This is a talk I gave in Dublin in 1993 after we had been amoung a coalition of groups that had successfully forced fascist organiser David Irving to call off a speaking tour. At the time the fascists had hit the news in several European countries with either electoral success or murders of immigrants.
The recent successful campaign against the fascist organiser David Irving as well as related events throughout Europe have led to fascism being discussed in a widespread fashion. A lot of people are rightly alarmed at the re-emergence in Fascism throughout Europe and the level of support it has received in France, Germany and Belgium where fascist based groups have received over 15% of the vote.
Fascism tends to be used a lot on the left as a term of abuse. The workers party call Sinn Fein fascists, the CP used to refer to trotskyists as fascists and right wingers in general are referred to as fascists. The problem with this sort of thing is that when you then argue for no platform for fascists many see this as an attempt to silence all those you disagree with.
We use the term fascist in a very much tighter form. Fascists are those who seek to physically smash the left, unions and other progressive groups. Today most fascists use racism to recruit but they do not just promise repatriation when in power. They beat, maim and kill minority groups now. This use of physical violence now is what distinguished fascism from right wing racists like Enoch Powell.
This is why we say fighting fascism can not be done just in terms of ideas. Fascists do not wait until they have convinced a sufficient number of people to put their ideas into power before they put their ideas into practise. Even tiny groups of a dozen or less organise and carry out terror attacks on those they oppose or scapegoat. Only physical confrontation can deter and prevent these activities. A few hundred fascists in any one town or city can be sufficient to prevent any progressive activity from union meetings to demonstrations being carried out unless these are protected physically. With fascism physical defence very soon becomes a key issue for even minor activities and we prefer to prevent them organising in the first place rather then letting them reach a size where they feel they can attack us.
This emphasis on physical violence is seen in the roots of fascism. In both Germany and Italy the fascists were originally armed gangs used to attack trade unionists and revolutionaries in the aftermath of World War 1. The bosses financed these gangs initially because in both Germany and Italy revolution looked imminent and workers were winning huge gains. In Italy this finance meant that a large army of fascists could tour the country smashing the unions. When they entered an area workers would be locked out unless they agreed to join the fascists unions. Their jobs would be carried out by part of this roving band while the rest of it would smash and attempt to terrorise and intimidate workers into joining the fascist 'union'. Because of this finance it was possible for them to maintain and move sufficient numbers to out number the left in any area they went to .
An additional problem in Italy was that the left relied on the state to protect it. Yet the bosses sided with the fascists and the judiciary, police and army followed out their wishes regardless of who was in power. Their was a sizeable anarchist movement in Italy at the time but despite their efforts they did not have the numbers to physical defeat the fascists without the support of the wider left. Italian anarchists carried out armed resistance to Mussolini's government until it fell in 1944. [It's worth pointing out that after the war many were still being jailed for attacks carried out on the fascist administration before Italy changed sides in 1944].
From being small groups of anti-left, anti-union thugs the fascists later came to be united under the leadership of particular individuals, and the armed gangs formed into a single party. While continuing their old role of smashing workers organisations for the bosses they began to take on a new one. In the post war years the working class had won large improvements in the standard of living. The bosses resented paying this and as the recession of 1929 arrived they increasingly needed to completely destroy these gains in order to maintain profits. Heavy industry in particular wanted the state to switch investment from healthcare to the war industry in order to boost its flagging profits. Fascism in power promised both these things so the bosses poured massive resources into bringing the fascists to power, both directly in terms of massive financial aid and indirectly through their control of the media and the state. Hitler for instance made reference to the vital part the use of 1000 cars [from Henry Ford] had been during the Nazi's 1932 election campaign.
At the moment fascism is in the first armed gang phase. No significant section of the bosses has yet come out in support of them. They pose a threat to those they beat up and kill directly, not as yet the threat they could pose if the bosses turn to them. If for instance someone like Murdoch in Britain was to decide that the BNP coming to power was in his interests then given his monopoly of the press there most of the mainstream papers would be arguing the BNP line.
Is this likely to happen, well at the moment it would not appear so. The standard of living for most working class people has been falling throughout this decade, this is driving down costs for the bosses. The bulk of the left has managed to completely discredit itself either through its support for Leninism and the old USSR or through being in power and implementing anti-working class measures for the bosses. Witness Labour's slashing of Aer Lingus jobs. The trade unions are controlled as seldom before by the bureaucracy and the bureaucracy in itself has lost what little ability it had to fight. In short these is little evidence of a serious opposition to the bosses cuts arising in the recent future. There is little opposition to the bosses wishes to be smashed, what opposition there is can be dealt with through the ordinary apparatus of the state, its courts and its cops.
Against that however the recession continues to deepen, the bosses have not yet driven down our standard of living enough to restore all their profits. The obvious and easy cuts have been made and so have a layer of more difficult ones. Resistance has begun to break out, last month for instance 7000 public service workers struck in support of the dental assistants pay claims and a two day strike occurred in CIE against pay cuts. Internationally there have been a few major strikes like the one day strike in Germany earlier this year.. Although it may seem unlikely now in the past massive opposition to cuts has tended to emerge suddenly, over a period of months rather than years. If such a thing were to happen then the bosses could well turn to fascism as a way to maintain their profits and save their skins.
If the far left is discredited so to is mainstream politics. Europe has been rocked by the emergence of countless corruption scandals from the Irish beef tribunal to the Italian governments Mafia links. Finance ministers and chancellors promising light at the end of the tunnel have become a monthly joke on the news. Nobody believes politicians full stop and certainly nobody believes full employment etc. is something any politician is capable of bringing about. This means people are less likely to accept the old excuses which is good for us but it is also part of the reason why the far right is winning support.
Fascism at the moment in Europe is an indirect rather than a direct creation of the ruling class. Racism was made respectable during the last decade by all the mainstream parties from left to right. Socialist governments like that of France forcibly deported immigrants and in Germany immigrants were quickly scapegoated for the rising unemployment in Eastern Germany after re-unification. The cuts imposed on the working class meant fewer houses, fewer jobs and poorer facilities. Rather than admitting these things were due to a cutback in spending the Governments tried to shift the blame on immigrants taking 'our' resources. The latest example of this is the racist campaign ran by the Liberals in the Isle of Dogs by-election. This had the result of making the fascists racism respectable to voters. Everyone it appeared agreed that the immigrants were the problem and to some it also appeared that the fascists were the most serious about solving this 'problem'.
This is also the reason why although in the 20's and 30's fascism's mass base was the middle class this time around they are winning support from the poorest sections of the working class. With everyone telling those living on the Isle of Dogs that their poor housing and massive unemployment is due to Bengali immigrants it is of little surprise that many choose to vote for the BNP. In reality the Bengali's have the poorest housing and the highest unemployment but it has suited the bosses well to have poor working class white Eastenders blaming poorer working class Asian Eastenders for their poverty.
Indeed if we look at the way the bosses have reacted to the electoral victories of fascists throughout Europe this becomes clearer. In Germany it was used as an excuse to push through more racist anti-immigrant laws, in Britain it is being used to further scapegoat immigrants as if they rather than the mainstream parties are responsible for the rise of fascism. The collapse of the left along with the crisis of mainstream politics is another reason for this. In the past many of those now supporting the fascists would have moved left instead, particularly through getting involved with one of the large electoral parties. Very few people still see socialism as an option and in this context fascism has succeeded in making itself appear a viable alternative.
Although it seems their is no imminent threat of the bosses turning to fascism and it coming to power it is still maiming and killing hundreds throughout Europe. They have to be stopped and the support has to be eroded completely. There are two things vital to this process. A political alternative to the fascists message and the implementation of a No platform for fascists policy not just by the left but also by all those the fascists target. I'm going to look at the political end first.
I've already said that unlike the 30's fascism is not based around the middle classes fear of socialism in power (and also at the time support of the peasantry). It is based around the poorest sections of the white working class who see as the only solution to their problems gaining the houses and jobs of immigrants and minority workers. As an interim measure the left should be arguing that rather then scapegoating minorities almost always worse off them themselves that what is needed is for black and white workers fighting together for better housing for all full unemployment etc.
Once this was so obvious that the fascists had enormous problems making inroads into anything but the most marginalised sections of the working class even when they were mass organisations. At this time many saw a 'more houses for all' hope resting in the communist parties or the social democratic parties. For workers there was an immediate more sensible answer to the fascists. For those workers organised in trade unions, particularly where the workplace organisation is strong this is still the case. Notice the walk out by public service workers in Tower hamlets after the by-election.
In the short term these are the arguments we can use but in the long term people need to be convinced that there is a viable alternative to capitalism. The bulk of the left is still trying to re-package social democracy or Leninism, this offers no way forward. We have to win the arguments for libertarian communism/anarchism both with the left and within society at large. I have shown how fascism arises out of capitalism in crisis, to finally defeat fascism we also need to finally replace capitalism.
The here vital tactic against fascism in the now is to deny them a platform to recruit from. We know as fascists grow then so will the racial and other attacks they carry out or encourage. Therefore we have to stop them growing by denying them the ability to organise. This means stopping fascists meeting, marching or selling papers, whether these are public or private events. Again it is not what fascists say that is a problem, it is what they do.
To do this we need to mobilise the greatest number of people possible against fascism and win these people to _at least_ supporting a no platform policy. The at least passive support of a huge number of people is necessary for a number of reasons,
1) it is a protection against the attempts by the state to move against those physically confronting the fascists. Winning the backing of unions and hence potential industrial action is important in this respect.
2) it demoralises the fascists by pointing out how isolated they are. This is important but it can not be made the most important feature of anti-fascist work as a lot of liberals tend to. For the most part the fascists know they are unpopular, they just hope to win over enough people to terrify the rest into compliance.
3) it gives an audience to the spread of revolutionary ideas and the need to change all aspects of capitalism.
We also need to win over large amounts of people to actively confronting the fascists. This means physically shutting down their book shops, meeting, offices and paper sales. It means physically defending those the fascists attack and attacking fascists before they can mount such attacks. As I have said a good section of the fascists know they are unpopular, we have to do more than prove this to be the case. Those who organise racial and other attacks have to be physically attacked themselves until they stop such activity.
At the moment the anti-fascists are split into several different campaigning bodies, this in itself need not be a problem if they work together but in reality along with the real political differences between the different bodies are sectarian differences which result in them refusing to work together. The battle most of them are fighting at the moment is as much the battle to control the anti-fascists as to defeat fascism.