school class.’ [172]

In Belgium the far right Flemish party, the Vlaams Blok, emerged into a society where during the ten years between 1982 and 1992 wages fell by 13 percent and the incomes of the rich increased by 37.7 percent. [173] The Vlaams Blok won 79,223 votes in Antwerp in November 1991, making it the biggest party in the city with 25.5 percent of the vote. Its main slogan was ‘Eigen volk eerst’ (‘Our own people first’). The party has links with the Vlaamse Militaren Order (VMO) formed by former Nazi collaborators in the wake of the Second World War. The VMO was banned in the early 1980s after its members were involved in a series of violent attacks. One of the Vlaams Blok’s five MP’s is Xavier Buisseret, a former member of the VMO and the publisher of a Holocaust denial magazine. The party’s one MEP joined Le Pen’s group in the European Parliament.

What can we do?

i) Be clear about the class base of fascism. For many on the left the class nature of fascism has shifted from the 1930s, arguing that the fascists today are overwhelmingly working class in composition. This is unquestionably true of the ‘shock troops’ involved in events like the pogrom against refugees in the east German city of Rostock in August 1992. For five nights in a working class area 1,000 thugs supported by significant numbers of onlookers attacked the central refuge for asylum seekers in the state of Mecklenburg-West Pomerania. [174] But to understand the complete picture we need to look at how German unification has devastated east Germany, creating one million unemployed and many more on short time working. Whole communities were destroyed. It was a sour end to the dreams and hopes stirred by unification. This situation fuels the politics of despair on which the Nazis rely. Nevertheless the popular appeal of the new Nazis is still largely located among the middle class. In Germany:

Detailed studies of extreme right wing parties indicate that while the REP draws the bulk of its support from disenchanted Christian Democrat (CDU) supporters ... other surveys, one by the SPD aligned police trade union, suggest that support for the REP among policemen is especially strong. In Bavaria, for example, more than 60 percent of officers expressed similar loyalties. In addition the REP now has serious backing in the Federal Republic’s armed forces with more than 1,000 serving soldiers in party membership. [175]

In France Le Monde’s survey of Front National voters in April 1988 found that, 31 percent of small business owners voted along with 21 percent of professional people (doctors, lawyers etc.), 21 percent of shop workers, 19 percent of unemployed people, 8 percent of farmers and agricultural workers, and 16 percent of factory workers. In Paris Mayer points out that, ‘Contrary to the received wisdom, its electorate came rather from the classic right, but there was also a strong minority of voters from the left or previously abstentionist voters.’ Of the average FN voter she says, ‘If one takes the average characteristics of these electors, they even have a higher income than the average French person, they have more inherited wealth, are more often owners of their enterprises: they are more likely to have an educational qualification of some kind, and their rate of unemployment is not higher than the national average.’

The same pattern emerges in Britain. In August 1978 Colin Sparks gathered reports on 40 local National Front branches, the results of which were contained in an article he wrote for this journal. [176] The National Front was always regarded as overwhelmingly working class in composition, something Sparks had ‘assumed’ to be the case. But of the 40 branches surveyed:

The membership of the fascists was reported to contain manual workers in 34 cases; to contain white collar workers in 23 cases and to contain the classic petty bourgeois in 26 cases. In terms of the local leadership, there are ten cases of it containing manual workers, nine of it containing white-collar workers, and 13 of it containing the classic petty bourgeois (in only two cases are ‘capitalists’ reported as members).

Sparks concluded, given that the middle classes are a small percentage of the total population, ‘their involvement in the fascists is quite out of proportion’. The current leaders of the British National Party, John Tyndall and his deputy Richard Edmonds, reflect a similar class composition, whatever the origins of their foot soldiers.

Across the Atlantic the Louisiana senator, David Duke, the Klu Klux Klan leader, was elected to the state house of representatives, not from a working class ‘white flight’ suburb but from a prosperous middle class area. This is not to say that the fascists cannot gain support among the working class or the unemployed. Nonna Mayer notes of the Front National:

Starting from 1986, it has begun to win over layers which were less right wing and more popular, in the wake of disappointment with the Socialist government. Its electorate diversified. The case of Paris is very significant in this respect: in the 1984 European elections, the FN vote was above all in the wealthier neighbourhoods in the west; starting from 1986, it was the opposite, and the FN bastions moved towards the popular neighbourhoods in the east of the city.

This challenge even extends into St Denis, the historic Communist controlled ‘red belt’ of the city. Yet two facts from Mayer’s survey also show the basis for opposition to Le Pen:

The people who live close to the estates and blocks with a strong immigrant concentration are more likely to vote for the FN than those who live with immigrants.. .It was among the youth that the FN lists registered their worst scores. There is for the most part an inverse relation between youth and voting for the FN.

The argument about the base of fascism is important. The social base of fascism is the middle layers in society. This does not mean all members of Nazi organisations are exclusively drawn from the petty bourgeoisie. But the political programme and ideology of the Nazis express their experiences and grievances. Rejecting both organised labour and capital – which is usually equated with a particular section like the big banks or the multinationals – they blame social problems on a particular scapegoat such as Jews, blacks or migrant workers. On this basis they can mobilise people who are worst hit by recession and are left hopeless by the lack of any response by the working class. This is particularly true of the unemployed.

It also means that where there is a powerful mobilisation against the ruling class these same people can be pulled behind it. That was true in the public sector strikes of 1992 and the engineering disputes of 1993 in Germany and with the student struggles in France in December 1986 and the rail strike in January 1987, when the fascists were simply eclipsed by events. [177]

ii) Call things by their right names. To use the term ‘fascist’ to describe the European Nazis is controversial. Richard Stoss, author of Politics Against Democracy: Right Wing Extremism in West Germany, [178] prefers to use the term ‘right wing extremist’. The German Office for the Protection of the Constitution does not even regard them as ‘extreme right’! [179] In France the main revolutionary organisation, Lutte Ouvrière, describes the Front National merely as ‘an electoral far right organisation’. [180]

Such arguments claim that the terms ‘fascist’ or ‘Nazi’ can only be applied to the smaller groups of thugs and skinheads who openly claim that affiliation, pointing to the absence of any paramilitary wing in organisations like the Republikaner or the Front National. Others on the left argue in similar vein that fascism today centres exclusively on terror rather than the attempt to build the sort of mass movements seen in the 1930s. But whilst the Republikaner or the Front National wish to distance themselves for the moment from attacks like that in Solingen in 1993 which killed six members of a Turkish family or the attack on the Jewish graveyard in Carpentras, southern France, in May 1990, this should not blind us to their true nature. As Rick Kuhn argues:

Currently the most successful fascist organisations in Germany concentrate on electoral tactics, which were also employed by the fascist organisations of the 1920s and 1930s, though not to the exclusion of public mobilisations. They play down, if in ambiguous terms, associations with pre- or World War Two fascism. Emphasis on electoral or violent methods is, however, a matter of tactics rather than strategy. The same political outlook, social base and orientation often underlie both uncouth skinhead political thuggery and the suit wearing respectability of much of the electoralist extreme right ... The organisations which constitute the two tactical faces of contemporary fascism also share members. [181]

Glyn Ford’s examination of the German Nazis argues:

Between the REP, the Deutsche Allianz, the Deutsche Volksunion and violent groups like the Freiheitliche Arbeiter Partei (FAP) and the Nationalistische Front (NF) there are proven connections. Frequently, these ‘militant’ organisations provide security for meetings of the other parties. [182]

In France many of these more ‘militant’ groups have been marginalised by the FN’s rise. Yet clear links emerge from the various cases of racial attacks on North Africans, black people and Jews which have come before the French courts. The small, openly Nazi, Parti Nationalist Français et Europeen (PNFE), which has links with the British National Party and stands for ‘a strong and hierarchical New Order, based on the nationalist ideal, social justice and racial awareness’, [183] calls for a vote for the FN.

Le Pen has gone furthest in cultivating an image of respectability. But at FN rallies speeches of Petain, anti-semitic tracts and Hitlerite literature and records are on sale while the SOFRES polling agency found in a 1984 survey of the FN’s membership that ‘a quarter of them were in favour of a coup to gain power’. [184]

Part of the need for this discretion is the legacy left by the Holocaust which Le Pen, the Republikaner and all the Nazi groups are determined to deny occurred. Again these links are there to be discovered as in this incident reported by the New Statesman:

An ex-Gestapo agent, whose life has been spent in the service of the extreme right, is poised to emerge as head of a key French regional government after the regional elections on 22 March. His name is Paul Malaguti and he heads the ticket of the neo-Nazi National Front party in the region round Bourges in the centre of France. As a 17 year old, Malaguti enrolled as a Gestapo agent in 1944 in Cannes and stood guard while the Gestapo shot resistance fighters. [185]

This refusal to clearly label the respectable face of fascism by its true name rests on a confusion between the political mask they choose to wear in public and their fundamental objectives, which remain partly hidden. To win votes and to get the traditional parties of the right to accept them as legitimate partners they stress ‘traditional Christian values’ – of fatherland, security, law and order. That is why it is important to link them clearly with their ideological, thuggish outriders.

It is also important to understand that fascism will not correspond to its German or Italian pre-war equivalents. Today’s fascists have to be circumspect about adopting the imagery associated with Hitler and Mussolini. Above all, as nationalists they have to adopt the appropriate symbolism. In this there is continuity with the fascists of the 1930s. Like de la Rocque, Le Pen marches on May Day to the statue of Joan of Arc. French fascism in the 1930s was rooted in the Dreyfussard, Catholic, anti-republican tradition from which it recruited its support.

The important point to focus on is the relationship between the openly Nazi groups, the ‘respectable fascists’, the traditional conservative parties and the state. Firstly there is a mutually reinforcing relationship between the openly Nazi groups and the ‘respectable fascists’. The attacks of the Nazi thugs create a political atmosphere in which the ‘respectable fascists’ appear as the lesser evil, while the racism of the ‘respectable Nazis’ provides a cover for acts of violence.

Meanwhile, the existence of Nazi organisations, ‘respectable’ or otherwise, can shift the whole political spectrum to the right, allowing racism and parts of the far right political programme to emerge in the mainstream of political argument. Of course, this process can also proceed from the opposite starting point – mainstream conservative politicians can make right wing populist speeches – like Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech, Thatcher’s ‘swamping’ comments or more recently, Winston Churchill’s outburst on immigration – and so, without becoming fascists themselves, make Nazi ideas more acceptable.

Finally, all this can produce a climate where the state itself enters into the chain of events. Immigration controls, deportations and the whole structure of state racism give credibility to the Nazis’ propaganda.

The way to break this chain is to break its first link. Nazi politicians should be ruthlessly exposed as such. The links between the ‘respectable Nazis’ and the thugs should be highlighted. The thugs themselves should be driven off the streets. The conservative politicians who are willing to come out with racist policies, while not Nazis, should be branded as people who are willing to encourage a political climate in which the Nazis can grow. By this means we can sever a chain which will otherwise pull the whole political structure to the right and increase the chance of the Nazis themselves taking power.

iii) Physically confront the Nazis. Behind the rise of Le Pen lies the French left’s consistent refusal to confront the Front National. During the 1980s the main anti-racist organisation was content to simply hold anti-racist concerts and festivals. That is no bad thing in itself, but in the absence of action being taken to wipe out FN slogans, to counter racist attacks and marches, it is not enough. Confrontation works. In 1992 the Front National thought it would emerge from the regional elections as the biggest party in Le Pen’s adopted base of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur. This failed to materialise:

What happened? In the course of the two months preceding the elections, there was an active campaign against the FN. Systematically, its meetings were harassed, prevented, numerous meetings were forbidden because of public order difficulties, and often there were violent confrontations between militants of the FN and anti-fascist militants. [186]

The violent fascist core of the FN became all too apparent when Le Pen was opposed directly. But the Front National has been allowed to grow largely free from such a challenge. That has allowed it to consolidate its support. In 1986 and 1987 Le Pen had to select candidates who were loosely in agreement with him. Many subsequently defected. Today Le Pen has succeeded in building a coherent party.

The example of Germany between 1966 and 1969 and again between 1977 and 1979 is also instructive. In 1966 the Nationaldemokratische Partei Deutschlands (NPD) entered parliament in several states with between 5.8 and 9.8 percent of the vote. Militant anti-fascist mobilisations confronted NPD rallies, meetings and marches throughout 1968. In the 1969 Federal elections the NPD were forced as a result to call off all large public meetings. Their vote fell to 4.3 percent, under the five percent quota which would have given them seats in parliament. [187]

Seeking to profit from a recession, the NPD attempted to establish a base particularly in Frankfurt with a series of marches and rallies. At this stage the NPD was prevented from making an electoral breakthrough. Militant demonstrations, notably those of 7,000 people on 17 June 1977 and of 50,000 on 17 June 1979, prevented the NPD from marching. [188]

In Britain in the second half of the 1970s the National Front attempted to build on a recession, disillusionment with a Labour government and Labour’s pandering to racism, by presenting the NF as a respectable alternative. In 1976 the NF won 16.2 percent of the vote in the West Bromwich by-election, while in the following year’s elections for the Greater London Council it took 119,000 votes and pushed the Liberals into fourth place overall.

The NF embarked on a series of marches, its veteran Nazi leader, John Tyndall, explaining, believe that our great marches, with drums and flags and banner, have a hypnotic effect on the public and an immense effect in solidifying the allegiance of our followers.’ [189]

The Labour Party, the Jewish Board of Deputies, the Communist Party and others all argued against confrontation. There was a reluctance to pin the Nazi label on the NF. Events culminated in August 1977 in Lewisham where the Nazis planned to march. The local Labour Party and the Communist Party called a march in the opposite direction from the Nazis. The Socialist Workers Party organised a counter- demonstration of 5,000, including large numbers of local black youth, which dispersed the NF march. The effect was electrifying, encouraging larger and larger numbers to take a clear stand, swelling anti-racist protests and allowing the SWP to play a central role in launching the mass membership Anti Nazi League.

A number of people have argued that the NF was not undercut by the ANL, but rather by Margaret Thatcher’s ability to attract its racist support with her speech claiming British people ‘might be swamped by people with a different culture’. [190] But chronology is against this view. Thatcher’s speech was made in 1978. Yet that was the year which saw not just the two massive ANL carnivals but also, in east London’s Brick Lane, major mobilisations in defence of the Bangladeshi community which would peak with 8,000 striking locally against the racists. During the 1979 election 5,000 anti-Nazis prevented an NF march in Leicester and a massive protest against an NF rally in Southall saw SWP member Blair Peach killed by the police. In Southall 15,000 marched in his honour and 13 national trade union banners plus his own teachers’ union banner attended his funeral. The NF vote held up in east London.

In November 1980 the ANL had to mobilise 4,000 people against the British Movement – the NF’s hardline rival – in Paddington. In April 1980 it mobilised against Nazis on the terraces of West Ham football club, mobilised 2,000 in July against the Nazis in Oxford, and organised a campaign in Harrogate to remove an NF leader, Andrew Brons, from his lecturing post. In August the ANL distributed 50,000 leaflets in one day after a racist murder in Coventry and finally that same month organised the 40,000 strong Northern Carnival Against Racism in Leeds, the ‘youngest and most working class’ according to Socialist Worker. Thus it was after Thatcher’s speech that the Nazis’ activity peaked and later still that the ANL finally drove them underground. Thatcher herself felt restrained about following that speech up with further such statements because of the popular anti-racist mood.

Finally, let us examine the idea that the election of Margaret Thatcher was a barrier to the growth of the Nazis. This kind of argument has ancestors. The German SPD argued that electing Field Marshal Hindenburg would block Hitler’s rise to power. Yet it was Hindenburg who handed power to Hitler. More recently, France’s President Mitterrand persuaded the Socialist Party to withdraw in Marseilles in favour of the millionaire Bernard Tapie, arguing he would tap into Le Pen’s support. He didn’t. The truth is that Nazis are not appeased when establishment politicians accommodate to racist and fascist ideas. On the contrary, they become more confident. The only thing that stops the Nazis is outright opposition – and it was the outright opposition of the ANL which broke the Nazis in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Another criticism of the ANL is that its demonstrations did not involve the self organisation of the black communities. Yet the effect of powerful ANL and anti-racist mobilisations was to throw up Asian Youth Movements in Lancashire, Bradford and Southall, and led to the development of widespread Bengali organisation in Brick Lane, the effects of which continue.

iv) Don’t rely on establishment politicians or labour leaders. The attempts by centre right and Social Democratic parties to curb the growth of racism and the new Nazis by limiting asylum rights and accepting the idea that their respective country is overcrowded can only stoke the fires of racism and fascism. Yet there are still those, like historian Martin Kitchen, who argue in defence of 1930s style People’s Fronts with ‘the anti-fascist wing of the national bourgeoisie’. [191] This is a conclusion which flies in the face of all the contemporary evidence.

In 1991 the ruling Christian Democratic government in Germany was performing badly at the polls and faced protests by western miners and eastern workers in defence of jobs and conditions. In the run up to the local elections in Bremen the Christian Democrats launched a major campaign seeking to stop refugees entering the city. The ruling SPD on the city council capitulated to the argument that Bremen was being overrun with asylum seekers. In the subsequent election they lost control. The Deutsche Volksunion increased its representation from one seat to six.

In France the rise of the Front National has led to a shift rightwards in political attitudes. At local level the traditional conservative parties, the Rassemblement pour la Republique and the Union pour la Democratie Française have made informal pacts with the FN, helping their electoral advance. On a wider level a survey in Le Monde found in October that one in three French people agreed with the FN’s ideas.

In March 1993 the right returned to office after 12 years of Socialist government (with one brief period of right wing rule in 1986–7). One report summed up the first few months of their government:

The most significant event has been the introduction of anti-immigration laws and the restriction of citizenship, part of the process, last attempted by the Vichy government, to dismantle the Revolutionary concept of a generous land of refuge.. The anti-immigration laws, however, are an unscrupulous attempt to persuade the electorate that much of the National Front’s France for the French’ philosophy is not only good for the country but for the presidential ambitions of the interior minister, Charles Pasqua. [192]

In France the Socialist Party, which had won the presidential elections in 1981 on a wave of enthusiasm, found that the unpopularity of their policies was eroding their support and reacted by blaming immigrants. In 1989 President Mitterrand stated that a ‘threshold of tolerance’ had been reached in the 1970s over immigration. [193] Following inner city riots in 1991 his prime minister talked of chartering special planes to deport asylum seekers and illegal immigrants. None of this undercut Le Pen’s support. Instead he was right when he retorted to Cresson that ‘people always prefer the original to the copy’.

A similar thing has been happening across Europe with governments hurrying through laws restricting asylum rights, thereby encouraging the racist argument that refugees are to blame for unemployment, bad housing and lack of services.

Bourgeois politicians can be forced to distance themselves from the Nazis, and even intimidated from playing the racist card, by mass working class mobilisation. But they cannot be relied on to oppose the Nazis. Attempts to do so will only undermine effective anti-Nazi movements.

v) For the united front, against both ultra-leftism and popular fronts. Many looking at developments in Europe must sense a terrible inevitability about the nationalism and racism which have emerged in the early 1990s. But the bitterness at the base of society does not always flow in one direction.

Rostock, the scene of the Nazi pogrom, was also the scene of a shipyard occupation. Germany has seen significant disputes uniting German and migrant workers. Across Italy, Spain and Britain we have seen huge upheavals in response to the austerity measures introduced in the autumn of 1992 after the first collapse in the European Monetary System. In Italy there has been something of a rebirth of left wing ideas and organisation. [194] In September a series of regional strikes brought a total of ten million workers onto the streets whilst a renewed bombing campaign widely believed to be connected to the secret services brought spontaneous demonstrations. In Milan the left led demonstration in response to the bombing dwarfed the Leagues’ protest which attempted to divert that anger.

The rise of the Nazis has also provoked huge demonstrations across Europe. In 1991 in March 120,000 demonstrated in Brussels against racism and the rise of the Vlaams Blok. At the turn of 1992–3, 500,000 marched in Munich against Nazi terror, 100,000 in Hanover and 200,000 in Berlin. The demonstrations in Germany spilled over into Austria, fuelling opposition to Haider’s FPO.

But, paradoxically, this rebirth of struggle has been accompanied by a continual pessimism on the organised left. Much of the left is scarred by the experience of defeat in the 1980s and believes that it must always remain an isolated minority. Thus the German Autonomists believe that the mass of the German population are incapable of confronting fascism because they are compromised by racism. For them the task of confronting the Nazis is one which can only involve the committed minority in actions which carry echoes of the KPD’s ‘squadism’ of the 1930s. In Britain, which thus far has not seen a similar growth of Nazi organisation, many on the left believe that white working class communities are ‘no go areas’ for anti-racists for similar reasons.

But pessimism need not have ultra-left results. It can also lead to accommodation with reformist leaders reminiscent of the popular front politics of the 1930s. In France the main anti-racist organisation, SOS Racisme, was run during the 1980s under the leadership of Harlem Desir who was linked to President Mitterrand and the ruling Socialist Party. It argued against physically confronting the fascists. Instead it organised a series of festivals which were seen as a means of educating people about racism. In Germany the ‘chain of light’ protests at the close of 1992 and in Rome the ‘hands across the city’ protest are symbolic actions organised by those who do not see the need to combine such mass actions with physical confrontation of the Nazis. In Britain the Anti Racist Alliance has gone out of its way to court Tory MPs, winning the sponsorship of one and forming warm relations with another, ex-minister Peter Bottomley.

Such strategies have consequences. After the murder of a young black school student, Stephen Lawrence, in the vicinity of the British National Party’s headquarters mainly black demonstrators vented their anger on the Nazis’ lair. Some figures on the left attacked the demonstration for ‘cynically exploiting local feeling about racist murders...with a flagrant disregard for people’s safety’. They went on to attack ‘violence’ in general, failing to distinguish between a brutal racist murder and the use of force to prevent the murderers continuing to organise in the area.

This is to dismiss many of the lessons of the 1930s – of the need for mass united action involving working people who do not agree on every issue of general politics.

vi) The struggle against fascism is also the struggle for socialism. Although it is wrong to insist that people must become revolutionaries, or even socialists, before they can fight the Nazis, it is also equally wrong not to see the connection between the struggle against capitalism and the struggle against the Nazis. Stopping the Nazis from organising is a crucial task, but it is only the tip of the iceberg.

No matter how many Nazi marches or meetings we prevent, the Nazis will find an echo in a society which continually produces recessions and wars, unemployment, poor housing and ill health for large sections of the population. Socialists must therefore avoid seeing the battle against fascism too narrowly. To unite workers in defence of a local hospital, against poor housing, in the fight for jobs and for better education is, apart from anything else, to show that working class self activity can, provide a better solution than the Nazis to the most pressing problems of people’s lives.

But to play a part in such struggles requires politics that go beyond simple anti-fascism. It requires socialist politics. The socialist struggle against capitalism is therefore the only struggle that can finally rid us of the nightmare of fascism.

We should not underestimate how acute the need for such politics has already become. Few could have predicted events thus far into the 1990s: the rise of fascism, war in former Yugoslavia and the re-emergence of nationalism across eastern and central Europe. The film of events is running more slowly than in the 1930s. That gives us more time to correct our mistakes than the left had in Germany between 1929 and 1933. But the film is running.

The possibilities exist for events to occur similar to those in France in the 1930s, where the fascist threat drew forth a response from the working class which grew over into an offensive against capital itself. The scale of the anti-racist protests, the mass strikes which shook Germany, Greece and Italy in 1992 and 1993, and the disintegration of Britain’s Tory government show the potential. As that process develops we would do well to remember the words of French socialist historian Daniel Guerin, ‘Fascism will be our punishment if we let the hour of socialism pass.’


1. N.I. O’Sullivan, Fascism (J.M. Dent & Sons, 1983), p. 68.

2. G. Lichtheim, A Short History Of Socialism (Fontana Collins, 1975), p. 326.

3. J. Stalin, Works, pp. 295–296.

4. G. Williams, Proletarian Order (Pluto Press, 1975), pp. 12–22.

5. A. Gramsci, Writings 1921–1926 (Lawrence and Wishart, 1978), p. 346.

6. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 49.

7. Ibid., p. 55.

8. A. Lyttelton, The Seizure of Power: Fascism in Italy 1919–1929 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1983), p. 48 – the other group this author draws attention to as providing recruits at this stage for the blackshirts were students.

9. P. Spriano, The Occupation of the Factories (Pluto Press, 1975), p. 188.

10. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 137.

11. Ibid., p. 145.

12. P. Spriano, op. cit., p. 69.

13. G. Carocci, Italian Fascism (Penguin, 1975), p. 19.

14. P. Spriano, op. cit., p. 111.

15. D. Guerin, Fascism and Big Business (Pathfinder, 1973), p. 49.

16. Ibid., p. 29.

17. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 38.

18. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 103.

19. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 59.

20. Ibid., p. 59.

21. Ibid., p. 60.

22. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 292.

23. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 209.

24. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 33.

25. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 97.

26. Ibid., p. 86.

27. Ibid., p. 95.

28. Ibid., pp. 68–69.

29. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 61.

30. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 304.

31. Ibid., p. 219.

32. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 65 – Mussolini was a long standing atheist.

33. Guardian, 11 August 1993, carried an article that Mussolini himself was of Arab descent!

34. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 109.

35. A. Gramsci, op. cit., p. 466.

36. V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol 42 (Lawrence and Wishart, 1977), p. 326.

37. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 295.

38. Figures from Q. Hoare’s introduction to A. Gramsci, op. cit., p. x.

39. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 298.

40. Q. Hoare, op. cit.

41. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 300.

42. A. Gramsci, op. cit., p. 269–270.

43. A. Bordiga, L’Ordine Nuovo, 22 July 1922, cited by Q. Hoare, op. cit.

44. A. Gramsci, op. cit., p. 35.

45. Quoted in D. Beetham, Marxists in the Face of Fascism (Manchester University Press, 1983), p. 118.

46. Ibid., p. 133.

47. A. Gramsci, op. cit., p. 380.

48. D. Beetham, op. cit., p. 112.

49. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 297.

50. G. Williams, op. cit., p. 301.

51. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 142.

52. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 123.

53. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., pl46.

54. Ibid., p. 241.

55. G. Carocci, op. cit., pp. 32–33.

56. A. Gramsci, op. cit., p. 259.

57. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 248.

58. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 126.

59. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., 242.

60. Ibid., p. 294.

61. Ibid.,p. 302.

62. A. Mayer, Why Did the Heavens Not Darken (Verso, 1990), p. 19.

63. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 45.

64. L. Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (Pathfinder, 1972), p. 399.

65. L. Trotsky, Stalin, Vol. 2 (Panther History, 1969), p. 244.

66. A. Lyttelton, op. cit., p. 433.

67. E.B. Wheaton, The Nazi Revolution 1933–1935 (Anchor, 1969), p. 93.

68. E.H. Carr, Twilight of the Comintern (Pantheon, 1982), p. 51.

69. B. Fowkes, Communism in Germany Under the Weimar Republic (Macmillan, 1984), p. 174.

70. O. Hippe, And Red Is the Colour of Our Flag (Index Books, 1991), p. 112.

71. E.H. Carr, op. cit., p. 58.

72. Ibid., p. 59.

73. B. Fowkes, op. cit., p. 168.

74. G. Jungclas, The Tragedy Of the German Proletariat, in Fifty Years of World Revolution (Pathfinder Press, 1971), pp. 123–124.

75. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 112.

76. Ibid., p. 122.

77. F. Claudin, The Communist Movement from Comintern to Cominform (Monthly Review Press, 1975), p. 165.

78. G. Jungclas, op. cit., p. 125.

79. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 127.

80. Ibid., p. 127.

81. Ibid., p. 129.

82. B. Fowkes, op. cit., p. 174.

83. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 184.

84. E. Fromm, The Working Class in Weimar Germany: A Psychological and Sociological Study (Berg Publishers, 1984), p. 77.

85. E. Rosenhaft, Beating the Fascists? The German Communists and Political Violence 1929–1933 (Cambridge Press, 1983), p. 178.

86. E. Fromm, op. cit., p. 103.

87. D. Guerin, op. cit., p. 59.

88. E. Rosenhaft, op. cit., p. 52.

89. E. Fromm, op. cit., p. 110.

90. L. Trotsky, op. cit., p. 125.

91. A. Mayer, op. cit., p. 100.

92. Degras, The Communist International (1919–1943): Documents (OUP, London 1956–1965), vol. 2, p. 139.

93. F. Claudin, op. cit., p. 89.

94. E.H. Carr, op. cit., pp. 7 and 45.

95. Ibid., p. 51.

96. D. Beetham, op. cit., p. 162 – the SAP, the Sozialistische Arbeiter Partei, was a left wing breakaway from the SPD in 1931 which wanted a united fight against the Nazis. The Brandler group had been expelled earlier from the KPD.

97. B. Fowkes, op. cit., p. 162.

98. E. Rosenhaft, op. cit., p. 7.

99. Ibid., p. 26.

100. Ibid., p. 45.

101. Horst Wessel was a pimp who was murdered by gangsters. The Nazis then enshrined him as a party martyr.

102. E. Rosenhaft, op. cit., p. 21.

103. Ibid., p. 1Ol.

104. Ibid., p. 108.

105. Ibid., p. 26–27.

106. Ibid., pp. 111–112, my emphasis.

107. L. Trotsky, op. cit., p. 125.

108. Ibid., p. 144.

109. C. Harman, The Lost Revolution – Germany 1918 to 1923 (Bookmarks, 1982).

110. L. Trotsky, op. cit., p. 279.

111. Ibid., p. 144.

112. L. Trotsky, Whither France (Merit Publishers, 1968).

113. L. Trotsky, Writings 1939–1940 (Pathfinder Press, 1977), p. 412.

114. L. Trotsky, The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (Pathfinder, 1987), p. 128.

115. L. Trotsky, The First Five Years of the Communist International, Vol. 2 (New Park Publications, 1953), pp. 92 and 95–96.

116. E. Rosenhaft, op. cit., p. 209–210.

117. L. Trotsky, Writings 1933–34, p. 238.

118. A. Home, To Lose a Battle: France 1940 (Penguin, 1979), p. 89.

119. ‘Marraus expressed an endless series of hates including the Revolution, the Republic, democracy, Parliament, the proletariat, free education and all forms of social justice.’ P. Webster, Pétain’s Crime (Papermac, 1992), p. 20.

120. A Home, op. cit., p. 93. In reality de la Rocque had refused to collaborate with Action Française and had led his men away from the Assembly but his organisation would reap the greatest gains from this failed putsch.

121. Ibid., p. 93. In reality he had refused to collaborate with the other rightists and had marched his men away from the Assembly, but the Croix de Feu benefited most from the failed putsch.

122. J. Jackson, The Popular Front In France, Defending Democracy 1934–1938 (Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 20.

123. Ibid., p. 3.

124. J. Danos and M. Gibelin, June ’36 (Bookmarks, 1986), p. 35.

125. J. Jackson, op. cit., p. 22.

126. J. Danos and M. Gibelin, op. cit., p. 32.

127. Ibid., p. 33.

128. Ibid., p. 35.

129. J. Jackson, op. cit., p. 29.

130. Ibid., p. 31.

131. F. Claudin, op. cit., 202.

132. J. Stalin, Works, Vol. 13, (Lawrence and Wishart, 1953–55) p. 298–312.

133. J. Danos and M. Gibelin, p. 39.

134. L. Trotsky, Writings 1934–1935, p. 35.(Pathfinder, 1979).

135. L. Trotsky, Whither France.

136. J. Jackson, op. cit., p. 50.

137. Ibid., p. 85.

138. Ibid., p. 231.

139. Ibid., p. 252.

140. J. Danos and M. Gibelin, op. cit., p. 49.

141. J. Jackson, op. cit., p. 141.

142. J. Danos and M. Gibelin, op. cit., p. 202.

143. L. Trotsky, Whither France, p. 149.

144. F. Claudin, op. cit., p. 201.

145. J. Jackson, op. cit., p. 152.

146. F. Claudin, op. cit., p. 208.

147. J. Jackson, op. cit., 225.

148. Ibid., p. 111.

149. F. Claudin, op. cit., p. 208.

150. J. Jackson, op. cit., p. 225.

151. L. Trotsky, op. cit., pp. 17–18.

152. L. Trotsky, Writings Supplement, 1929–1933, (Pathfinder, 1979), p. 208.

153. L. Trotsky, Writings Supplement 1934–1940, (Pathfinder, 1979), p. 458.

154. L. Trotsky, Whither France, p. 31.

155. Y. Craipeau, quoted I. Birchall, Too Much, Too Little, Too Late: Left Social Democracy in the French Popular Front, International Socialism 13, Summer 1981.

156. L. Trotsky, The Crisis of the French Section 1935–36 (Pathfinder Press, 1977), p. 214.

157. G. Ford, Fascist Europe (Pluto Press, 1992), p. xxi.

158. P. Ginsborg, A History of Contemporary Italy (Penguin, 1990), p. 421.

159. W. Herz, Die Zeit, 14 August 1992.

160. Quoted by R. Kuhn from the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Information Service, Canberra, 24 September 1992.

161. Interview with Volkhard Mosler, Socialist Review, April 1993.

162. S. Padgett and W. Paterson, The Rise & Fall of the West German Left, New Left Review 186, March-April 1991.

163. Interview with Volkhard Mosler, op. cit.

164. Ibid.

165. G. Ford, op. cit., p. xiii.

166. Ibid., p. 19.

167. Le Monde, 10 February 1990.

168. Guardian, 19 June 1993.

169. L. Abse, New Left Review 199.

170. P. Ginsborg, op. cit., p. 144.

171. G. Ford, op. cit., p. 27.

172. Searchlight, no. 211, January 1993.

173. National Bank Report 1992.

174. Just days earlier on 4 August the interior minister told the Federal parliament that Germany’s ‘capacity to absorb newcomers ... had been strained to the limit by the misuse of the asylum law’. Later in August, after Rostock, the SPD national leadership dropped its opposition to revisal of the asylum law. This was approved by a special SPD conference in November.

175. G. Ford, op. cit., pl4.

176. C. Sparks, Fascism And The Working Class – The National Front Today, International Socialism 3, Winter 1978–79.

177. The French student struggles were marked by a high degree of unity between whites, North Africans and blacks, reinforced by the police murder of 20 year old Abdel Oussekine.

178. R. Stoss, Politics against Democracy: Right Wing Extremism in West Germany, (Berg, 1991).

179. G. Ford, op. cit., p. xvii.

180. 1991 Conference Resolution, The Situation in France – the Political Situation, Lutte De Classe, January 1992. Later that month an editorial in the newspaper, Lutte Ouvriere, compared the FN to the Islamic fundamentalists in Algeria, with the headline, Whether It Is in the Name of the FIS or of Le Pen It Is the Same Evil. Lutte Ouvriere had earlier in late 1989 refused to defend two Muslim women in Criel, northern France, who were refused entry to their school because they wore headscarves. This became a cause celebre with Le Pen waging a massive campaign claiming France was on the verge of becoming an ‘Islamic nation’.

181. R. Kuhn, Fascism In Germany Today, discussion paper, Department of Political Science, Australian National University, Canberra, April 1993.

182. G. Ford, op. cit., p. xvi.

183. Ibid., p. 23.

184. Interview with Nonna Mayer, Director of Research at the National Centre of Scientific Research (CNRS) in the Centre for the Study of French Political Life, International Viewpoint, 8 June 1992.

185. D. McShane, New Statesman, 13 March 1992.

186. Interview with Nonna Mayer.

187. W. Halbauer and V. Mosler, Stoppt die Nazis, Sozialistische Arbeitergruppe (Hanover 1991), pp. 41–43.

188. Ibid., pp. 43–44.

189. Spearhead 87, September 1975. Tyndall is now leader of the British National Party.

190. For instance see P. Gilroy, There Ain’t No Black in the Union Jack (Routledge, 1992), p. 135.

191. M. Kitchen, Fascism (London 1992), p. 78.

192. P. Webster, Guardian, 12 August 1993.

193. Le Monde, 24 November 1989.

194. See J. Foot, Letter From Italy, Socialist Review, July/August 1993.

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