“If fascism could be defeated in debate, I assure you that it would never have happened, neither in Germany, nor in Italy, nor anywhere else.”
These words of Holocaust survivor, Franz Frison, in 1988, make clear that fascism, like other oppressive forces standing against human freedom, cannot be stopped by mere reasonable dialogue over a cup of tea. Fascism must be met and challenged with self-defence of the utmost fervour. As Frison points out, despite that fact, those of us willing to confront fascists – an act of self-defence – may be called “a mob” or “just as bad”: “People who witnessed fascism at its height are dying out, but the ideology is still here, and its apologists are working hard at a comeback. Past experience should teach us that fascism must be stopped before it takes hold again of too many minds, and becomes useful once again to some powerful interests.”
Taking words from the oppressing side during the Holocaust and WWII, Hitler is often quoted as having said: “Only one thing could have stopped our movement - if our adversaries had understood its principle and from the first day smashed with the utmost brutality the nucleus of our new movement.” This key insight, paramount for every anti-fascist, was unwittingly offered by the most popular leader of the movement we intend to smash. We mustn’t let this tactical observation of fascism go to waste.
Fascism, capitalism, and the working class
Fascism arises in certain conditions during capitalist crisis. Despite its occasional facade of being anti-establishment or socialist—as in the “national socialism” of the Nazis—fascism is strictly a capitalist formation utilised by the ruling class when the system is threatened. This was pointed out by Leon Trotsky to the Social Democratic workers of Europe, a month after Hitler was elected into power: “The results are at hand: bourgeois democracy transforms itself legally, pacifically, into a fascist dictatorship. The secret is simple enough: bourgeois democracy and fascist dictatorship are the instruments of one and the same class, the exploiters.”
Therefore if we are to ever bring a lasting end to fascism we’ll have to fully break free of capitalism. Our defensive struggle against fascism should both attack the fascists themselves and the system that created them.
Anti-fascist demonstration may scare the fascists back into their hideouts, but won’t cut the threat of fascism out of existence. And the larger the number of fascists, the larger our numbers must be just to repel them temporarily, until they gain enough confidence to show their faces again. Cutting a particularly threatening branch off a tree will only give a momentary respite before it grows out again. If we don’t take an axe to the trunk we will be cutting down the branch indefinitely. Like Sisyphus, we’ll forever be repeating the same act in damnation rather than trying to end that which produces this damnation.
It should be noted that while fascism has a petty-bourgeois foundation, fascists often look to recruit from working class communities. This is for three reasons:
1. Deluding workers weakens the far-left – the fascists’ most active opponents, whom the working class are most connected with in terms of class interests.
2. The workers form a mass, larger than the petty-bourgeoisie, from which an army can be built.
3. Workers are dejected and desperate from the hardships of capitalism, thus more susceptible to an ideology that appears strong and calls for change.
Fascists, therefore, see the working class as a pool of potential fascist foot soldiers. As Hitler put it bluntly, the Nazis try to “burn into the little man’s soul the proud conviction that, though a little worm, he is nevertheless part of a great dragon.”
Beneath their thin veil of concern for living standards and community protection is nothing more than their hate for people of colour, immigrants, marginalised religious folks, and democracy. Ordinary working people are told the ills of society are not due to capitalism itself, instead the blame’s put on specific groups of innocent people.
Fascism lives by portraying itself as strong, while taking advantage of the needy and oppressed. By confronting fascists collectively we show them and anyone tempted by their ideology that fascism is anything but strong when working and oppressed people are united, and to adhere to fascist views has consequences.
The anti-fascist past of workers
The most revolutionary and class conscious workers, leading up to WWII, spontaneously understood that directly confronting the rise of fascism would be essential in stopping Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, and others like Oswald Mosley, with their vicious minions in the streets. Unfortunately, the working class was not fast enough or united enough. The leadership of the Social Democratic Parties, as the Communist Parties, and anarchist organisations kept their members separated from each other while fascism climbed into power.
Understandably, smaller groups and even individuals lashed out at the fascists. However admirable they were to confront and weaken those of the fascist movement, such acts—then as now—can’t stop fascism. Our true strength is our numbers.
It is essential that we don’t follow in the footsteps of the German Social Democratic Party, on the eve of Hitler taking power, by relying on the bourgeois state and its police to protect what little democracy and freedom we have. Nor should we follow in the footsteps of the Communist Parties of the time, refusing to form united fronts with the Social Democratic and anarchist workers. Anti-fascist workers must be united in action.
We can learn immensely from the Battle of Cable Street. In 1936 Oswald Mosley and his British Union of Fascists (BUF) were looking to gain momentum for their movement, so they decided to march through a predominantly Irish and Jewish part of East London to spread fear into the hearts of Jewish people and delusion into the minds of poor Irish dockers.
Workers and leftists, from the area and beyond, began organising their self-defence, despite the cries from the cowardly Labour Party and Jewish Board. 100,000 anti-fascists, composed of a diverse mix of workers, united in their class interest to fight off the 7,000 fascists and 10,000 police (4,000 of which on horseback). Their anti-fascist slogan was “They Shall Not Pass,” translated from the Spanish “¡No Pasarán!” of the revolutionary forces fighting fascists in Spain at the time, and prevent the fascists from passing through they did.
The defending workers didn’t just overcome the fascists but also the bourgeois state authorities, thus demonstrating the true potential of workers when united. Slander from the ruling class didn’t matter to the anti-fascists of East London, for the invading fascists and their police allies were defeated and the diverse communities had a greater sense of unifying working class solidarity than ever before.
It was not a single or even a couple organisations that drove the fascists out of Cable Street, it was the working and oppressed people united in a coalition, equally leading in their shared struggle against the fascists and police. There’s no better way to honour the recent 80th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street than to put its lessons into direct practice today.
Workers united against fascism
Just as workers in the past confronted fascism, so must we—through our vast numbers. Only we must do so better and more resolutely than our fellow workers of the past. Alliances, coalitions, and united fronts must be forged between workers of varying ideological tendencies and cultures—anarchist and Marxist workers, along with the reformist Social Democratic ones, unionised and non-unionised, people of colour and white, religious and atheist, Aboriginal and settler, all workers defending against the destruction imposed by fascism.
Our critical analyses of each other needn’t be repressed; we just need to recognise that we are all workers with, despite our differences, common class interests and class enemies.
We can see united anti-fascist action wasn’t a thing of the distant past of the 1930s by looking at Britain in the mid to late 1970s. With an increase in unemployment and austerity, came fascist organising. The National Front (NF) and National Party (NP) were making ground in local elections across the land. With this boost of confidence the NF decided to march through a borough of South East London, predominantly Black, in 1977.
The SWP decided a defence was needed. It wasn’t alone that they accomplished this; of the roughly 10,000 anti-fascists, 2000 were of the SWP, whereas the other 8000 were workers and youths – mainly Black – from outside the party. Together, as Tony Cliff described, “they broke through the police cordon and physically stopped the fascist march.”
Despite Labour Party and media disapproval, this mobilisation by various working and oppressed people led to the creation of the Anti-Nazi League a few months later. This united front of anti-fascist organisations and workers led to the significant decline within fascist organisations like the NF and NP in the years afterwards.
What is most important about this example, which has been mirrored around the world to this day—against forces like Golden Dawn in Greece—is that thousands of diverse anti-fascists again came together and were able to defend their communities from the fascists and fascist-sympathising police. The SWP, essential in getting the mass of working people mobilised, was but one part of the anti-fascist movement. Unified cooperation is the foundation for stopping fascists.
“Workers of the world, unite” is not put into practice by any of us if we remain sectarian, atomised, isolated in our own organisational bubbles to the point of letting fascists roam our streets threatening our fellow people of colour, immigrants, Muslims, Jewish people, LGBTQ folks, people with disabilities, First Nations and Métis, along with those facing all other forms of marginalisation and oppression.
The diverse working and oppressed people must take united action against the forces that harm us all. Through this will blossom proletarian democracy out from where the old bourgeois democracy once limited freedom to an elite few. None of this can happen though if the working class remains alienated from itself, so it is the duty of every working class organisation to extend its hand to each other in solidarity against fascism and capitalism.
The situation in Vancouver
Here in Vancouver, and the surrounding area, the fascist threat is exemplified by the Soldiers of Odin (SOO). Like many contemporary fascists they have learned to not outright say they are fascists, but rather call themselves anti-immigrant, anti-extremists, concerned citizens, etc. They are currently of relatively weak numbers and ability, but it’d be an immense mistake—not to mention a sign of historical ignorance—to conclude that means we shouldn’t watch them and prepare a defensive force with the utmost urgency.
They have taken to the streets—that is more than enough reason to prepare to organise. As stated above, however, we, as a general community of working and oppressed people, cannot rely on the actions of small, though brave, groups of anti-fascists, nor on the state’s police; what’s needed is a broad coalition united against fascism, willing, if conditions call for it, to take our streets back by confronting the fascists both physically and ideologically.
Here in Vancouver those that recognise the threat of fascism and the need for united action against it should come together. We could build a coalition against racism and fascism, one collectively led by members of all organisations involved, that would defend and organise the communities affected by the encroaching Soldiers of Odin. Some would shake their heads at our actions, some would call for peace with the fascists, while some would call the police who’d defend the SOO, but as history has shown—from the 20s and 30s to the 70s up to our current day—anti-fascist mobilisation is unquestionably needed wherever the weeds of fascism sprout.
By working and oppressed people coming together in self-defence against fascism we further recognise our common class interests. These interests reach and connect us beyond all boundaries the current capitalist system tries to emphasise in a divide and conquer tactic. Not only will we thwart the advancement of fascism, not only will we be rejuvenated with confidence and class consciousness, we will enrich ourselves with the realisation that our true strength is in our own hands when we are united—we, as a class, need not rely on anyone but ourselves for our emancipation. Together we are capable of building a better world—anti-fascist action will be essential for getting there.