The Menace of Fascism￼
What it is and how to fight it
Written: June 1948
Source: the original pamphlet
Only two years after the war allegedly fought to destroy fascism, the British fascists have commenced to regroup their forces. Throughout the country, cautiously and unobtrusively at first, but more and more boldly, the fascists have come into the open.
At first they emerged as local and separate organisations and adopted a host of names for reasons of expediency. The aim was clearly to prepare for unification at a later stage. Among the most important of these organisations were the British League of Ex-Servicemen and women; Mosley’s Book Club and Discussion Group; the Union of British Freedom; the Sons of St George (Derby); the Imperial Defence League (Manchester); the British Workers’ Party of National Unity (Bristol); the Corporate Club (a student group at Oxford University).
These organisations are not short of money. Before the war the British Union of Fascists (BUF) had extensive funds at its disposal. The fascists had intimate links with big business. Mosley boasted that he had spent 96,000 of his own personal fortune “in support of my beliefs during my political life”. On two occasions Mosley himself married into millionaire families. In 1920 he married Lady Cynthia Curzon, a daughter of the late Marquis Curzon of Kedleston and a granddaughter of Levi Zeigler Leiter, a Jewish Chicago millionaire. Lady Cynthia inherited 28,000 a year from her own family (there are two children of this marriage). After the death of his first wife a few years prior to the war, Mosley married again, this time, into the Guinness millions. His wife is the sister of the notorious Unity Mitford, friend of Hitler.
In the early days of the fascist movement, Mosley was enthusiastically backed by a number of prominent capitalist and military figures. True, later when Mosley became discredited and it was clear that the movement was not timely, many of them dropped away or fell into the background. Apart from the open members of the Fascist Party, a powerful club composed of members of the ruling class was formed to back the blackshirts. In a pamphlet entitled Who Backs Mosley published by Labour Research, some enlightening facts were revealed:
“On New Year’s day 1934 was formed the January Club, whose object is to form a solid blackshirt front. The chairman Sir John Squire, editor of the London Mercury said that it was not a fascist organisation but admitted that ‘the members who belonged to all political parties were for the most part in sympathy with the fascist movement’. (The Times, 22 March, 1934) The January Club held its dinners at the Savoy and the Hotel Splendide. The Tatler shows pictures of the club assemblies, distinguished by evening dress, wines, flowers and a general air of luxury. The leader is enjoying himself among his own class”
The members of this club were:
COLONEL LORD MIDDLETON, a director of the Yorkshire Insurance Co, Malton Investment Trust, British Coal Refining Processes Ltd, and three other companies. He owns about 15,000 acres of land and minerals in Nottinghamshire.
GENERAL SIR HUBERT DE LA POER GOUGH, GCMG, KCB, KCVO, Commander of the Fifth Army 1916-18 and Chief of the Allied Mission to the Baltic, 1919 (Russian intervention), now director of Siemens Bros, Caxton Electric Development Ltd, Enfield Rolling Mills, and two other companies.
AIR COMMODORE CHAMIER, CB, CMG, OBE, DSO, late Indian Army. Now aviation consultant and agent to, and lately director of, Vickers Aviation Ltd.
VINCENT C VICKERS, director of the London Assurance Corporation and a large shareholder in Vickers Ltd.
LORD LLOYD, former Governor of Bombay
THE EARL OF GLASGOW, Privy Councillor, brother-in-law to Sir Thomas Inskip, the Attorney General, who was responsible for the Sedition Bill in the House of Commons. The Earl owns Kelburn Castle, Ayrshire, and about 2500 acres.
MAJOR NATHAN, Liberal MP for NE Bethnal Greena member of the Jewish Agency under the mandate for PalestineChairman of the Anglo-Chinese Finance and Trade Corporation
WARD PRICE, special correspondent to the Daily Mail and director of Associated Newspapers and British Movietone News.
WING COMMANDER SIR LOUIS GRIEG, KBE, CBO, RAF, partner in J and H Scrimageour, stockbrokers, director of Handley Page Ltd, and an insurance company and Gentleman Usher in Ordinary to the King.
LADY RAVENDALE, Baroness, sister-in-law to Mosley and granddaughter to Levi Leiter.
COUNT and COUNTESS PAUL MUNSTER.
MAJOR METCALFE, MVO, MC, brother-in-law of Lady Cynthia Mosley and Lady Ravendale, late aide-de-camp to the Prince of Wales and the Commander in Chief in India.
SIR PHILIP MAGNUS, Bart, a leading Conservative.
SIR CHARLES PETRIE
HON. J F RENNEL RODD, heir to Baron Rennell, and a partner in Morgan, Grenfell & Co.
RALPH D BLUMENFELD, Chairman of the Daily Express, formerly editor. He was once editor of the Daily Mail. He is the founder of the Anti-Socialist Union and a member of its Executive Committee.
It is significant that among the early supporters of Mosley are named a number of wealthy Jews. This was before Mosley adopted anti-semitism as an indispensable means of rallying ignorant and backward supporters.
Mosley had the financial backing of fascists abroad. He received a subsidy of 60,000 a year from Mussolini. This has been confirmed by the discovery of documents in the archives in Rome dated 1935, and was revealed by Chuter Ede, the Home Secretary, in the House of Commons.
Mosley paid visits to Hitler and Mussolini and was in close touch with the nazi leaders.
With the outbreak of the war, the Mosley movement declined. Like other fascist movements in Europe the BUF became an agent of German imperialism on whose victory they banked to assure their future. The British capitalists at war with German imperialism had no use for the fascists and were compelled to illegalise them as part of the ideological war against fascism. But Mosley was well protected in prison and pampered with many of the comforts to which he was accustomed, including the best foods, furniture and servants. As one of their class who had perhaps ventured too early, the British capitalists treated him solicitously with an eye to the future.
Are the British Capitalists Anti-Fascist?
The British capitalist class fought the war, not because they opposed fascism and what it represents, but in a desperate struggle against rival imperialisms for world markets, for sources of raw materials – for profit. Their victory has not brought and will not bring the end of fascism.
Throughout the world, the British ruling class has supported fascism and reaction against the progressive movements of the working class. Let us take but a few examples.
When Mussolini was subjecting the Italian working class to his castor oil “treatments” and other bestial tortures, Churchill became deeply impressed with his “gentle and simple bearing”. Speaking in Rome on 20 January, 1927, Churchill found only praise for the fascists:
“I could not help being charmed, like so many other people have been, by Signor Mussolini’s gentle and simple bearing and by his calm, detached poise in spite of so many burdens and dangers. Secondly, anyone could see that he thought of nothing but the lasting good, as he understood it, of the Italian people, and that no lesser interest was of the slightest consequence to him. If I had been an Italian I am sure that I should have been whole-heartedly with you from the start to finish in your triumphant struggle against the bestial appetites and passions of Leninism. I will, however, say a word on an international aspect of fascism. Externally, your movement has rendered service to the whole world. The great fear which has always beset every democratic leader or a working class leader has been that of being undermined by someone more extreme than he. Italy has shown that there is a way of fighting the subversive forces which can rally the masses of the people, properly led, to value and wish to defend the honour and stability of civilised society. She has provided the necessary antidote to the Russian poison. Hereafter no great nation will be unprovided with an ultimate means of protection against the cancerous growth of Bolshevism.”
Here the outspoken mouthpiece of British capitalism clearly indicates that in the last resort, faced with the revolutionary working class, the “nation” (the capitalists) will not be “unprovided”; it will always be able to imitate Mussolini and adopt the fascist method of rule over the workers.
In the struggle of China against Japanese imperialism, the British backed Japan because they saw in her victory a bulwark against the rising struggles of the masses in Asia. Mr LS Amery, then Secretary of State for India, a position which he held right up till 1945, said on 27 February, 1933 in the House of Commons:
“I confess that I see no reason whatever why, either in act or in word, or in sympathy, we should go individually or intentionally against Japan in this matter. Japan has got a very powerful case based upon fundamental realitiesWho is there among us to cast the first stone and to say that Japan ought not to have acted with the object of creating peace and order in Manchuria and defending herself against the continual aggression of vigorous Chinese nationalism? Our whole policy in India, our whole policy in Egypt, stand condemned if we condemn Japan.”
The nazis were aided and financed by the British ruling class. Hitler received the unqualified approval and support of British big business. Lloyd George, the “Liberal”, described Hitler as a “bulwark” against Bolshevism. As early as February 1934, the British government published a memorandum which allowed for an immediate increase in all German arms. “The German claim to equality of rights in the matter of arms cannot be resisted and ought not to be resisted. You will have to face rearmament of Germany,” declared the British Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, on 6 February, 1934. Export to Germany of unwrought nickel, cotton waste, the basis for gun cotton, aircraft and tanks rose tremendously. When asked in March, 1934 if Vickers Ltd were engaged in rearming Hitler Germany, its chairman replied:
“I cannot give you an assurance in definite terms, but I can tell you that nothing is being done without complete sanction and approval of our own government.” (Quoted by Henry Owen in War is Terribly Profitable)
The big financiers and bankers openly advocated a policy of support and assistance for Hitler. A short time after he came to power, the Governor of the Bank of England declared that loans to Hitler were justified as “an investment against Bolshevism”.
Large loans were given to Hitler. His occupation of the Rhineland, the rearmament of Germany, the anschluss with Austria, the seizure of Czechoslovakia – all were supported by British capitalism. The reason: they feared a nazi collapse and what might replace it. Just before the war, the British, through RS Hudson, then Secretary of the Department of Overseas Trade, made an offer of a loan of a thousand million pounds to conciliate the nazis and prevent them from expanding at the expense of British imperialism while remaining a bastion against the German workers and against the working class throughout Europe.
Churchill looked upon the nazis with unbounded approval. In the 1939 edition of Great Contemporaries, Winston Churchill wrote about Hitler’s rise to power:
“The Story of that Struggle cannot be read without admiration for the courage, the perseverance, the vital force which enabled him to challenge, defy, conciliate, or overcome, all authorities or resistance which barred his pathI have always said that if Great Britain were defeated in war, I hoped we should find a Hitler to lead us back to our rightful position among the nations.” [The same book by Churchill contains a venomous attack on Trotsky, who earns his bitter hatred as builder of the Red Army and one of the leaders of the October revolution – EG]
Lord Beaverbrook, writing in the Daily Express on 31 October, 1938 said:
“We certainly credit Hitler with honesty and sincerity. We believe in his purpose stated over and over again, to seek an accommodation with us, and we accept to the full the implications of the Munich document.”
This, of course, did not prevent him from holding ministerial office in the Coalition government in the “war against fascism”.
In the Spanish civil war, the British capitalists were in sympathy with Franco. Under the cover of so-called “non-intervention” they assisted him to crush the Republic.
No reactionary anti-working class movement went unsupported and unaided by British capitalism. Only when the nazis encroached on their preserves did they declare war in the name of “anti-fascism”. But when the needs of their class are such that fascism becomes necessary, they will as readily turn to Mosley or some other fascist adventurer, just as the German capitalists turned to Hitler and the Italian to Mussolini. Today, the fascists are not necessary for the defence of their profits. But tomorrow
What is Fascism and How Does it Arise?
Most important for anti-fascists and working people is an understanding of fascism and why it arises. Without such an understanding of fascism it is not possible to effectively combat and destroy it. And unless it is viewed from the angle of the class structure of capitalist society and the class forces at work, the workers cannot prepare themselves for the future struggle against any rising fascist movement.
Capitalism as a system of society developed out of the decay of feudalism. In the period of its rise, up to the outbreak of the first world war, it was a progressive system because it resulted in the development of the forces of production, i.e. the power of man over nature, and consequently raised the level of culture of mankind.
Despite crises, wealth increased and in the main capitalist countries, the standards and the culture of the masses rose. With the development of technique the increased productivity of labour resulted in a further expansion of industry at the expense of the older methods of production and with this a numerical increase of the working class.
During the past 100 years, in their fight against capitalism, the working class organised their own class organisations, the trade unions and labour parties. It must always be remembered that the rights of today – the right to withhold labour – to strike, to organise, the right of free speech and press and even the right to vote, were not handed down benevolently by the capitalist class: these were won only after a bitter and ceaseless class struggle on the part of the workers. Before the first world war, the capitalists could still afford to give concessions from the enormous profits which the expansion of capitalism and imperialism brought them.
But capitalism inevitably brings in its train the concentration of capital and the growth of monopoly and of the combines. Because of the development of the world market, which is the historical function of the capitalist system, at a certain stage the capitalist nations inevitably and necessarily come into conflict with each other in the frantic endeavour to find and extend markets. The development of the productive forces expands more rapidly than the markets, outstrips the boundaries of the national state and private ownership of the means of production. It is this contradiction that led to the first world war, as it led to the second.
Capitalism in its last stages not only reduces the working class, which it cannot provide with any security in either employment or sustenance, to the state of pauperism; it ruins also the middle class – small shopkeepers and businessmen, professional people, white collar workers, small traders and all those strata of the population whose social position is lodged between the industrial working class and the capitalist class.
To combat the working class it is not possible for the capitalists to rely only on the old forces of repression embodied in the state machine. In modern conditions no state can last very long which does not, at least in its initial stages, possess a mass basis. A military police dictatorship does not serve the purpose. The capitalists find a way out in fascism which finds its mass support in the middle class on the basis of anti-capitalist demagogy. It is important to understand that fascism represents a mass movement: that of the disillusioned middle class.
The working class, in times of crisis, seek to express their aspirations and struggle through their existing organisations. Joined together by production, organised as a class in large factories and plants, the workers think in terms of a socialist solution to their problems. Their social position gives rise to a social consciousness.
The middle class, because of their position in society, wedged half-way between the capitalists and the workers, sway between these classes. If the working class cannot show a revolutionary way out for the middle class, the latter turns to the capitalist class and becomes the main pillar of support for the fascist movement.
With the increasing rivalry on the world market, unable to secure their position while the organisations of the working class exist, the capitalists seek a way out of the crisis by the destruction of these organisations, thereby depriving the workers of the weapons through which they defend their rights and conditions. As the crisis affects one country after another, the capitalists look to fascist movements to smash the working-class organisations and parties. Herein lies the function of fascism.
The difference between capitalist democracy and fascism is explained thus by Leon Trotsky:
“After fascism is victorious finance capital gathers into its bands as in a vice of steel, directly and immediately all the organs and institutions of sovereignty, the executive administrative and educational powers of the state: the entire state apparatus together with the army, the municipalities, the universities, the schools, the press, the trade unions and the co-operatives. When a state turns fascist it does not only mean that the forms and methods of government are changed in accordance with the patterns set by Mussolini – the changes in this sphere ultimately play a minor role but it means first of all for the most part, that the workers’ organisations are annihilated; that the proletariat is reduced to an amorphous state and that a system of administration is created which penetrates deeply into the masses and which serves to frustrate the independent crystallisation of the proletariat. Therein precisely is the gist of fascism.” (What Next? The Key Question for Germany, 1932)
Mussolini’s Rise to Power
Fascism first appeared in Italy. At the end of the great world war of 1914-1918, the Italian ruling class became terrified at the revolutionary upsurge of the masses. The capitalist newspapers wrote that the workers and peasants of Italy were behaving as if Lenin and Trotsky were masters of Italy. A whole series of strike struggles took place -1,663 in 1919; 1,881 in 1920. The workers forced concessions and reforms; better wages; the 8-hour day; general recognition of the trade unions; and a voice in production through factory committees. In September 1920, when the industrialists resorted to a lock-out as a reply to the demand for increased wages, 600,000 Italian metal workers occupied the mills and carried on production themselves, through their own elected shop committees.
The peasantry too were affected by the general revolutionary postwar wave. They began the seizure of the land. The Liberal Government was forced to give them the right to remain on the land they had spontaneously seized, on condition that they organised themselves into cooperatives. The agricultural labourers formed strong unions known as the “Red Leagues”.
The capitalists and landowners were paralysed. Power was in the grasp of the working class. The ruling class manoeuvred in face of the onslaught of the masses, and began to seek a way out, planning a counter-offensive.
At the beginning of April 1919, in Genoa the big industrialists. and landowners formed an alliance for the fight against “Bolshevism”. “This gathering,” wrote Rossi (the anti-Fascist later murdered by Mussolini’s agents) in his book La Naissance du Fascisme, “is the first step towards the reorganisation of capitalist forces to meet the threatening situation.” After the formation of national General Federation of Industry, and a General Federation of Agriculture, the capitalists commenced to subsidise the Fasci, or aimed hooligan bands of Benito Mussolini.
This band was a specially trained anti-labour militia whose object was to terrorise the workers and at that stage, to disrupt their organisations. These anti-labour leagues began, openly, to attack meetings of workers. In Milan, stronghold of the Socialists, as early as April 15, 1919, a demonstration and march of Socialists including women and children, was attacked by the Fasci who were armed with daggers and hand grenades. In groups of two or three dozens, they attacked peaceful demonstrations of workers all over Italy. On the same day as the Milan episode, the offices of the official Italian Socialist paper, Avanti, were sacked by the fascists. On December 1, 1919, the Socialist deputies were attacked and beaten as they left the Houses of Parliament.
But the failure of the working-class to take power enabled the capitalists to undermine the gains the workers had made, and the aggravated crisis in Italy made the ruined middle class easy victims of fascist demagogy. Because of the smallness and unimportance of the Jewish population in Italy, anti-semitism was not part of the arsenal of Italian fascism. Their demagogy centred on opposition to the trusts and support for the little man. To the thugs and adventurers in Mussolini’s militia, were added desperate students, unemployed, professional people and middle-class recruits generally.
The revolutionary energies of the masses ebbed. The fascists, lavishly financed by the big industrialists and landowners, began a real offensive against the workers. In Bologna, centre of Emilia’s “Red Leagues”, the municipal elections in November 1920, brought a victory for the Socialist Party. On November 21, the Blackshirts attacked the town hall, and in the struggle a reactionary councillor was killed. (It appeared as if he had been killed by a fascist gunman.) This was the signal which the fascists had been awaiting. According to Gorgolini, one of Mussolini’s supporters, this “opened the great fascist erathe law of brutal retaliation, atavistic and savage, reigned in the Peninsula. It was the will of the fascists.”
In the villages, armed by the landowners and supplied with cars, the Blackshirts began punitive expeditions. Having wrecked the organisations of the workers in the villages, they now began to attack the workers in the towns. In 1921, in Trieste, Medina, Florence, and elsewhere, the Blackshirts wrecked the Labour Exchanges and the offices of the Cooperative and Labour newspapers.
Backing of the Capitalist State – Police, Law Courts and Army
In their offensive against the working class the Blackshirt thugs had the full backing of the forces of the capitalist state machine. The police recruited for the fascists, urging the criminal elements to join them, on the promise of all sorts of benefits and immunities. While the police placed their cars at the disposal of the fascists, and while giving permits to them to bear arms, they persistently refused applications for arms by workers and peasants. A fascist student sent a jeering letter to a communist paper, in which he wrote:
“We have the police disarm you before we advance against you, not out of fear of you whom we despise, but because our blood is precious and should not be wasted against vile and base plebeians.” (Rossi, ibid.)
Meanwhile, the “impartial” courts of law, handed out “centuries in prison sentences to the anti-fascists, and centuries of absolution for the guilty fascists.” (Gobetti, La Revolution Liberale). In 1921, the Minister of Justice, Fera, “sent a communication to the magistrates asking them to forget about the cases involving fascist criminal acts.” (Rosenberg, Der Weltkampf des Fascismus.)
The army, through its officer caste, backed the fascists to the hilt.
“General Badoglio, Chief of Staff of the Italian Army, sent a confidential circular to all commandants of military districts stating that the officers then being demobilised (there were about 60,000 of them) would be sent to the most important centres and required to join the fascists, which they would staff and direct. They would continue to receive four-fifths of their pay. Munitions from the State Arsenals came into the hands of the fascist bands, which were trained by officers on leave, or even on active service. Many officers knowing the sympathies of their superiors had been won over to fascism, openly adhered to the movement. Cases of collusion between the army and the Blackshirts grew more and more frequent. For instance, the Fascio of Trent broke a strike with the help of an infantry company, and the Bolzano Fascio was founded by officers of the 232nd Infantry.” (Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business)
Within a short space of time, becoming bolder and bolder, the Blackshirts started a campaign to annihilate the workers’ organisations. Malaparte – a fascist “theoretician” – related in his Technique du Coup-d’Etat, 1931, that: “Thousands of armed men, sometimes fifteen or twenty thousand, poured into a city or villages borne rapidly in trucks from one province to another.” Daniel Guerin comments:
“Every day, they attacked the Labour Exchanges and the headquarters of cooperatives and working-class publications. In the beginning of August 1922, they seized the city halls of Milan and Leghorn which had socialist administrations, they burned the offices of the newspaper Avanti in Milan, and Lavoro in Genoa; they occupied the port of Genoa, stronghold of the dockworkers’ labour cooperatives. Such tactics gradually wore out and weakened the organised proletariat, depriving it of its means of action and support. The fascists only waited for the conquest of power to crush it once and for all.”
How did the workers’ organisations face up to this mortal threat to their very existence? Instead of explaining the nature of fascism to the workers and what it would mean to them if Mussolini came to power, the leaders persisted in deluding themselves and their followers that the capitalist state would protect them from the menace of these lawless bands. Guerin relates how
“the Socialist and Union leaders obstinately refused to reply to fascism blow for blow, to arm and organise themselves in military fashion. ‘Fascism cannot in any case be conquered in an armed struggle, but only in a legal struggle,’ insisted Battaglia Syndicale for January 29, 1921. As they possessed contacts in the state apparatus, the socialists on several occasions were offered arms to protect themselves from the fascists. But they rejected these offers, saving that it was the duty of the state to protect the citizen against the armed attacks of other citizens.'” (Reference Kurella, Mussolini ohne Maske, 1931.)
The socialists even went to the extent of signing a peace pact with Mussolini on August 3, 1921. This, on the initiative of the Liberal Prime Minister and his statement that he desired to “reconcile” the socialists and fascists. Turati, leader of the socialists in Italy; appealed to Mussolini:
“I shall say to you only this: Let us really disarm!”
The Blackshirts must have laughed to themselves. They utilised this position the better to prepare. They denounced the pact and redoubled their offensive against the workers’ organisations.
The socialists pleaded to the state to take action against the fascists. And the state took action. Raids were undertaken, not against the fascists, but against the workers and their organisations.
Because of the failure of the socialists and trade union leaders, left-wing militants of various tendencies – revolutionary trade unionists, left-wing socialists, young communists, socialists and republicans, with a few ex-Army officers organised armed anti-Fascist militias in 1921 on the initiative of Mingrino. They called themselves the “Arditi del Popolo”. They undertook this in the teeth of the opposition of the labour and trade union leaders. Unfortunately, the young and weak Communist Party adopted an ultra-left attitude towards the problem. They split away and organised their own “Squadrons of Action”.
“The result was,” writes Guerin, “that when the Blackshirts undertook a ‘punitive expedition’ against a locality and attacked the headquarters of labour organisations or the ‘red’ municipalities, the militant workers were either incapable of resisting or offered an improvised, anarchic resistance that was generally ineffective. For the most part, the aggressor remained master of the field”
Guerin writes further:
“After a ‘punitive expedition’, the anti-fascists abstained from reprisals, respected the ‘fascists’ residences, and launched no counter-attacks. They were satisfied with proclaiming ‘general protest strikes’. But these strikes, intended to force the authorities to protect labour organisations against the fascist terror, resulted only in ridiculous parleys with the authorities who were in reality the accomplices of fascism. (Silone, Der Fascismus, 1934) As these strikes were unaccompanied by direct action, they left the enemy’s forces intact. On the other hand, the fascists profited by the strikes to redouble their violence. They protected ‘scabs’, served as strike-breakers themselves, and ‘in that threatening vacuum a strike creates around itself, dealt swift and violent blows at the heart of the enemy organisations.’ (Malaparte, Technique du Coup d’Etat, 1931) However on the rare occasions when the anti-fascists offered an organised resistance to fascism, they temporarily got the upper hand. For instance, in Parma, in August 1922, the working-class population successfully checked a fascist attack in spite of the concentration of several thousand militiamen ‘because the defence was organised in accordance with military methods’ under the direction of the Arditi del Popolo.” (A. Rossi, La Naissance du Fascism, 1938)
As the intention of the fascists to seize power became more and more obvious, Turati, the Socialist spokesman, appealed to the King in July, 1922, to “remind him that he is the supreme defender of the Constitution.” Meanwhile, the capitalists had come to their own conclusions. Rossi writes of
“some very lively conferences that took place between Mussoliniand the heads of the General Federation of Industry, Sig. Benni and Olivetti. The chiefs of the Banking Association, who had paid out 20 millions to finance the March on Rome, the leaders of the Federation of Industry and the Federation of Agriculture, telegraphed Rome that, in their opinion, the only possible solution was a Mussolini government.”
Senator Ettore Conti, a big power magnate, sent a similar telegram. “Mussolini was the candidate of the plutocracy and the trade associations.”
Despite the fact that the fascists only had 35 deputies in the Italian Parliament out of about 600 or so, the King, obedient to the demands of the ruling classes, handed power to Mussolini.
Even after the coup of Mussolini in 1922, the reformist leaders were incapable of drawing the lessons from their bitter experiences.
“The Italian Socialists, blind as ever, continued to cling to legality and the Constitution. In December, 1923, the Federation of Labour sent Mussolini a report of the atrocities committed by fascist bands and asked him to break with his own troops. (Reference: Buozzi and Nitti, Fascisme et Syndicalisme, 1930) The Socialist Party took the electoral campaign of April, 1924, very seriously; Turati even had a debate at Turin with a fascist in a hall where Black Shirts guarded the entrance. And when, after Matteotti’s assassination, a wave of revolt swept over the peninsula, the socialists did not know how to exploit it. ‘At the unique moment,’ Nenni writes, ‘for calling the workers into the streets for insurrection, the tactic prevailed of a legal struggle on the judicial and parliamentary plane.’ As a gesture of protest, the opposition was satisfied not to appear in parliament, and, like the ancient plebeians, they retired to the Aventine. ‘What are our opponents doing?’ Mussolini mocked in the chamber. Are they calling general strikes, or even partial strikes? Are they trying to provoke revolts in the army? Nothing of the sort. They restrict themselves to press campaigns.’ (Speech, July 1924) 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 published, for his enlightenment, petition after petition. But the King disappointed them a second time.” (D. Guerin, Ibid.)
Conditions of life under Mussolini
Once in power, Mussolini, established the model totalitarian state. Having smashed the organisations of the workers, the way was prepared for a savage attack on the standards of the masses in the interests of Big Business. The main brunt of fascism was borne by the working class, against whom it is aimed above all. With their weapons of struggle broken, with the establishment of scab company unions, the conditions were created to drive down the wages and lower the standards of living of the workers. The Labour unions were crushed. Shop stewards’ representation in the factories was abolished. The right to strike ended. All Union contracts were rendered void. The employer reigned supreme in the factories once again. He became at the same tune, the “leader” of his employees. Any attempt to strike, any resistance to the wishes of the employer, was “punished with ferocious, penalties by the State. To challenge the employer was to challenge the full force of the State. In the words of the fascists: strikes are crimes “against the social community”
The anti-fascist Liberal, Gaetano Salvmini, an authority on Italy, who made a conscientious research into all aspects of life under fascism, basing himself on official fascist government sources, was enabled to show what fascism meant to the Italian people. In his book, Under the Axe of Fascism, he revealed that from the very beginning of the Mussolini regime the conditions of the people deteriorated, especially of the unfortunate workers and small peasants. In times of “prosperity” as well as during the depths of the slump of 1929-33, there were steady cuts in wages. The hours of work were steadily lengthened without any increase in overtime pay, while the cost of living increased. Giving extensive details of cuts in wages from 1922 right up till 1935, despite all the efforts of the regime to conceal this from the outside world, he shows how the consumption of the necessities of life steadily decreased.
In the year 1922, with a population of 38,800,000 the consumption of tobacco was 279,000 quintals; by 1932, it had fallen to 245,000 quintals. The consumption of coffee was 472,000 quintals in 1922 and fell in 1932 to 407,000 quintals. These are “luxuries” for the workers. But in the barest necessities of life, the fall was correspondingly great. Consumption of maize dropped from 27,213,000 quintals to 26,739,000 quintals in 1932. Consumption of wheat fell – and this with an increase in population to 41,000,000 in 1932 – from 72,237,000 quintals to 69,204,000 quintals. Salt, which, together with the above is absolutely essential to the barest minimum of existence, fell from 2,646,000 to 2,606,000 quintals. These figures are taken from official Italian statistics. (The Annuario Statistico Italiano for 1922-1925 page 198, and for 1933, page 119.) The Tribuna of May 1, 1935, revealed a terrible fall in the consumption of meat. “The annual consumption of meat, which in 1928 was 22 kilograms (48.4 pounds) per each member of the population (annually) had by 1932 declined to 18 kilograms (39.6 pounds). The consumption of sugar which rose to 7.5 kilograms in 1922 dropped to 6.9 in 1932. In England the annual consumption was 40 kilograms, in France 25, Germany 23, and even in backward Spain, 13 kilograms.
The official unemployment figures in Italy in February of 1933 were 1,229,000. On July 2, 1934, an official communiquï¿½of the Italian Government informed us that “in the winter of that year ‘national solidarity’ in Italy gave help ‘almost every day to 1,750,000 families’.” In February 1922 there were only 602,000 unemployed, and the fascists centred a great deal of their demagogy on the horrors of unemployment.
Thus, the myth that fascism can avoid the crises of capitalism is shown to be a fraud.
Once in power, fascism retains its grip for a long period because of the shattering of the working class organisations. With all the best fighters, the most advanced proletarians in jail or murdered, the working class undergoes a period of demoralisation and apathy. Under the regime of repression and terror, the workers suffer under the greatest disadvantage for a unified struggle against the employers. The inglorious end of Mussolini was a demonstration to the world of the real hatred of the Italian people for the Duce, and an exposure of the lie that the Italian masses supported the Black Shirts.
Italian workers and fascism today
It is striking to note the difference between events in Italy after the second world war and the first.
Mussolini’s fall was the signal for a deep-seated upsurge of the workers and peasants. Once again a tremendous wave of strikes and demonstrations followed the coup of Badoglio. And after the defeat of the Nazis, the workers and peasants, armed in their partisan detachments, repeated the process of taking over the factories and the control of the country. One thing stood in the path of the workers taking power: the leaders of their own organisations.
This failure has meant for the Italian workers a deterioration of their conditions to a level even lower than existed under Mussolini. The workers have been able to defend themselves to a certain extent, because of the powerful unions they have constructed, far more powerful than in the past. But the middle class, ground down to standards even below that of the workers, has provided a favourable basis for the revival of fascist demagogy. They contrasted the promises of the capitalist democrats with their lot. The neo-fascists began to emerge. Armed with the experience of Mussolini’s rise to power, the industrialists and land-owners proceeded on familiar lines. A May Day meeting in 1947 in Sicily was fired on, despite the fact that women and children were participating. In Naples some months before, bands of Monarchists and fascists demonstrated against the Communist Party and other workers’ organisations. In the last few months of 1947 workers’ meetings were fired on and bombs thrown at premises of workers’ organisations. The terror of the fascists was greater in the countryside of the backward South, where the landowners organised the murder of trade union organisers and attempted to terrorise the agricultural workers and peasants against joining the unions.
Within a few months 19 trade union organisers were assassinated in the agricultural districts of the South.
In the North, even in such working class strongholds as Milan, bombs have been placed in the headquarters of the Communist Party. The workers swiftly replied by a general strike in Milan, and immediately took reprisal action against the headquarters of the neo-fascist organisations, l’Uomo Qualunque and Movimento Sociale Italiene, which were set on fire and sacked.
Having had experience of fascism, the Italian workers have not been content to remain on the defensive. In nearly all cities, big and small, they have gone on the offensive against the fascists. Demonstrations of over a hundred thousand in Milan, tens of thousands in other cities – Turin, Genoa, Florence, Verona, Bari, Cremona, Rome, Bologna, even in Naples and Palermo (former strongholds of reaction) the workers have made militant attacks on the headquarters of the fascist organisations. The backward South has followed the lead of the North.
Naturally, the police, always conveniently absent or inactive when the fascists have attacked the workers, have been called out to protect the fascists. Troops have been called out in many towns to assist the police. Tear gas and firearms have been used against the workers.
In this situation the de Gasperi Government, like its liberal predecessor of 1920-22 has surreptitiously given assistance and encouragement to the fascists. History repeats itself, but not exactly in the same way. The offensive of the workers led to the defeat of the fascists, who for the time being have been forced to lie low. The workers of Britain can learn a valuable lesson from the recent offensive movement of the Italian workers.
But this lesson has been a purely negative one: If having learned the negative lessons of preventing the fascists from rearing their heads, the workers fail to apply a positive solution, the menace of fascism even in Italy will not have been exorcised.
The chronic decay of capitalism in Italy continues. Already there is the mass unemployment of one and a half million workers. The first winds of the new world crisis will send unemployment soaring to record levels. Wracked by crises, the Italian capitalists will turn again to brutal suppression as the only means of stabilising their regime. The lesson of Italy must be learned above all by the vanguard of the working class movement. If they fail to show the alternative of the complete overthrow of the capitalist system and the establishment of workers’ power and communism, the great offensive spirit of the masses will wane, and demoralisation and indifference will set in. Capitalism breeds fascism; the workers can guarantee the end of fascism only by overthrowing the capitalist system of society.
Germany – How the Nazis came to power
The defeat of the German working class, on the coming to power of Hitler, set the world workers’ movement back for many years. In tracing the background to the events in Germany, we can see clearly the class forces at work, the role of the German Social Democrats and Stalinists which led to the terrible defeat of one of the most powerfully organised labour movements in the world.
In the wake of the Russian revolution, the German working class overthrew the Kaiser and attempted a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism in 1918.
But it was the German Social Democrats who came to power, though they had actually opposed the insurrection and the revolution.
They had no intention of consummating the revolution. Their programme was based on “the inevitability of gradualism”. Having raised themselves above the level of the workers, they had abandoned the Marxist programme on which their party had been based for decades. Noske, Ebert, Schiedemann, the leaders of the Social Democracy – conspired with the German General Staff to destroy the revolution and restore “law and order”. The Berlin workers were shot down in January, 1919, and the revolutionary leaders – Luxemburg and Liebknecht were murdered by reactionary officers on the direct instigation of the Social Democratic leaders. The Soviets established in the revolution were eliminated, and Germany became a democratic capitalist state – the most democratic in the world, according to the boast of the Social Democrats.
At this stage the capitalists were compelled to lean on the Labour and Trade Union leaders in order to save their system from complete collapse. Grinding their teeth, they were forced to make tremendous concessions to the working class. The workers won the eight-hour day, trade union recognition, unemployment insurance, the right to elect shop committees, and universal suffrage for men and women. The agricultural labourers who lived under semi-feudal conditions in East Prussia under the Junkers, won the right to organise and similar rights to those of the industrial workers.
Recovering from the first shock, the big industrialists and landowners began to prepare for the offensive against the working class. Their attitude was exemplified by that of Krupp, the armament magnate who arrogantly informed his workers: “We want only loyal workers who are grateful from the bottom of their hearts for the bread which we let then earn.” By February 1919, Stinnes, another of the iron and steel magnates of the Ruhr was declaiming openly: “Big business and all those who rule over industry will some day recover their influence arid power. They will be called back by a disillusioned people, half dead with hunger, who will need bread and not phrases.” The former Minister, Dernberg, representative of big industry, declared openly: “Every eight-hour day is a nail in Germany’s coffin.”
Already in these early years, the capitalists began to finance anti-labour leagues composed of ex-army officers, criminals, adventurers and other social riff-raff. The Nazis were at this time, one small anti-labour grouping among others.
They commenced a campaign of terror, which included assassinations of left-wing, and even capitalist democratic politicians. They commenced a campaign of breaking up working class meetings. “The National Socialist movement will in the future prevent, if need be by force, all meetings or lectures that are likely to exercise a depressing influence” declared Hitler on January 4, 1921. As in Italy, so in Germany, the courts, the army authorities, the civil service, the heads of the police, gave every support to these reactionary groups. The State acted in complicity and in collusion with them. When the Munich Chief of Police, Pohner, was warned of the existence of “veritable organisations of political assassination”, he replied : “Yes, yes, but too few!”
But at this stage, these fascist groups had no mass base. They comprised an insignificant social force, composed only of the dregs of society. The middle class looked to the workers’ organisations to show a way out. The capitalists used the fascist organisations only as anti-labour auxiliaries, and a reserve for the future. Dealing with the development of. the Nazi movement, Hitler admitted: “Only one thing could have broken our movement – if the adversary had understood its principles and from the first day had smashed, with the most extreme brutality, the nucleus o f our new movement.” Goebbels remarked: “If the enemy herd known how weak we were, it would probably have reduced us to jellyIt would have crushed in blood the very beginning of our work.”
In the revolutionary crisis of 1923, caused by the inflation and the occupation of the Ruhr by France, the middle class looked towards the Communist Party which had succeeded in gaining the support of the majority of the workers. But the revolutionary situation was bungled by the then leaders of the German Communist Party, Brandler and Thalheimer, and by the wrong advice given by Stalin in Moscow to the leadership of the Communist Party.
Brandler admitted subsequently at a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Communist International:
“There were signs of a rising revolutionary movement. We had temporarily the majority of the workers behind us, and in the situation believed that under favourable circumstances we could proceed immediately to the attack”
After the possibility of seizing power had been lost, the leadership of the International tried to put all the responsibility on the shoulders of the German Party. But the German leaders had looked for advice to the leadership of the Communist International in Moscow. Stalin’s advice was catastrophic. He wrote to Zinoviev and Bukharin at that time:
“Should the Communists strive to seize power without the Social Democrats, are they mature enough for that? That, in my opinion is the question. Of course, the Fascists are not asleep, but it is to our interest that they attack first: that will rally the whole working class around the Communists (Germany is not Bulgaria). Besides, according to all information the Fascists are weak in Germany. In my opinion the Germans must be curbed and not spurred on.” [Quoted in Trotsky, The Third International after Lenin, page 312]
This, when they had the majority of the workers behind them! Thus tragically the German revolution was ruined and the basis laid for a subsequent increase in fascist influence.
Big Business and the Nazis
Scared by the perspective of “Bolshevism” in Germany, the American, British and French capitalists poured in loans to prop up German capitalism. These loans resulted in a capitalist boom on a world scale, which particularly affected Germany. The boom in Germany lasted from 1925 until 1929. The capitalists of Germany coining enormous profits out of the rationalisation of German industry, did not need the fascists, and the support for the Nazis declined. They received only sufficient funds to keep them in existence as a reserve weapon and to prevent their disappearance from the scene altogether.
Then came the world slump of 1929-33. The workers’ standards, of living dropped. Unemployment rose to seven millions and more. The middle class were ruined in the economic crisis, and they found their standards dropping lower than the levels of the working class. The industrial workers had the protection of their union contracts and unemployment allowances within limits, and could thus resist the worst impositions of the combines and monopolies. But the middle class was helpless.
The industrialists were alarmed at the prospect of proletarian revolution. They now began to pour fabulous sums into the coffers of the Nazi Party. Krupp, Thyssen, Kirdorff, Borsig, the heads of the coal, steel, chemical and other industrial empires in Germany, supplied Hitler lavishly with the means of propaganda. The final decision to hand power over to Hitler was taken at the home of the Cologne banker, Schroder, (who, according to the Nazi racial laws was a Jew!) Enormous subsidies such as no other political party in Germany had ever received, were rained upon the Nazis by the capitalists. They considered the time had come to destroy the organisations and rights of the working class.
Explaining what the subsidies meant, Hitler pointed out that:
“Without automobiles, airplanes and loud speakers, we could not have conquered Germany. These three technical means enabled National Socialism to carry on an amazing campaign”
In a confidential document published by the British Government in 1943, for the use of officials and civil servants who were to be sent to Germany, the following irrefutable facts are given:
“Fritz Thyssen and Kirdorff in the Ruhr, and Ernst von Borsig in Berlin, chairman of the German Employers’ Federation (Vereinigung Deutscher Arbeitgeberverbande) were the extreme supporters of HitlerAmong other financial supporters of earlier Hitler days were the famous piano manufacturers, Karl Bechstein, Berlin, the printer Bruckmann (Munich), the well-known art dealer and publisher, Hanfstaengl (Munich), and the Reetsma Cigarette combine in Hamburg which, after Hitler came to power was granted an exclusive monopoly.
“But it was not only during the big crisis preceding the Nazi government that financial support by great industrial corporations began on a larger scale. Most of these did not give their contributions to the Nazi party direct, but to Alfred Hugenberg, the former director of Krupps and leader of the ‘Deutschnationale Volkspartei’ (German National People’s Party). Hugenberg placed one-fifth of the amount given at the disposal of the NSDAP
“Fritz Thyssen, since his break with Hitler, has stated that his personal contribution amounted to one million Rm., and he estimated the amount the NSDAP received from Heavy Industry via Hugenberg at about two million Rm. annually.
“At the meeting of the Dusseldorf Club of industrialists on January 27, 1932, after Hitler had enlightened them about his programme, the pact between the heavy industry and the Nazi party was sealed. Here Hitler convinced his audience that they had nothing to fear from his ‘socialism’, and then he commended himself with his semi-military organisation as the bulwark against any kind of ‘Bolshevism’.
“The economic policy carried on by the ‘National-Socialists’ nevertheless completely justified the confidence which the big industrialists had placed in Hitler. Hitler has in every other respect carried out their policy. He has destroyed the workers’ organisations. He has introduced the ‘leadership principle’ in the factories. He has brought about an expansion of heavy industry in Western Germany by means of an immense rearmament programme and has brought the firms enormous profits. The profits which the manufacturers of the Ruhr and Rhineland were able to make are dearly shown in the so-called ‘Decree’ regarding the surrender of ‘dividends’ of 1941. (Dividend en abgabeverordnung). This Decree, which like so many Nazi Decrees, means the opposite of what its name indicates, enabled the joint stock companies to realise profits which they had accumulated during 1933-38 and which had not been paid out in dividends by way of so-called ‘rectification’. About 5,000,000,000 Rms. of accumulated profits, which had been made in the pre-war years were distributed to the shareholders in the form of bonus shares.”
Trotsky Calls for the United Front
In the General Election of May 1924, the Nazis received 1,920,000 votes with 32 deputies. But in December of the same year, after the Dawes Plan had restored some stability to German economy, they received 840,000 and the decline of the Nazis went even further. In the elections for the German President in 1925, General Ludendorff, the candidate of the Nazis obtained 210,000! In the General Election of May 1928, the Nazis received only 720,000 votes, losing 120,000 votes and two seats.
Then came the world slump and the frightful crisis of German capitalism. Within two years at the General Election of September 14, 1930, the Nazi vote rose to 6,000,000. The fascists had drawn to their banner large sections of the despairing middle class. The failure of the Socialists in 1918 and of the Communists in 1923 had driven a formidable proportion of the middle class from neutrality or even support of the workers, to the side of the counter-revolution with its denunciation of “Marxism”, i.e., Socialism.
Immediately the elections results were known, Trotsky and the Left Opposition – who considered themselves a part of the Communist International although they had been expelled – issued an appeal to the German Communist Party to immediately organise a united front with the Social Democrats to prevent the coming to power of Hitler. Only thus could they hope to protect the rights of the working class from the threat of the Nazis. The Trotskyists warned of the tragic consequences which the coming to power of the Nazis could mean, not only to the German, but to the whole international working class movement. They warned that it would make war against the Soviet Union inevitable.
But the Stalinists took no heed. Their policy in Germany was that fascism or “social fascism” was already in power; that the main danger to the working class was Social Democracy, who were also fascists – “social-fascists”.
The British Trotskyists were expelled from the Communist Party in 1932 for advocating the united front between Social Democrats and Communists in Germany as well as in Britain.
“It is significant,” wrote the British Stalinists in the Daily Worker of May 26, 1932, “that Trotsky has come out in defence o f a united front between the Communist and Social Democratic Parties against Fascism. No more disruptive and counter-revolutionary class lead could possibly have been given at a time like the Present.” (1)
Ernst Thaelmann, in his closing speech at the 13th Plenum of the Communist International in September 1932 (see Communist International, No. 17/18, p. 1,329) said:
“In his pamphlet on the question, How Will National Socialism be Defeated?, Trotsky gives always but one reply: ‘The German CP must make a bloc with the Social Democracy’ In framing this bloc, Trotsky sees the only way for completely saving the German working class against fascism. Either the CP will make a bloc with the social democracy or the German working class is lost for 10 to 20 years.
“This is the theory of a completely ruined fascist and counter-revolutionary. This theory is the worst theory, the most dangerous theory and the most criminal that Trotsky hay constructed in the last years of his counter-revolutionary propaganda.”
The fountainhead of this policy of the German CP, Stalin, gave the line to the German Party.
“These two organisations [Social Democracy and National Socialism] are not mutually exclusive, but on the contrary are mutually complementary. They are not antipodes but twins. Fascism is a shapeless bloc of these two organisations. Without this bloc the bourgeoisie could not remain at the helm.” (Communist International, No. 6, 1925)
The Stalinists even went to the extent of inciting Communist workers to beat up Socialist workers, break up their meetings, etc. Thaelmann openly put forward the slogan: “Chase the social fascists from their jobs in the plants and the trade unions.” Following on the line, the organ of the Young Communists The Young Guard, propounded the slogan: “Chase the social fascists from the plants, the employment exchanges and the apprentice schools.” Even the organ of the Young Pioneers, catering for the children of communists, the Drum called upon communists’ children to “strike the little Zoergiebels in the schools and the playgrounds.” (Zoergiebels was the Social Democratic chief of police.)
They did not stop there. The leaders of the Communist International went to the extent of advocating that the German CP unite with the Fascists against the Social Democrats. The Social Democratic Party was in power in Prussia which consisted of two-thirds, and the most important part, of Germany. There was a traditional saying in Germany: “He who has Prussia has the Reich.” The Nazis organised a plebiscite on August 9, 1931, in an endeavour to throw the Social Democratic government out of office. Had they succeeded in this, they would have come to power in 1931 instead of 1933. The German CP leadership decided to oppose the referendum and support the Social Democrats. But the leadership of the Comintern, under the direct influence of Stalin, demanded that the CP participate in this referendum and called it a “Red Referendum”. At the Executive Committee of the Communist International, Piatnitzky even boasted:
“You know, for example, that the leadership of the Party opposed taking part in the referendum on the dissolution of the Prussian Landtag. A number of Party newspapers published leading articles opposing participation in that referendum. But when the Central Committee of the Party jointly with the Comintern arrived at the conclusion that it was necessary to take an active part in the referendum the German comrades in the course of a few days roused the whole Party. Not a single party, except the CPSU could do that” [From Guide to the XII Plenum, E.C.C.I., p. 42]
It was mad adventures of this character which disoriented the workers and facilitated the success of the Nazis. The refusal of the leaders of the mass workers’ organisations to carry out a revolutionary policy against the fascists, resulted in this mighty working class movement, with a Marxist tradition of 75 years, being smashed and rendered impotent before the Nazi thugs.
It is important to bear in mind that the Nazis won only a small percentage of the German workers; the overwhelming majority were opposed to them. In 1931, the Nazis obtained only 5% of the votes in the elections for the shop committees in the factories. This was after a terrific campaign to penetrate the working class. And in March 1933, after the fascists were placed in power, despite the fact that the terror had already begun, they got only 3% of the votes in the elections for the shop committees! Despite the false policies of the leaderships, which led to a certain demoralisation within the ranks of the workers and helped the fascists’ attempts to penetrate their ranks, the overwhelming majority of the workers remained faithful to the ideas of socialism and communism.
How Socialists and Communists faced Hitler threat
The workers were anxious and willing to fight the Nazis to prevent them coming to power. Millions were armed and trained in the Socialist and Communist Defence organisations. This was a legacy of the German revolution. The organised working class constituted the mightiest power in Germany Had they only had the necessary policy to fight for the defence of their organisations and pass to the counter-offensive to take power. But the leaders betrayed the workers in Germany as they did in Italy.
As the danger of a Hitler coup grew closer, these misleaders declared that the Nazis were on the decline. The Socialist leaders declared, as if plagiarising their Italian counterparts: “Courage under unpopularity.” They urged the necessity to support the decree laws of the Bruning Government, and to support Hindenburg as against the danger from Hitler. They scoffed at the idea that a highly civilised country like Germany could fall under the domination of fascist barbarism. Fascism could come to power in a backward country like Italy, but not Germany with its highly-industrialised economy! At first, they scoffed at the crudities and insane ideas put forward by the Nazis. They urged the workers to laugh at them and disregard their provocations. It only gives them publicity, they said. It can’t happen here. We know the familiar arguments of middle-class intellectuals such as Rebecca West, in Britain and elsewhere.
Constantly they underestimated the danger from the fascists and appealed to the very state machine which was protecting and shielding the fascists.
But as the fascist menace loomed nearer, sections of the Socialist workers and the Trade Unions began to form defence groups in the factories and among the unemployed. But the German TUC, the Labour Federation, refused to support this: “the situation [was] not sufficiently grave to justify the workers preparing for a struggle to defend their rights.” It was opposed to “centralising and generalising these preventive measures”, on the grounds that they were “superfluous”. On November 6, 1932, Vorwarts, the central organ of the Social Democracy wrote of the fall in the poll for the Nazis from 13,700,000 to 11,705,257 and the refusal of Hindenburg to hand power to Hitler: “Ten years ago we predicted the bankruptcy of National Socialism; it is written in black and white in our paper!”
On the eve of the Nazis’ accession to power, Schiffrin, one of the leaders of the Social Democrats wrote: “We no longer perceive anything but the odour of a rotting corpse. Fascism is definitely dead: it will never arise again.”
The line of the leaders of the CP was, if anything, even worse. They declared that fascism was already in power in Germany and that the coming to power of Hitler would not make any difference. In the Reichstag, Remmele, one of their leaders, declared, on October 14, 1931: “Herr Bruning has put it very plainly once they [the Fascists] are in power, then the united front of the proletariat will be established and it will make a clean sweep of everything.” (Violent applause from the communists.) “We are not afraid of the Fascist gentlemen. They will shoot their bolt quicker than any other government.” (“Right you are!” from the communists.)
In 1932 Thaelmann, in a speech to the Central Committee, condemned “the opportunistic over-estimation of Hitler fascism.” As early as the first victory of the Hitler movement at the polls in the September 14, 1930, elections the central organ of the German CP Rote Fahne, declared: “September 14 was the culminating point of the National Socialist movement in Germany. It will be followed only by weakening and decline.” Within three years, the Nazis had succeeded in winning the bulk of the middle class and obtaining over 13 million votes.
Just at the time when the Nazis received their first check at the polls and lost two million votes, and the signs of the disintegration of the Nazi movement appeared, President Hindenburg, the army leaders, the bureaucracy and the great industrialists and landowners handed power over to Hitler.
Even at the thirteenth hour, the Socialist and Stalinist leaders gave no righting lead. On February 7, 1933, Kunstler, head of the Berlin Federation of the Social Democratic Party, gave this instruction to the labour workers:
“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.”
This when Hitler had already come to power, in January 1933.
The Communist Party leaders cried: “Let the workers beware of giving the Government any pretext for new measures against the Communist Party!” (Wilhelm Pieck, February 26, 1933)
The leaders of these parties did nothing even after Hitler carne to power. And the German workers wanted to fight. On March 5, the night of the elections, the heads of the Reichsbanner, the military organisation of the Social Democracy, asked for the signal for insurrection. They received the reply from the leaders of the Social Democratic Party: “Be calm! Above all no bloodshed.” The mighty German Labour movement was surrendered to Hitler without a shot being fired.
The struggle for a united front by the Communist Party; the formation of such a united front of struggle in 1930, would have transformed the whole future course of events. The middle class would have followed the lead of the workers’ organisations. Had the fascists been confronted with the organised might of the workers, they would have been smashed. Cravenly capitulating to the “authorities”, the leadership allowed Hitler to score a very cheap victory.
The reformists and Stalinists are the same in all countries. In later years the responsibility for the debacle was shouldered onto the German workers. But at the Brighton Congress of the TUC, the Chairman, Citrine, defended the trade union leaders in Germany and their failure to call a general strike in 1933. He said:
“Shortly after the elections the campaign of terror developed. The Socialist movement and the Trade Union movement were virtually suppressed on May 2. There bad been a great deal of concern about the apparent absence of resistance to the advent of the Nazi dictatorship. German trade union leaders and German Socialist leaders were openly attacked and criticised on platforms because of the absence of effective resistance. All he could say was that he knew from first-hand knowledge that very adequate means of resistance were prepared
“All he could say was that a general strike was definitely planned and projected, but the German leaders had to give consideration to the fact that a general strike, after the atmosphere created by the Reichstag fire, and with six and a quarter million people unemployed at the least, was an act fraught with the gravest consequences, consequences which might be described as nothing less than civil war. He hoped they would never be put into a similar position in this country. He hoped they would never have to face that position.” (The Menace of Dictatorship, page 8)
What happened to the middle class
The Nazis demagogically attacked the Jews, the Trusts and the Combines. They even proposed the break-up of big industry and its division among small businessmen and the break-up of the big department stores and their division among the shopkeepers. Of course they had no intention of carrying out these demagogic proposals, which in any case it would have been impossible to do. Thus, they gathered support among the middle class masses. This was the social base of the fascists.
Yet it was ironic that the middle class dupes of the Nazis were the strata of the population who suffered the worst once the Nazis had come to power. The Nazis had bewailed the dying out of the middle class, the most important strata of the nation, the backbone of the race. The statistics tell their own story of the crushing of small capital by the giant monopolies and combines. The tendency for the concentration of capital far from being slowed down, was speeded up because there was no means of resistance by the small man. And this process was consciously aided by the Nazis. In his book The Coming Crisis, Sternberg points out that in 1925 the number of proprietors in Germany, together with their dependants amounted to 12,027,000 persons, or 20.9% of the total population. Owing to the havoc of the crisis by the time the Nazis came to power in 1933, the total dropped to 11,247,000 or 19.8% of the total population. In the first 6 years of Nazi rule, in the period of Wehrwirhschaft (war economy) the number had declined still further to 9,612,000, or 16.2% of the total population.
The German economic publication Wirtschaft und Statistik of 1940 (page 336) brutally comments as follows on this phenomenon:
“The decline in the number of proprietors together with their dependants – their total was reduced by 1.7 millions or approximately 15% from 1933 – is in accordance with a long and steady trend of development. From 1895 onwards, their numbers have decreased from census to census, though the decline since 1933 is, of course, a record one.”
Further evidence of this process is given in Germany, A Basic Handbook, which points out:
“The concentration of capital in fewer and fewer hands has proceeded rapidly. Many small and medium-sized firms have been absorbed by the big concerns. From 1937 to the end of 1942, the capital invested in joint stock companies increased by over 10 percent. At the same time, the total number of these companies decreased. Thus, at the end of 1942, one percent of the companies owned 60 percent of the capital invested in joint stock companies. As the Deutsche Allegemeine Zeitung, January 6, 1944, points out: ‘Of the total number of German joint stock companies with a capital of 30 milliard Rms., approximately three-quarters to four-fifths are owned by large shareholders or combines.'”
Representatives of Big Business were given all the key positions in the economy. At the same time there was “mutual interpenetration; on the one hand the leading industrialists, bankers, as leaders of the war economy, leaders of Gau (regions) Economic Chambers of Trade Groupsof Reich Associations, etc, became servants of the state, and were appointed to high administrative position’s; on the other hand, high ranking officials, the Nazified bureaucracy of the State departments endeavoured to obtain highly-paid positions in the sphere of private enterprise. In the end, there were a number of semi-State, semi-private, companies which may be described as public utilities in the industrial sphere. The best known of this kind is the Hermann Goring-Concern.”
“It is quite obvious that this development gave ample opportunity to the Nazi elite to become the new Nazi industrialists and profiteers, and thus we see these new names, together with the old and well-known names of the various branches of German and Austrian industry, in the leading positions of the management and boards of the various branches of the Goring-Combine
“In this connection, a few words may be added about a typical Party enterprise, Gustloff Foundation, which was founded on ‘aryanised’ property, the Suhl gun factory in Thuringia, in honour of Wilhelm Gustloff, a Nazi agent in Switzerland, who was shot in 1934, and which soon turned into a not unimportant machine-tool and armament combine, consisting of six companies, among them the famous Austrian Hirtenberg munitions factory. This combine is run solely by the Party, that is, by the Thuringen gauleiter Sauckel. Nothing is known of the finances of the Foundation since, like the Hermann Goring Werke, it does not publish balance sheets or profit and loss accounts.
“The development of this Party sector of Big Business does not constitute nationalisation, nor is it a negation of capitalism or plutocracy. On the contrary, it is the retention of all that enables Party members to build up for themselves industrial empires and to tap new sources of income.
“Thus, the ranks of the old rulers of industry and commerce lent themselves to a compromise so long as the benefits accruing from the alliance with the Party elite and bureaucracy, e.g. the joint spoilation of small enterprise and all strata of the ‘little man’ – outweigh all sacrifices by the group.”
In the June 30, 1934 purge, Hitler struck against those elements in the ranks of the fascists who were demagogically playing on the aspirations of the middle class, as well as against those who had genuinely been deluded by the propaganda lies of the Nazis. Having accomplished this, Hitler transformed his dictatorship into a military-police state, representing the interests of the industrialists and landlords. Instead of the Junker estates being broken up and given to the peasants as promised, the power of the former was strengthened. Instead of breaking up the big department stores and dividing them among the small shopkeepers, instead of the abolition of the combines and monopolies, the small shops were closed down in thousands, and, a further concentration of the economy into the hands of the trusts took place.
From this we see that the only promise which was kept was the persecution of the unfortunate Jews. The middle class was despoiled, the workers organisations crushed, and only the high Nazi functionaries and Big Business benefited from Hitler rule. All the worst excesses of the capitalist system found expression because no opposition or the check of public opinion was allowed.
Reign of Terror
Once in power, the Nazis went ahead speedily, and accomplished in months what had taken the Italian fascists years. The political parties were illegalised; the trade unions were destroyed; the funds of the workers’ organisations were confiscated for the benefit of the Nazis. The concentration camps were opened, and a reign of terror commenced against the working class Socialists and Communists, and Jews, such as had never been seen in modern history.
The fascists made great play of the fact that there was no unemployment under Hitler Germany. It is true that as a result of Hitler’s immense rearmament plans, the forced labour on German arms and fortifications, there was no unemployment. Of course, had the war not intervened there would have been in Germany a disastrous economic slump as in other capitalist countries. Hitler spent fabulous sums in preparing for war which he saw as the only road for German imperialism and his own regime. He staked everything on armaments production on a scale never before reached in any state in peace time.
The German workers had to work long hours for low wages in order to prepare instruments of destruction which would be no benefit to them or to workers of other lands. They were employedto produce for the terrible catastrophe that overtook Germany in the war. Hitler regarded them as pigs to be fattened for the slaughter.
In 1935, an employers’ report enthusiastically hailed the new labour laws “at the present time, precisely, which requires increased intensification of production” (that is, speed up). Goering openly declared in a speech: “We must work doubly hard today to lead the Reich out of decadence, impotence, shame and poverty. Eight hours a day is not enough. We must Work!” On May 22, 1933, Hitler said in the Reichstag: “In Germany private property is sacred.”
Of all the 25 points of the Nazi “Programme” only the persecution of the Jews, a scapegoat for the crimes of capitalism, was carried out. The disillusionment was given an outlet in Jew-baiting. Even after they had been rendered helpless, deprived of all rights, thrown into concentration camps, the myth of the Jews being responsible for all the ills of society was fostered. As Hitler pointed out: if he had not had the Jews, he would have herd to invent them. No wonder Goebbels regretted publicly that the Nazis had ever published a programme.
After the war and the defeat of German imperialism, the Allies have not brought about the destruction of fascism. The middle class, the potential mass base for fascism, is today supporting the Christian Democrats of Germany. The Stalinist policy of reparations and revenge could not rally the support of the German masses. As a result of the policy of the Allies, the German masses are nearing literal starvation. When the slump hits Germany, the collapse of the “democratic” capitalist parties is inevitable. There is no middle road. The alternatives will be posed in Germany again: either the victory of the working class or a new fascist dictatorship.
Mosley Before the War and the Anti-fascist Struggles of the Workers
The laws of the decline of the capitalist system are the same in Britain as in other capitalist countries. The legend, assiduously cultivated, in particular by the leaders of the labour movement, that Britain is “different” has no basis in fact. This has been demonstrated on many occasions in the history of capitalist Britain. Fascism, as an expression of the decline of capitalist society can become under certain conditions as real a menace in Britain as it became in capitalist Germany and Italy.
The world slump of 1929-33 saw the emergence of the Mosley-fascist movement as a serious force for the first time in this country. The capitalist class of Britain recognised in the Mosley movement a militant and extra parliamentary weapon which they could utilise against the working class in a period of social upheaval, in times of crisis and slump. Only the fact that the British capitalists succeeded in emerging from those critical years without the need for direct action against the workers determined their limited use of fascists at that time. Nevertheless, they kept the fascist movement in being as an “insurance” against the future.
The myth, propagated by the capitalist class, that all issues can and will be settled through parliament is exploded by the very preparations undertaken by the capitalists themselves when it seemed possible that the working class would take to the road of struggle. With the threat of an economic slump looming before the war, the British capitalists were preparing extra-parliamentary steps against the working class.
In the few years before the war of 1939-45, army manoeuvres in Britain were conducted on the basis of civil war tactics. Strategic government buildings were prepared for defence. The civil guard was created as a special strike-breaking force, composed of recruits from the ranks of the ruling and upper middle class and trained in the use of machine-guns, rifles and tanks. They were taught to drive locomotives, heavy transport lorries and to do ground staff work at aerodromes. The civil guard was to constitute the backbone of any strike-breaking force in the event of serious troubles with the workers.
A significant portent was the fact that the big insurance companies which, together with the big banks, are the decisive rulers of Britain, refused to insure against the risk of civil disturbances and civil war. The capitalists understood that Britain, no more than Italy, France, Germany or Spain, could escape the social upheavals of the sick and decaying capitalist system. If the second world war had not intervened, the impending economic slump would have struck the country with far greater effect than even in 1929.
At this time the fascists were receiving support from numerous influential British industrialists. Towards the end of 1936 Mosley boasted in an interview with the Italian fascist paper Giornale d’Italia, that he was “receiving support from British industrialists”. And that “a number of industrialists in the north who hitherto had given his movement secret support, fearing commercial boycott, are now stating openly that they are on the fascist side”. (News Chronicle, 19 October, 1936) Mosley received the backing of the powerful newspapers, the Daily Mail, Evening News and the Sunday Dispatch.
Then as now, the blackshirt movement carried out its anti-working-class and anti-semitic provocations under the protection of the state. The British fascists were soon to prove that in brutality and method there was little to choose between them and Hitler’s stormtroops or Mussolini’s squadri. At a mass rally of British fascists at Olympia on 7 June 1934, the British working class were given an idea of what to expect if fascism triumphed. The savage and calculated brutalities inflicted by the specially trained fascist thugs upon any of the audience who dared to voice even the mildest opposition to Mosley’s speech by interjections, outraged all sections of the population. Organised bands of fascists set upon hecklers, men and women alike, beating them unconscious, kicking them while on the ground.
Nurtured and aided by the authorities and the police, the fascists insolently organised provocative marches in working-class and Jewish districts, imitating the tactics of the nazis at the dawn of their movement in Germany. The British working class gave the blackshirts their answer. Every demonstration called by the fascists was answered by a great counter-demonstration of workers and anti-fascists. At Trafalgar Square, Hyde Park, in Liverpool, Merthyr, Newcastle – all over the country – the workers rallied against the fascists. In red Glasgow, the fascists were unable to hold meetings. In the working-class district of Bermondsey, London, barricades put up and manned by tens of thousands of workers successfully prevented the Mosley-fascists from marching through Long Lane.
Outstanding in these struggles of the workers against the fascists was the defeat of Mosley’s projected march through the East End of London in 1936. Despite appeals from all sections of the working-class movement, including even the labour leaders, the then Home Secretary, Sir John Simon, refused to ban the march. On the contrary, he sought to facilitate it in every way. Ten thousand foot and mounted police drawn from all over London and the provinces were mobilised to protect Mosley and his 2500 fascists to ensure their march through the East End. This police protection was thoroughly organised even to the extent of wireless equipment and an autogiro hovering overhead. The weight of the state was brought to bear to protect the blackshirts in the teeth of the opposition of the London working class. The police authorities planned for Mosley’s protection as though it were a military project.
Despite these measures of the state, the fascist march was defeated. Half a million workers turned out on the streets. Rallying around the slogan, “They Shall Not Pass”, the workers formed a wall of bodies on the route through which Mosley was to march. From early morning, baton charges were made by the mounted police against the workers to clear a path for the fascists. But the determined opposition of the workers made it impossible. The police tried to create a diversion by clearing Cable Street. But here again, the workers of London threw up fresh barricades of furniture, timber, railings, doors torn from houses nearby, and anything that would help to bar the path of the hated fascists. This magnificent mass action, including and representing all shades of working-class opinion and organisations, Labour, Communist Party, ILP, Trotskyist, League of Youth and Youth Communist League (YCL) – forced the then Commissioner of Police, Sir Philip Game, to order Mosley and his thugs to abandon the route. United action of the workers had defeated Mosley!
The defeat at Cable Street in 1936 dealt a severe blow to Mosley. Afraid of the organised might of the working class so militantly demonstrated, the East End fascist movement declined. The spectacle of the workers in action gave the fascists reason to pause. It induced widespread despondency and demoralisation in their ranks; their victory over the fascists imbued the working class with confidence. This united action of the workers at Cable Street demonstrated anew the lesson: only vigorous counter-action hinders the growth of the menace of fascism.
At that time the Communist Party was mainly responsible for calling militant workers to counter-demonstrations against the fascists. The YCL played a magnificent role. But after 1936 this militant policy of the Communist Party changed and they now avoided any counter-action against the fascists on the wide and militant scale witnessed before. With the coming of Hitler to power the Communist Parties throughout the world had degenerated into nothing but instruments of Russian foreign policy, and their activities reflected this. When Stalin found it impossible to arrive at an agreement with Hitler at that time there was a right about-turn on the part of the then Communist International.
From a refusal to offer a united front with the social democratic workers against fascism, the Communist International embarked on a policy of popular frontism. In line with Stalin’s efforts to make agreements and gain alliances with the “democratic” capitalist classes, they advocated class-collaboration between the workers and the “good” capitalists. This foreign policy of the Stalinists was reflected in the British Communist Party which even went to the extent of advocating a “National government” of Churchill, Attlee and Sinclair (2). Having branded the united front of workers’ parties against fascism as “counter-revolutionary”, the Stalinists now rejected the Marxist class analysis of capitalist society and advocated a united front with Tories and Liberals.
In their efforts to placate those Tories and Liberals who favoured an alliance with Stalin, the Communist Party made every endeavour to paint itself as just another party of respectable and law-abiding citizens. To that end the hammer and sickle emblem of working-class unity was withdrawn from the masthead of the Daily Worker; the language of Marxism was replaced by that of middle-class suburbia. More importantly, the policy of militant class struggle went by the board and this was reflected in the new “ostrich” attitude towards the fascist movement. To take militant action against the fascists would offend the new-found Tory and Liberal “friends” of the Stalinist party. The activities and provocations of the fascists now went unheeded; counter-demonstrations and actions of the workers against fascism were no longer organised. The former policy of militant action was replaced by appeals and pleadings to the state to take measures against the fascists. From a reliance upon the working class to deal with fascism, the Stalinists turned towards a policy of relying on the very state apparatus which had in the so-recent past demonstrated its partiality towards the blackshirts!
How this new policy of the Stalinist leaders worked in practice was indicated by one instance of many similar examples that could be given. Just prior to the war, a monster rally of blackshirts, imported from all over the country into London for the purpose, gathered at Earl’s Court to hear Mosley. On that day the Young Communist League of London organised a ramble in the countryside!
Demonstrating against the blackshirt rally outside Earl’s Court were only the Trotskyists and a small number of anti-fascist militants. Of the Communist Party there was no sign. This new policy of the Stalinist party served to foster apathy in the ranks of the working class in the struggle against the fascists and emboldened and encouraged the blackshirts. It seemed that the fascist movement would gain new strength in face of the lack of organised and militant action on the part of the workers’ organisations. But the war cut across these developments and gave them a new direction.
Today, in Britain, the signs of a fascist revival are unmistakable. Having tested the reaction of public opinion to the emergence of the various fascist groups, aided and encouraged by police protection, Mosley has launched his new party, the “Union Movement”. The new party is no different from the former BUF, the same Jew-baiting, the same promises of the destruction of the trade unions and labour organisations, the same demagogy to attract the disillusioned and despairing middle classes and backward elements.
All Mosley’s publications uphold the principle of private enterprise. In one of the recent Mosley “News Letters”, he demagogically champions the “small” man, not against the capitalist monopolies, but against the nationalisation measures of the Labour government. Mosley boasts that his “opinions remain unchanged”. In his Greater Britain (published before the war) he wrote that: “the making of profit will not only be permitted but encouraged”. In an Open Letter to Business Men published in the Fascist Week, in 1934, Mosley reassured the industrialists that: “In the corporate state you will be left in possession of your businesses. To the coupon-clipping parasites who live on their dividends, Mosley promised: “Hitherto, the holder of ordinary shares, who is the true risk-bearer in industrial enterprise, has been treated for taxation purposes as the holder of “unearned income”the whole procedure is illogical, and calculated to discourage the enterprise upon which our industrial future depends.”
Whereas before, Mosley emphasised the idea that Britain and the Empire must isolate itself for economic “autarky”, today he advocates the “union of Western Europe”. Recognising the weakness of British capitalism and the danger of economic collapse on the continent of Europe, Mosley proposes the idea of a union of capitalist Europe based upon the enslavement and exploitation of the African peoples. In the Mosley “plan” “there will be no nonsense about ‘trusteeship for the natives’,” and “negroes are to have no parity with their white superiors”.
One of Mosley’s main planks is for war on Russia. If he were in power he would “send Russia an ultimatum that she must accept the American offer to scrap atomic weapons and submit to inspection”, which, if unaccepted, would be followed by a “preventive” war.
In the press interview which Mosley gave on 28 November 1947, to announce the imminent launching of his new party, he further elaborated on his “programme”. The present parliament would be replaced by the corporate state modelled on Mussolini’s two chambers. Instead of elections there would be plebiscites where the voters would have the privilege of recording “yes” or “no” to whatever Mosley’s government did. His government would “resign” if defeated, but this, of course, “was most unlikely”. Mosley promises to suppress communism.
By this Mosley means that his government would suppress all working-class parties and organisations. The trade unions would be “obsolete” if they did not “cooperate” with the fascists.
The new party of Mosley is thus openly modelled on the fascist totalitarian regimes of Hitler and Mussolini.
Mosley has clearly revealed his calculations. He anticipates being called to power at a time of crisis in the same way as Mussolini was called to power by the Italian monarchy and the Italian capitalists. In his Greater Britain, Mosley wrote:
“If the situation develops rapidly, then the public mind develops slowly, something like collapse may come before any new movement has captured parliamentary power. In that case, other and sterner measures must be adopted for the saving of the state in a situation approaching anarchy. Such a situation will be none of our seeking. In no case shall we resort to violence against the Crown; but only against the forces of anarchy if, and when, the machinery of state has been allowed to drift into powerlessness
“Anyone who argues that in such a situation the normal instruments of government, such as police and army, can be used effectively, has studied neither the European history of his own time nor the realities of the present situation. In the highly technical struggle for the modern state in crisis, only the technical organisations of fascism and communism have ever prevailed, or in the nature of the case, can prevail. Governments and parties which have relied on the normal instruments of government (which are not constituted for such purposes) have fallen easy and ignoble victims to the force of anarchy. If, therefore, such a situation arises in Britain, we shall prepare to meet the anarchy of communism with the organised force of fascism; but we do not seek that struggle, and for the sake of the nation, we desire to avert it. Only when we see the feeble surrender to menacing problems, the fatuous optimism which again and again has been disproved, the spineless drift towards disaster, do we feel it necessary to organise for such a contingency”
Thus, the fascists viewed the coming struggle with the forces of “anarchy”, i.e. the working class, as an extra-parliamentary one. In the second edition of Greater Britain, Mosley deleted the chapters dealing with this problem, for they were too outspoken. Nevertheless, this remains the basis of Mosley’s ideas today. Not accidentally did he declare at the meeting launching the new party on 7 February 1948 that he and his followers were “prepared to meet force with force”.
The anti-semitic and anti-working class activities of the fascists are on the increase and although small at present they constitute a challenge to the working class. Fascism must be defeated in its beginnings. The death camps of the nazis, in which hundreds of thousands of German workers were tortured and murdered, should act as a permanent reminder to the working class never to allow themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. The British fascist movement will not differ from the German or Italian fascists either in social composition, objectives or methods.
The Labour Government and the Fascist Revival
The re-emergence of Mosley and his new “Union Movement” in Britain today is regarded with complacency on the part of the labour leaders. The bitter lessons of Germany and Italy have passed these labour leaders by. They translate into English the same false words and ideas of the German and Italian social-democratic leaders: “It can’t happen here.” The British, they claim, are “different”, a “tolerant” people with a democratic tradition. Fascism is “alien” to the British and so on. Famous last words! The crime of the labour leaders is not that they lull themselves with the pretence that “it can’t happen here” but they disarm the working class by sowing illusions and objectively aid the growth of the reviving fascist movement by affording them police protection.
The working class who voted Labour into power may well stand bewildered and indignant as they witness Mosley and the fascists holding provocative meetings under the protection of large numbers of police specially detailed for the job, when they witness the Labour-controlled London County Council affording facilities for Mosley and his movement to meet in schools and halls under their control. This at a time when the fascists have the utmost difficulty in booking public halls because of the pressure of public opinion. Arising out of protests Home Secretary Chuter Ede replied that he is “considering” the banning of loudspeaker equipment at public meetings. But this would apply to “all” parties who use loudspeakers at meetings. This, instead of striking a blow at the fascist movement, in practice would be a blow against working-class organisations who use such equipment for propaganda. This is the result of the “impartiality” of the reformists. Their “impartiality” consists in hamstringing the anti-fascists and allowing the fascists to carry on.
Despite the past six years of terrible war, allegedly to destroy fascism, at the present time, as if nothing had taken place the fascists have taken up from where they left off at the outbreak of the war. The familiar picture of police and courts taking strong action against anti-fascists while the fascists are treated lightly and even protected is once again presented.
All this, in the name of the liberal idea of “democracy”, of “impartiality” and “freedom for all”. In reality, this is the opposite of freedom as taught by the great socialist teachers. Under this guise of “freedom” and “impartiality” of the state the labour leaders used the police to baton pickets striking for their elementary democratic rights of trade-union organisation. No socialist worker who is not a traitor to his class will put on the same plane the freedom of a scab to break a strike and the freedom of the strikers to prevent him doing so. Yet this force of most despicable scabs, the fascist movement, is given every facility to flourish and prepare to destroy the very right to strike and every other freedom dearly won by the working class. This is neither freedom nor democracy. It is a violation of workers’ democracy and the very negation of freedom.
As a crowning piece of folly the labour leaders have given facilities to Mosley to publish his propaganda.
Instead of welcoming the instinctive protests on the part of the workers against any attempted revival of fascist activity, the Labour government organises the police force to protect the fascists against the workers. Labour leaders worthy of the name would welcome workers’ action against the reaction and would back it by legislative enactments. This would be a warning to the capitalists that any attempt to establish a fascist dictatorship would be ruthlessly acted on by the labour movement as a whole. In the name of “free speech” the fascists are given every facility to put forward their propaganda, this to the very people who stand for the destruction of free speech and every vestige of democracy won by the working class. In time of war – and the class struggle is a war between the classes – the enemy is not given points of vantage by means of which he can better attack and massacre your own ranks at a later stage.
The election of the majority Labour government after the second world war expressed the aspirations of the British workers to establish a new social system. The masses swung left and in this swing drew behind them large sections of the middle class, whose position had been undermined during the war. The war had placed heavy burdens upon the backs of sections of the middle class, the rise in the cost of living having affected those with fixed incomes most severely. Large numbers of small shopkeepers have been driven out of business by the competition of the big capitalist combines and the measures of concentration encouraged by the state in the interests of “more efficient” big business. Of a total number of 10,000 firms in certain trades in London alone during the war, including furriers, dry cleaners, repairers etc there was a cut of about 40 per cent. As a consequence, the middle class looked to the Labour Party for a solution.
A Gallup Poll revealed that, in the first months of the rule of the Labour government, their popularity increased enormously as a result of the social reforms they introduced. Had the labour leaders introduced wide measures aimed at destroying the privileges and vested interests of the capitalist class, had they taken over all large scale industrial and financial enterprises without compensation and operated the economic life of Britain on the basis of an overall economic plan under the democratic control of the working class, there could have been little effective resistance from the capitalist class. This would have been the socialist solution to the ills which capitalism inflicts not only upon the working class but the middle class as well.
But what is the reality today? Under the Labour government capitalism remains intact. Lavish compensation is given to the previous owners of nationalised industries, which continue to be run on purely “business lines” and largely by the same capitalist managers who were in control before. The overwhelming sector of the economy remains under the control of private enterprise and the nationalised sectors are geared to and serve the interests of private ownership.
Even in the nationalised industries there is not a trace of genuine democratic control by the workers. While the labour leaders talk a great deal about the sacredness of democracy, there is no democratic control extended to the miners or the workers in the industries which are supposedly owned by “the people”.
In Britain elements of workers’ democracy exist in the form of the trade unions, the workers’ parties, factory organisations and the rights which they have won. But the effective control is in the hands of the capitalist class. They control the economic life of the country through their ownership of the means of production; they have the decisive means of influencing public opinion through the control of the press, radio, cinema, schools and church and all other instruments necessary for the purpose. This is the reality of capitalist democracy. Bourgeois democracy, said Trotsky, means that everyone has the right to say what he likes as long as finance capital decides what is done. But once the workers reach out to take real democratic control, then the capitalists decide that the time has come to abolish democracy altogether.
If the labour leaders’ chief concern was democracy, they would have introduced real workers’ control and democracy. The elements of democracy which are already there would have been brought to full fruition.
Real democracy for the majority and not for the capitalist few, that is, workers’ democracy, would mean not only the complete destruction of the economic stranglehold of big business, but the ending of their control of the means of influencing public opinion through their economic control. The Labour government should have immediately taken the press, cinema and radio out of the hands of monopoly capital and placed them at the disposal of the people. Every workers’ tendency would be given the fullest free access to the means of propaganda to advocate their point of view. All political parties, including even the Tories and Liberals, who are willing to accept the democratic will of the majority, would have freedom of speech and press. But the fascists would be suppressed outright.
Having organised soviets or workers’ committees in the plants and districts and established for the first time a democratic participation of all strata of the population in governing and running the country, the superiority of such a workers’ state would be so obvious that any counter-revolution on the part of the capitalist class would be rendered impotent.
Instead of a revolutionary socialist solution, Labour leaders are tinkering with capitalism. The half-and-half measures of the Labour government have resulted in a swing away from Labour, particularly among the middle class and more backward sections of the workers. In the municipal elections of 1947 and in the parliamentary elections of the same year, there was a marked increase in the Tory vote.
And as a symptom of the rightward trend, the fascists re-entered the political arena.
This has taken place in a period of full employment and capitalist boom. British capitalism has lost the advantages she possessed in the past. Despite the efforts of the working class which have resulted in a 20 per cent increase in production over pre-war, there has not been a proportionate increase in the standard of living. Britain is far more dependent on the world market than in the past. With increasing competition the standards of life will not be raised but, on the contrary, the capitalist class will be forced to cut wages.
Already, the Labour government is waging an offensive to persuade the workers to accept a freezing of wages as the exhaustion of the sellers’ market looms in sight. With the vociferous applause of the capitalist class and its press, the Labour leaders are exhorting the workers to make more sacrifices in the frenzied drive to increase production and accept a wage freeze and speed-up in the interests of reducing costs in the competitive struggle for world trade.
Cripps explains to the workers that if they do not voluntarily accept the yoke of capital, the British workers will he faced with the iron yoke of totalitarian dictatorship. In his own words:
“It is, therefore, essential that we should get a general agreement amongst our people to act upon sound economic lines: the alternative is likely to prove to he some form of totalitarian government.”
The proposals on “sound economic” lines advocated by the labour leaders are, of course, sound capitalist lines.
Here are the symptoms of decline, of impending economic slump, of over-production. Even if the labour leaders should succeed in their objective of increasing production to further record heights, this cannot solve the problem. On the contrary, it can only prepare catastrophe for the Labour government and the British working class.
Under the impact of the radicalisation in 1945, the capitalists were compelled to retreat. But they have not been overthrown by the Labour government. Today they are biding their time. But they are systematically whipping up the discontent of the middle class and backward sections of the workers in preparation for an offensive in the future.
Under the capitalist system, with the crisis of over-production, slump will follow boom as night follows day. And if already the middle class are discontented, how will they react when the slump comes? The workers will be impelled in a revolutionary direction but unless they show the Marxist road, the middle class will be drawn into the orbit of the fascist movement. The capitalists will declare the “Marxists” and the labour movement responsible for the crisis of their system and gain the support of the middle class for action against the workers.
In the grip of economic crisis, the capitalist class will be forced to launch savage attacks on the standards of the workers. They will find the pressure of the workers’ organisations irksome, especially the trade unions. Mosley’s programme of annihilation of the trade unions and workers’ organisations, his defence of private property, are designed to appeal to big business precisely in such a crisis. To eliminate the unions and terrorise the workers into submission, the capitalists will need fascist bands and will look towards a totalitarian state as the means of their salvation. Then they will really commence to subsidise Mosley or some other fascist less discredited among the population.
There could be no greater danger today than to sit back and content ourselves with the idea that the fascists have little political weight in Britain. While capitalist society exists, the weapon of fascism also exists as a potential menace to the working class. Events may prove that Mosley’s “Union Movement” will not be the leading fascist movement in this country. Mosley and his followers were greatly discredited during the war. Nevertheless, some new form of fascist organisation can well arise, an organisation not overtly fascist but of a character similar to de Gaulle’s “Rally of the French People” movement which, while it disavows fascism, is, in fundamental policy and aims, designed to serve the same purpose.
As a germ of the disease already present even today in Britain, WJ Brown, Independent MP for Rugby, formerly a leader of Mosley’s “New Party” in 1931, has tentatively advocated a “Rally of the British People”. Even more indicative is the fact that the Statist, in an article Can Our System be Modified?, on 29 November 1947, writes approvingly on General de Gaulle and says:
“General de Gaulle, naturally alarmed by the chaotic state of politics and economics as exemplified in France at present, has asked the people to give him power to form what he calls a national rally. At the same time he warns us that our system is so unstable that it may lead us at a date not indefinitely remote to serious trouble. It should not he wise to ignore such a warning.”
Unless the working class can offer some alternative in the form of a bold programme and above all, daring action, the misguided middle-class youth who today support Toryism will be drawn into a fascist movement, whether it be a “Union Movement” or some sort of “Rally of the British People”, or “British Royalist Empire Saviours Society”.
The Policy of the Communist Party
The revival of fascist activity caused militant workers to look to the Communist Party for a lead. They have been bitterly disappointed. With the exception of a few opposition meetings at Ridley Road in the early days, the Communist Party leadership has undertaken nothing more militant than the organising of Towns meetings under the auspices of the National Council for Civil Liberties, and the passing of resolutions at Trades Councils and Union branches calling upon the Government to take action against the fascists. These joint Towns’ meetings include the representatives of the local Labour organisations plus vociferous representatives of local businessmen, Tories and Liberals. Only the Revolutionary Communist Party has been excluded from the Platforms. This “popular front” with Tories and Liberals is a deception of militant works who seek a fighting policy to defeat the menace of fascism.
To have a united front with Tories and Liberals against fascism is to mis-educate the working class. Instead of teaching them the class nature of fascism, that the capitalist parties represent the very class which will lean on the fascists against the workers, and that only the organised strength of the working class can defeat fascism, they sow illusions and discourage militant action.
The Communist Party recently published an anti-fascist pamphlet entitled Fascist Threat to Britain. We advise all workers to read this pamphlet and compare the analysis and the policy with that of the Revolutionary Communist Party. The keynote of the policy of the CP is provided by their description of the war aims of the imperialists. This is what they write:
“Many people took part in this fight. It’s no use pretending that the war aims of all the national leaders were exactly the same, or that everyone in the British Army for instance, agreed perfectly. But on one thing every nation and every individual was in complete unity. And that was that the war was being fought to end this thing, fascism, for all time, to crush it without a trace.”
History has shown how the “democratic” capitalist class, how the Tory and Liberal spokesmen supported the reaction and fascism abroad. Recent history has shown in World War II that far from being interested in ending this thing fascism, the ruling class merely used the anti-fascist sentiments of the workers for their own imperialist ends. Their attempted deals with Darlan and Badoglio bear witness to the fact that in the very midst of the war, their main concern was to establish regimes capable of dealing with the working class. And in Britain, throughout the so-called war against fascism, the Government refused to publish the “Red Book” of Captain Ramsay, which contained the list of names of fascist supporters in this country.
Yet the Communist Party persists in mis-educating the workers that all nations, all classes were in complete unity during the war in seeking to destroy fascism. Thus the appeal to all sides of political opinion:
“You who are reading this may be a Labour, Liberal, Conservative, or Communist supporter. You may be a trade unionist or co-operator. Whatever your political beliefs we ask you in your own interest, to stand together on this. For if we do not act very soon, democratic discussion and decent living may become impossible.”
If we do not act! What action does the Communist Party propose?
“If the fascists come into your locality, get all the inhabitants to sign a petition of protest to the Home Secretary.”
But signatures will not frighten fascists.
Following in the footsteps of the ill-fated reformists, the CP confines itself to appeals to the capitalist state machine:
“Demand that existing laws regarding ‘incitement to violence’ and behaviour ‘calculated to cause a breach of the peace’ should be strictly enforced: that police should be sent to fascist meetings to make arrests and not to afford protection.”
While the CP calls for “vigilance”, they urge their members and supporters to stay away from fascist meetings.
Of course, it is necessary to conduct a campaign through the Unions and Labour organisations by means of resolutions, and in order to bring pressure on the Labour Government which claims to speak in the name of the British working class. But what is more essential is that the pressure on the Labour leaders is supplemented by counter-action, by the participation of the workers in combating the fascists. Can anyone deny that the lack of organised counter-action on the part of the workers’ organisations has emboldened and encouraged the fascists? Can anyone doubt that had the Communist Party and the YCL in London rallied its powerful organisation and apparatus to counter-demonstrate against the fascists and against Mosley when he first emerged, that they would have thought again before launching their new movement?
The Revolutionary Communist Party has been active in demonstrating and attempting to combat the fascists wherever they have appeared. We wrote to Harry Pollitt appealing for a united front against the fascists. The London District Committee of the RCP sent a similar appeal to the London CP and YCL leaderships. The essence of our position can be summed up in the following extract from the letter sent by the London District Committee to the London District Committee of the Communist Party:
“Despite the very deep and fundamental differences that separate the Trotskyist and the Stalinist Parties at the present time, the London District Committee of the RCP is of the strong conviction that not only is it possible for joint anti-fascist activity between the London members of our respective parties, along practical and specific lines, but that such a united front would meet with enthusiastic support from the rank and file members of our respective organisations. Recent experiences in London have demonstrated that where our comrades have been engaged in anti-fascist activity, a spontaneous united front has been established between members of our organisations with evident success against the fascists.”
Our appeals went unheeded at a time when the battles of Ridley Road were at their height and it was imperative that the workers have a united front against the fascists, who were boasting that they had driven the Communist Party from Ridley Road. Instead of rallying to Ridley Road, as the Trotskyists did, the leaders of the Communist Party discouraged their members from gathering there and thus fell into the camp of the petty bourgeois moralists and reformists who said “Ignore them.” Despite the cowardly policy of the leadership, many rank and file members of the CP and YCL continued to rally at Ridley Road together with members of the Revolutionary Communist Party and other organisations in a united front of protest. The official line of the CP was far from welcomed by many rank and file militants, whose class instincts correctly led them to participation in the struggle against the fascists. A revolutionary working class policy must of necessity draw the masses into real participation in the struggle. No amount of appeals for “vigilance” or petitions, resolutions, or appeals to the capitalist state can substitute for the real mass activity of the working class in combating its most dangerous enemies.
How to Fight Fascism – the Policy of the RCP
With the re-emergence of the fascists, the main task of the labour movement is to educate and explain to the workers the class nature of fascism and its function as a combat force against the working-class organisations. But to explain the class roots and function of fascism is not enough. The working class must participate in actively combatting the fascists wherever they raise their heads. For this it is necessary that the organisations of the working class rally the militants around a militant programme of struggle against the anti-semitic, anti-labour propaganda meetings, against the press and other menacing activities of the fascists.
Trade unionists must refuse to print, handle or transport fascist propaganda of any description and demand that their executives make this a rule. All who violate such a rule must be blacklisted.
The first step in mobilising the workers is to unite all sections of the movement – Labour, trade union, Communist Party, Trotskyist, Cooperatives – in a common working-class united front. This is the key to a successful struggle against the menace of fascism. Fundamental differences separate these organisations from each other, but on this question of fascism it is, it must be, possible to have common agreement in forms of struggle. Retaining the right to criticise each other, it is a necessary task to organise joint counter-demonstrations, joint meetings, and joint anti-fascist propaganda campaigns. Fascism is no respecter of working-class opinions and democracy. It seeks to destroy all opposition workers’ parties whether they be Labour, Communist, or Revolutionary Communist. To defend and protect working-class meetings and premises, Jewish and other minorities against fascist provocations and attacks, a Workers’ Defence Corps must be established based on the trade-union, cultural and political organisations of the working class.
Mosley once boasted that he had a detachment which is joined by “nearly every man who is physically strongThey are highly disciplined in a semi-militaristic manner.” Organised detachments of blackshirts can only be combatted by organised detachments of militant proletarians. In campaigning for the Labour government to “ban the fascists” the workers must bear in mind that history has taught that the enforcement of laws by a capitalist state inevitably acts to the disadvantage of the working class. The state rests upon the army, the police and the courts. And these are riddled from top to bottom with elements sympathetic to the aims of fascism, especially at the top. Even if the pressure of the workers succeeded in enforcing the passage of anti-fascist legislation, clearly it could only be put into effect by the enforcement of the workers. This means that the demand on the Labour government can only be effective when backed by the activities of the organised workers.
This does not mean that we do not strive to bring pressure on the Labour government to take action against the fascists. But it does mean that our demands can only be effective if backed by determined and organised activity on the part of the workers. We must demand of the Labour government that it immediately: Publish the names of all the known pro-fascists contained in the Red Book of Captain Ramsay. Publish all evidence and information in the hands of the British Intelligence which reveals the connections between the nazis and the British fascists and representatives of the British ruling class.
Introduces legislation illegalising the propagation of anti-semitism and race hatred of any form.
Introduces legislation to make fascist propaganda and organisation illegal and at the same time to protect any section of the population which enforces this law, or is engaged in any activity against the fascists. Today it is true that the fascist movement is only a small factor in British political life. But from a scratch comes the danger of gangrene! We must not repeat the same mistakes as the German working class.
Historical experience has shown that it is not possible to legislate fascism out of existence. The very nature of the capitalist state precludes that, for fascism in the nature of things is the naked weapon of capitalist class rule. Only the mass of the organised working class, understanding the nature of fascism and with a militant policy of struggle against it, will be capable of dealing effectively with the menace of fascism. In the final analysis the destruction of the capitalist system, which needs and breeds fascism with all its attendant horrors and repressions against the working class and racial and religious minorities, is the only means of ensuring the decisive defeat of fascism.