Fascism / Anti-fascism – Gilles Dauvé

Totalitarianism & Fascism
The horrors of fascism were not the first of their kind, nor were they the last. Nor were they the worst, no matter what anyone says(1). These horrors were no worse than “normal” massacres due to wars, famines, etc. For the proletarians, it was a more systematic version of the terrors experienced in 1832, 1848, 1871, 1919 …. However, fascism occupies a special place in the spectacle of horrors. This time around, indeed, some capitalists and a good part of the political class were repressed, along with the leadership as well as the rank-and-file of the official working class organisations. For the bourgeoisie and the petit bourgeoisie, fascism was an abnormal phenomenon, a degradation of democratic values explicable only by recourse to psychological explanations. Liberal anti-fascism treated fascism as a perversion of Western civilisation, thereby generating an obverse effect: the sado-masochistic fascination with fascism as manifested by the collection of Nazi bric-a-brac. Western humanism never understood that the swastikas worn by the Hell’s Angels reflected the inverted image of its own vision of fascism. The logic of this attitude can be summed up: if fascism is the ultimate Evil, then let’s choose evil, let’s invert all the values. This phenomenon is typical of a disoriented age.

The usual Marxist analysis certainly doesn’t get bogged down in psychology. The interpretation of fascism as an instrument of big business has been classic since Daniel Guerin(2). But the seriousness of his analysis conceals a central error. Most of the “marxist” studies maintain the idea that, in spite of everything, fascism was avoidable in 1922 or 1933. Fascism is reduced to a weapon used by capitalism at a certain moment. According to these studies capitalism would not have turned to fascism if the workers’ movement had exercised sufficient pressure rather than displaying its sectarianism. Of course we wouldn’t have had a “revolution”, but at least Europe would have been spared Nazism, the camps, etc. Despite some very accurate observations on social classes, the State, and the connection between fascism and big business, this perspective succeeds in missing the point that fascism was the product of a double failure; the defeat of the revolutionaries who were crushed by the social democrats and their liberal allies; followed by the failure of the liberals and social democrats to manage Capital effectively. The nature of fascism and its rise to power remain incomprehensible without studying the class struggles of the preceding period and their limitations. One cannot be understood without the other. It’s not by accident that Guerin is mistaken not only about the significance of fascism, but also about the French Popular Front, which he regards as a “missed revolution.”

Paradoxically, the essence of antifascist mystification is that the democrats conceal the nature of fascism as much as possible while they display an apparent radicalism in denouncing it here, there, and everywhere. This has been going on for fifty years now.

Boris Souvarine wrote in 1925(3): “Fascism here, fascism there. Action Francaise – that’s fascism. The National Bloc – that’s fascism…. Every day for the last six months, Humanite serves up a new fascist surprise. One day an enormous headline six columns wide trumpets: SENATE FASCIST TO THE CORE. Another time, a publisher refusing to print a communist newspaper is denounced: FASCIST BLOW…. There exists today in France neither Bolshevism nor fascism, any more than Kerenskyism. Liberte and Humanite are blowing hot air: the Fascism they conjure up for us is not viable, the objective conditions for its existence are not yet realised…. One cannot leave the field free to reaction. But it is unnecessary to baptise this reaction as fascism in order to fight it.”

In a time of verbal inflation, “fascism” is just a buzz word used by leftists to demonstrate their radicalism. But its use indicates both a confusion and a theoretical concession to the State and to Capital. The essence of antifascism consists of struggling against fascism while supporting democracy; in other words, of struggling not for the destruction of capitalism, but to force capitalism to renounce its totalitarian form. Socialism being identified with total democracy, and capitalism with the growth of fascism, the opposition proletariat/Capital, communism/wage labour, proletariat/State, is shunted aside in favour of the opposition “Democracy”/ “Fascism”, presented as the quintessence of the revolutionary perspective. Antifascism succeeds only in mixing two phenomena: “Fascism” properly so-called, and the evolution of Capital and the State towards totalitarianism. In confusing these two phenomena, in substituting the part for the whole, the cause of Fascism and totalitarianism is mystified and one ends up reinforcing what one seeks to combat.

We cannot come to grips with the evolution of capital and its totalitarian forms by denouncing “latent Fascism”. Fascism was a particular episode in the evolution of Capital towards totalitarianism, an evolution in which democracy has played and still plays a role as counter-revolutionary as that of fascism, It is a misuse of language to speak today of a non-violent, “friendly” fascism which would leave intact the traditional organs of the workers’ movement. Fascism was a movement limited in time and space. The situation in Europe after 1918 gave it its original characteristics which will never recur.

Basically, fascism was associated with the economic and political unification of Capital, a tendency which has become general since 1914. Fascism was a particular way of realising this goal in certain countries – Italy and Germany – where the State proved itself incapable of establishing order (as it is understood by the bourgeoisie), even though the revolution had been crushed. Fascism has the following characteristics:

1) it is born in the street; 2) it stirs up disorder while preaching order; 3) it is a movement of obsolete middle classes ending in their more or less violent destruction; and 4) it regenerates, from outside, the traditional State which is incapable of resolving the capitalist crisis.

Fascism was a solution to a crisis of the State during the transition to the total domination of Capital over society. Workers’ organisations of a certain type were necessary in order to subdue the revolution; next fascism was required in order to put an end to the subsequent disorder. The crisis was never really overcome by fascism: the fascist State was effective only in a superficial way, because it rested on the systematic exclusion of the working class from social life. This crisis has been more successfully overcome by the State in our own times. The democratic State uses all the tools of fascism, in fact, more, because it integrates the workers’ organisations without annihilating them. Social unification goes beyond that brought about by fascism, but fascism as a specific movement has disappeared. It corresponded to the forced discipline of the bourgeoisie under the pressure of the State in a truly unique situation.

The bourgeoisie actually borrowed the name “fascism” from workers’ organisations in Italy, which often called themselves “fasces”. It’s significant that fascism defined itself first as a form of organisation and not as a program. Its only program was to unite everyone into fasces, to force together all the elements making up society:

“Fascism steals from the proletariat its secret: organisation. … Liberalism is all ideology with no organisation; fascism is all organisation with no ideology.” (Bordiga)

Dictatorship is not a weapon of Capital, but rather a tendency of Capital which materialises whenever necessary. To return to parliamentary democracy after a period of dictatorship, as in Germany after 1945, signifies only that dictatorship is useless (until the next time) for integrating the masses into the State. We are not denying that democracy assures a gentler exploitation than dictatorship: anyone would rather be exploited like a Swede than like a Brazilian. But do we have a CHOICE? Democracy will transform itself into dictatorship as soon as it is necessary. The State can have only one function which it can fulfil either democratically or dictatorially. One might prefer the first mode to the second, but one cannot bend the State to force it to remain democratic. The political forms which Capital gives itself do not depend on the action of the working class any more than they depend on the intentions of the bourgeoisie. The Weimar Republic capitulated before Hitler, in fact it welcomed him with open arms. And the Popular Front in France did not “prevent fascism” because France in 1936 did not need to unify its Capital or reduce its middle classes. Such transformations do not require any political choice on the part of the proletariat.

Hitler is disparaged for retaining from the Viennese social democracy of his youth only its methods of propaganda. So what? The “essence” of socialism was more to be found in these methods than in the distinguished writings of Austro-Marxism. The common problem of social democracy and Nazism was how to organise the masses and, if necessary, repress them. It was the socialists and not the Nazis who crushed the proletarian insurrections. (This does not inhibit the current SPD, in power again as in 1919, from publishing a postage stamp in honour of Rosa Luxemburg whom it had murdered in 1919.) The dictatorship always comes after the proletarians have been defeated by democracy with the help of the unions and the parties of the Left. On the other hand, both socialism and Nazism have contributed to an improvement (temporary) in the standard of living. Like the SPD, Hitler became the instrument of a social movement the content of which escaped him. Like the SPD, he fought for power, for the right to mediate between the workers and Capital. And both Hitler and the SPD became the tools of Capital and were discarded once their respective tasks had been accomplished.

Antifascism – the worst product of fascism
Since the fascism of the inter-war period, the term “fascism” has remained in vogue. What political group has not accused its adversaries of using “fascist methods”? The Left never stops denouncing resurgent fascism, the Right does not refrain him labelling the PCF as the “fascistic party.” Signifying everything and anything, the word has lost its meaning since international liberal opinion describes any strong State as “fascist.” Thus the illusions of the fascists of the thirties are resurrected and presented as contemporary reality. Franco claimed to be a fascist like his mentors, Hitler and Mussolini, but there was never any fascist International.

If today the Greek colonels and Chilean generals are called fascists by the dominant ideology, they nevertheless represent variants of the capitalist state. Applying the fascist label to the State is equivalent to denouncing the parties at the head of that State. Thus one avoids the critique of the State by denouncing those who direct it. The leftists seek to authenticate their extremism with their hue and cry about Fascism, while neglecting the critique of the State. In practice they are proposing another form of the State (democratic or popular) in place of the existing form.

The term “fascism” is still more irrelevant in the advanced capitalist countries, where the Communist and Socialist parties will play a central role in any future “fascist” State which is erected against a revolutionary movement. In this case it is much more exact to speak of the State pure and simple, and leave fascism out of it. Fascism triumphed because its principles were generalised: the unification of Capital and the efficient State. But in our times fascism has disappeared as such, both as a political movement and as a form of the State. In spite of some resemblances, the parties considered as fascist since 1945 (in France, for example, the RPF, poujadism, to some extent today the RPR) have not aimed at conquering an impotent State from the outside(4).

To insist on the recurring menace of fascism is to ignore the fact that the real fascism was poorly suited to the task it took on and failed: rather than strengthening German national Capital, Nazism ended by dividing it in two. Today other forms of the State have come into being, far removed from Fascism and from that democracy we hear constantly eulogised.

With World War II, the mythology of Fascism was enriched by a new element. This conflict was the necessary solution to problems both economic (crash of 1929) and social (unruly working class which, although non-revolutionary, had to be disciplined). World War II could be depicted as a war against totalitarianism in the form of fascism. This interpretation has endured, and the constant recall by the victors of 1945 of the Nazi atrocities serves to justify the war by giving it the character of a humanitarian crusade. Everything, even the atomic bomb, could be justified against such a barbarous enemy. This justification is, however, no more credible than the demagogy of the Nazis, who claimed to struggle against capitalism and Western plutocracy. The “democratic” forces included in their ranks a State as totalitarian and bloody as Hitler’s Germany: Stalin’s Soviet Union, with its penal code prescribing the death penalty from the age of twelve. Everyone knows as well that the Allies resorted to similar methods of terror and extermination whenever they saw the need (strategic bombing etc.). The West waited until the Cold War to denounce the Soviet camps. But each capitalist country has had to deal with its own specific problems, Great Britain had no Algerian war to cope with, but the partition of India claimed millions of victims. The USA never had to organise concentration camps in order to silence its workers and dispose of surplus petits bourgeois, but it found its own colonial war in Vietnam. As for the Soviet Union, with its Gulag which is today denounced the world over, it was content to concentrate into a few decades the horrors spread out over several centuries in the older capitalist countries, also resulting in millions of victims just in the treatment of the Blacks alone. The development of Capital carries with it certain consequences, of which the main ones are:

1) domination over the working class, involving the destruction, gentle or otherwise, of the revolutionary movement; 2) competition with other national Capitals, resulting in war.

When power is held by the “workers'” parties, only one thing is altered: workerist demagogy will be more conspicuous, but the workers will not be spared the most severe repression when this becomes necessary. The triumph of Capital is never as total as when the workers mobilise themselves on its behalf in search of a “better life”.

In order to protect us from the excesses of Capital, antifascism as a matter of course invokes the intervention of the State. Paradoxically, antifascism becomes the champion of a strong State. For example, the PCF asks us: “What kind of State is necessary in France today?… Is our State stable and strong, as the President of the Republic claims? No, it is weak, it is impotent to pull the country out of the social and political crisis in which it is mired. In fact it is encouraging disorder.”(6)

Both dictatorship and democracy propose to strengthen the State the former as a matter of principle, the latter in order to protect us – ending up in the same result. Both are working towards the same goal – totalitarianism. In both cases it is a matter of making everyone participate in society: “from the top down” for the dictators, “from the bottom up” for the democrats.

As regards dictatorship and democracy, can we speak of a struggle between two sociologically differentiated fractions of Capital? Rather we are dealing with two different methods of regimenting the proletariat, either by integrating it forcibly, or by bringing it together through the mediation of its “own” organisations. Capital opts for one or the other of these solutions according to the needs of the moment. In Germany after 1918, social democracy and the unions were indispensable for controlling the workers and isolating the revolutionaries. On the other hand, after 1929, Germany had to concentrate its industry, eliminate a section of the middle classes, and discipline the bourgeoisie. The same traditional workers’ movement, defending political pluralism and the immediate interests of the workers, had become an impediment to further development. The “workers’ organisations” supported capitalism faithfully, but had kept their autonomy; as organisations they sought above all to perpetuate themselves. This made them play an effective counter-revolutionary role in 1918-1921, as the failure of the German revolution shows. In 1920 the social democratic organisations provided the first example of anti-revolutionary antifascism (before fascism existed in name)(7). Subsequently the weight acquired by these organisations, both in society and in the State itself, mode them play a role of social conservatism, of economic Malthusianism. They had to be eliminated. They fulfilled an anti-communist function in 1918-1921 because they were the expression of the defence of wage labour as such; but this same rationale required them to continue to represent the immediate interests of wage earners, to the detriment of the re-organisation of Capital as a whole.

One understands why Nazism had as its goal the violent destruction of the workers’ movement, contrary to the so-called fascist parties of today. This is the crucial difference. Social democracy had done its job of domesticating the workers well, too well. Social democracy had occupied an important position in the State but was incapable of unifying the whole of Germany behind it. This was the task of Nazism, which knew how to appeal to all classes, from the unemployed to the monopoly capitalists.

Similarly, the Unidad Popular in Chile was able to control the workers, but without gathering the whole of the nation around it. Thus it became necessary to overthrow it by force. On the contrary, there has not (yet?) been any massive repression in Portugal since November 1975, and if the current regime claims to be continuing the “revolution of the officers”, it is not because the power of the working class and democratic organisations prevent a coup d’ état from the Right. Left wing parties and unions have never prevented any such thing, except when the coup d’etat was premature, e.g. the Kapp putsch in 1920. There is no White terror in Portugal because it is unnecessary, the Socialist Party up to the present time unifying the whole of society behind it.

Whether it admits it or not, antifascism has become the necessary form of both working class and capitalist reformism. Antifascism unites the two by claiming to represent the true ideal of the bourgeois revolution betrayed by Capital. Democracy is conceived as an element of socialism, an element already present in our society. Socialism is envisaged as total democracy. The struggle for socialism would consist of winning more and more democratic rights within the framework of capitalism. With the help of the fascist scapegoat, democratic gradualism is revitalised. Fascism and antifascism have the same origin and the same program, but the former claimed to go beyond Capital and classes, while the latter tries to attain the “true” bourgeois democracy which is endlessly perfectible through the addition of stronger and stronger doses of democracy. In reality, bourgeois democracy is a stage in the taking of power by Capital, and its extension into the 20th century has resulted in the increasing isolation of individuals. Born as the illusory solution to the problem of the separation of human activity and society, democracy will never be able to resolve the problem of the most separated society in the whole of history. Antifascism will always end in increasing totalitarianism. Its fight for a “democratic” State will end in strengthening the State.

For various reasons, the revolutionary analyses of fascism and antifascism, and in particular the analysis of the Spanish Civil War which is a more complex example, are ignored, misunderstood, or regularly distorted. At best, they are considered as an idealist perspective; at worst, as an indirect support of fascism. Note, they say how the PCI helped Mussolini by refusing to take fascism seriously, and especially by not allying itself with the democratic forces; or how the KPD allowed Hitler to come to power while treating the SPD as the principal enemy. In Spain, on the contrary, one has an example of resolute antifascist struggle, which might have succeeded if it hadn’t

been for the deficiencies of the Stalinists – socialists – anarchists (cross out the appropriate names). These statements are based on a distortion of the facts.

Italy & Germany
In the forefront of the counter-truths, one finds a distorted account of the case where at least an important section of the proletariat struggled against fascism with its own methods and goals: Italy in 1918-1922. This struggle was not specifically antifascist: to struggle against Capital meant to struggle against fascism as well as against parliamentary democracy. This episode is significant because- the movement in question was lead by communists, and not by reform socialists who had joined the Comintern, e.g. the PCF, or by Stalinists competing in nationalist demagoguery with the Nazis (like the KPD with its talk of “national revolution” during the early thirties). Perversely, the proletarian character of the struggle has allowed the antifascists to reject everything revolutionary about the Italian experience: the PCI, lead by Bordiga and the left communists at the time, is charged with favouring the coming to power of Mussolini. Without romanticising this episode, it is worth studying because it shows without the slightest ambiguity that the subsequent defeatism of the revolutionaries regarding the war of “democracy” vs. “fascism” (Spanish Civil War or World War II) is not an attitude of purists insisting only on “the revolution” and refusing to budge until the Great Day. This defeatism was based quite simply on the disappearance, during the twenties and thirties, of the proletariat as a historical force, following its defeat after it had partially constituted itself at the end of World War I.

The fascist repression occurred only after the proletarian defeat. It did not destroy the revolutionary forces which only the traditional workers’ movement could master by methods both direct and indirect. The revolutionaries were defeated by democracy which did not shrink from recourse to all the means available, including military action. Fascism destroyed only lesser opponents, including the reformist workers’ move ment which had become an impediment to further development. It is a lie to depict the coming to power of Fascism as the result of street fights in which the fascists defeated the workers.

In Italy, as in many other countries, 1919 was the decisive year, when the proletarian struggle was defeated by the direct action of the State as well as by electoral politics. Up to 1922, the State granted the greatest freedom of action to the Fascists: lenience in judicial proceedings, unilateral disarmament of the workers, occasional armed support, not to mention the Bonomi memorandum of October 1921, which sent 60,000 officers into the Fascist assault groups to act as leaders. Before the armed fascist offensive, the State appealed… to the ballot box. During the workshop occupations of 1920, the State refrained from attacking the proletarians, allowing their struggle to exhaust itself with the help of the CGL, which broke the strikes. As for the “democrats”, they did not hesitate to form a “national bloc” (liberals and rightists) including fascists, for the elections of May 1921. During June-July, 1921, the PSI concluded a useless and phoney “peace pact” with the fascists.

One can hardly speak of a coup d’état in 1922: it was a transfer of power. The “March on Rome” of Mussolini (who preferred to take the train) was not a means of putting pressure on the legal government but rather a publicity stunt. The ultimatum which he delivered to the government on October 24 did not threaten civil war: it was a notice to the capitalist State (and understood as such by the State) that henceforth the PNF was the force most capable of assuring the unity of the State. The State submitted very quickly. The martial law declared after the failure of the attempt at compromise was cancelled by the King, who then asked Mussolini to form the new government (which included liberals). Every party except the PCI and PSI came to terms with the PNF and voted for Mussolini in parliament. The power of the dictator was ratified by democracy. The same scenario was reproduced in Germany. Hitler was appointed chancellor by President Hindenburg (elected in 1932 with the support of the socialists who saw in him… a bulwark against Hitler), and the Nazis were a minority group in Hitler’s first cabinet. After some hesitation, Capital supported Hitler since it saw in him the political force necessary to unify the State and hence society. (That Capital did not foresee certain subsequent forms of the Nazi State is a secondary matter.)

In both countries, the “workers’ movement” was far from being vanquished by fascism. Its organisations, totally independent of the proletarian social movement, functioned only to preserve their institutional existence and were ready to accept any political regime whatever, of the Right or of the Left, which would tolerate them. The Spanish PSOE and

its labour federation (UGT) collaborated between 1923 and 1930 with the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera. In 1932, the German socialist unions, through the mouths of their leaders, declared themselves independent of any political party and indifferent to the form of the State, and tried to reach an understanding with Schleicher (Hitler’s unfortunate predecessor), then with Hitler, who convinced them that National Socialism would permit their continued existence. After which the German unionists disappeared behind the swastikas at the same time that May 1 1933, was transformed into the “Festival of German Labour.” The Nazis proceeded to dispatch the union leaders into prisons and camps, which had the effect of bestowing on the survivors the reputation of being resolute “antifascists” from the first hour.

In Italy, the union leaders wanted to reach an agreement of mutual tolerance with the fascists. They contacted the PNF late in 1922 and in 1923. Shortly before Mussolini took power, they declared:

“At this moment when political passions are exacerbated and two forces alien to the union movement (the PCI and PNF) are bitterly vying for power, the CGL feels its duty is to warn the workers about the interventions of parties or political regroupments aiming to involve the proletariat in a struggle from which it must remain absolutely aloof if it does not want to compromise its independence.”

On the other hand, there was in February, 1934, in Austria, armed resistance by the left of the Social Democratic Party against the Forces of a State which showed itself increasingly dictatorial and conciliatory towards the Fascists. This struggle was not revolutionary in character, but arose from the fact that there had been practically no street battles in Austria after 1918. The most pugnacious proletarians (although not communists) had not been beaten, and had remained within social democracy which thus preserved some revolutionary tendencies. Of course this resistance broke out spontaneously, and did not succeed in coordinating itself.

The revolutionary critique of these events does not arrive at an “all or nothing” conclusion, as if one insisted on fighting only for “the revolution” and only at the side of the purest and toughest communists. One must struggle, we are told, for reforms when it is not possible to make the revolution; a well-led struggle for reforms prepares the way for the revolution: who can do more, can do less; but who cannot do less, cannot do more; who does not know how to defend himself, will not know how to attack, etc. All these generalities are missing the point. The polemic among Marxists, since the Second International, is not concerned with the necessity or worthlessness of communist participation in reformist struggles, which are in any case a reality. It is a matter of knowing if a given struggle places the workers under the control (direct or indirect) of Capital and in particular of its State, and what position the revolutionaries must adopt in this case. For a revolutionary, a “struggle” (a word leftists delight in) has no value in itself; the most violent actions have often ended in constituting parties and unions which have subsequently proved to be enemies of communism. Any struggle, no matter how spontaneous in origin or how energetic, which puts the workers under the dependence of the capitalist State, can have only a counter-revolutionary function. The antifascist struggle, which claims to search for a lesser evil (better to have capitalist democracy than capitalist fascism), is like abandoning the frying pan for the fire. Moreover, in placing oneself under the direction of a State, one must accept all the consequences including the repression which it will exercise, if required, against the workers and revolutionaries who want to go beyond antifascism.

Rather than holding Bordiga and the PCI of 1921-1922 responsible for the triumph of Mussolini, one would be better advised to question the perpetual feebleness of antifascism, whose record is overwhelmingly negative: when did antifascism ever prevent or even slow down totalitarianism? World War II was supposed to safeguard the existence of democratic States, but parliamentary democracies are today the exception. In the so-called socialist countries, the disappearance of the traditional bourgeoisie and the demands of State capitalism hove resulted in dictatorships which are in no way preferable to those of the former Axis countries. There are those who cherished illusions about China, but little by little the information available confirms the Marxist analyses already published(8) and reveals the existence of camps, the reality of which is still denied by the Maoists… just as the Stalinists have denied the existence of the Soviet camps for the last 30 years. Africa, Asia, and Latin America live under one party systems or military dictatorships. One is horrified by the Brazilian tortures, but Mexican democracy did not shrink from firing on demonstrators in 1968, killing 300. At least the defeat of the Axis powers brought peace… but only for Europeans, not for the millions who have died since in incessant wars and chronic famines. In short, the war to end all wars and totalitarianism was a failure.

The reply of the antifascists is automatic: it’s the fault of American or Soviet imperialism, or both; in any case, say the most radical, it’s because of the survival of capitalism and its attendant misdeeds. Agreed. But the problem remains. How could a war created by capitalist States have any other effect than the strengthening of Capital?

The antifascists (especially the “revolutionaries”) conclude exactly the opposite, calling for a new surge of antifascism, which must continually be radicalised so it progresses as far as possible. They never desist from denouncing fascist “revivals” or “methods”, but they never deduce from this the necessity to destroy the root of the evil: Capital. Rather they draw the reverse conclusion that it is necessary to return to “true” antifascism, to proletarianise it, to recommence the work of Sisyphus consisting of democratising capitalism. Now one may hate fascism and love humanitarianism, but nothing will change the crucial point:

1) The capitalist State (and that means every State) is more and more constrained to show itself as repressive and totalitarian; 2) all attempts to exert pressure on them so as to bend them in a direction more favourable to the workers or to “freedoms”, will end at best in nothing, at worst (usually the case) by reinforcing the widespread illusion that the State is an arbiter over society, a more or less neutral force which is above classes.

Leftists are quite capable of endlessly repeating the classic Marxist analysis of the State as an instrument of class domination and at the same time proposing to “use” this same State. Similarly, leftists will study Marx’s writings on the abolition of wage labour and exchange, and then turn around and depict the revolution as an ultra-democratisation of wage labour.

There are those who go further. They adopt part of the revolutionary thesis in announcing that since Capital is synonymous with “fascism” the struggle for democracy against fascism implies the struggle against Capital itself. But on what terrain do they fight? To fight under the leadership of one or more capitalist States – because they have and retain control of the struggle – is to ensure defeat in the struggle against Capital. The struggle for democracy is not a short cut allowing the workers to make the revolution without realising it. The proletariat will destroy totalitarianism only by destroying democracy and all political forms at the same time. Until then there will be a succession of “fascist” and “democratic” systems in time and in space; dictatorial regimes transforming themselves willy nilly into democratic regimes and vice versa; dictatorships coexisting with democracies, the one type serving as a contrast and self-justification for the other type.

Thus it is absurd to say that democracy furnishes a social system more favourable than dictatorship to revolutionary activity, since the former turns immediately to dictatorial means when menaced by revolution; all the more so when the “workers’ parties” are in power. If one wished to pursue antifascism to its logical conclusion, one would have to imitate certain left liberals who tell us: since the revolutionary movement pushes Capital towards dictatorship, let us renounce all revolution and content ourselves with going as far as possible along the path of reforms as long as we don’t frighten Capital. But this prudence is itself utopian, because the “fascistisation” it tries to avoid is a product not only of revolutionary action, but of capitalist concentration. We can argue about the timing and the practical results of the participation of revolutionaries in democratic movements up to the beginning of the 20th century, but this option is excluded once Capital achieves total domination over society, for then only one type of politics is possible: democracy becomes a mystification and a trap for the unwary. Every time the proletarians depend on democracy as a weapon against Capital, it escapes from their control or is transformed into its opposite… Revolutionaries reject antifascism because one cannot fight exclusively against ONE political form without supporting the others, which is what antifascism is about strictly speaking. The error of antifascism is not in struggling against fascism but in giving precedence to this struggle, which renders it ineffective. The revolutionaries do not denounce antifascism for not “making the revolution”, but for being powerless to stop totalitarianism, and for reinforcing, voluntarily or not, Capital and the State.

Not only does democracy always surrender itself to fascism, practically without a fight, but fascism also re-generates democracy from itself as required by the state of socio-political forces. For example, in 1943 Italy was obliged to join the camp of the victors, and thus its leader, the “dictator” Mussolini, found himself in a minority on the Fascist Grand Council and submitted to the democratic verdict of this organ. One of the top Fascist officials, Marshal Badoglio, summoned the democratic opposition and formed a coalition government. Mussolini was arrested. This is known in Italy as the “revolution of August 25, 1943.” The democrats hesitated, but pressure from the Russians and the PCI forced them to accept a government of national unity in April 1944, directed by Badoglio, to which Togliatti and Benedetto Croce belonged. In June 1944, the socialist Bonomi formed a ministry which excluded the fascists. This established the tripartite formula (PCI – PSI – Christian Democracy) which dominated the first years of the post-war period. Thus we see a transition desired and partly orchestrated by the fascists. In the same way as democracy understood in 1922 that the best means of preserving the State was to entrust it to the dictatorship of the fascist party, so it was that fascism in 1943 understood that the only way of protecting the integrity of the nation and the continuity of the State was to return the latter to the control of the democratic parties. Democracy metamorphoses itself into fascism, and vice versa, according to the circumstances: what is involved is a succession or combination of political forms assuring the preservation of the State as the guarantor of capitalism. Let us note that the “return” to democracy is far from producing in itself a renewal of class struggle. In fact the workers’ parties coming to power are the first to fight in the name of national Capital. Thus the material sacrifices and the renunciation of class struggle, justified by the necessity of “defeating Fascism first”, were imposed after the defeat of the Axis, always in the name of the ideal of the Resistance. The fascist and antifascist ideologies are each adaptable to the momentary and fundamental interests of Capital, according to the circumstances.

From the beginning, whenever the cry goes up “fascism will not pass” – not only does it always pass, but in such a grotesque manner that the demarcation between fascism and non-fascism follows a line in constant motion. For example, the French Left denounced the “Fascist” danger after May 13, 1958, but the secretary-general of the SFIO collaborated in writing the constitution of the Fifth Republic.

Portugal and Greece have offered new examples of the self-transformation of dictatorships into democracies. Under the shock of external circumstances (colonial question for Portugal, Cyprus conflict for Greece), a section of the military preferred to dump the regime in order to save the State; the democrats reason and act exactly the same when the “fascists” bid for power. The current Spanish Communist Party expresses precisely this view (it remains to be seen whether Spanish Capital wants and needs the PCE):

“Spanish society desires that everything be transformed in such a way that the normal functioning of the State is assured, without jolts or social convulsions. The continuity of the State demands the non- continuity of the regime.”

There is a transition from one form to the other, a transition from which the proletariat is excluded and over which it exercises no control. If the proletariat tries to intervene, it ends up integrated into the State and its subsequent struggles are all the more difficult, as the Portuguese case clearly demonstrates.

It is probably the example of Chile which has done the most to revitalise the false opposition democracy /fascism. This case illustrates all too well the mechanism of the triumph of dictatorship, involving in this instance the triple defeat of the proletariat.

Contemporary to the events in Europe, the Chilean Popular Front of the thirties had already designated its enemy as the “oligarchy.” The struggle against oligarchic control of the legislature, presented as a stifling of the most conservative forces, facilitated the evolution towards a more centralised, presidential system with reinforced State power, capable of pushing reforms, i.e. industrial development. This Popular Front (which lasted essentially from 1936 to 1940) corresponded to the conjuncture of the rise of the urban middle classes (bourgeoisie and white collar workers) and working class struggles. The working class was organised by the socialist labour federation (decimated by repression); by the anarcho-syndicalist CGT, influenced by the IWW, and rather weak (20 to 30 thousand members out of a total of 200,000 unionised); and especially by the federation under Communist Party influence, The unions of white collar workers had carried on strikes in the twenties as fierce as those of the industrial workers excepting those two bastions of working class militancy: the nitrate (later copper) and coal industries. Although insisting on agrarian reform the socialist-Stalinist-Radical coalition did not succeed in imposing it on the oligarchy. The coalition didn’t do much to recover the wealth lost to foreign exploitation of natural resources (primarily nitrate) but engineered a jump in industrial production such as Chile has never known before or since. By means of institutions similar to those of the New Deal the State secured the major portion of investments and introduced a State capitalist structure concentrating on heavy industry and energy. Industrial production increased during this period by 10% per annum; from this period to 1960, by 4% per annum; and during the sixties by 1 to 2% per annum. A re-unification of the socialist and Stalinist labour federations took place at the end of 1936 and weakened still more the CGT; the Popular Front wiped out anything truly subversive. As a coalition this regime lasted until 1940 when the Socialist party withdrew. But the regime was able to continue until 1947 backed by Radicals and the Communist Party as well as the intermittent support of the fascist Phalange (rightist ancestor of Chilean Christian Democracy and the party of origin of Christian Democrat leader Eduardo Frei(9)). The Communist Party supported the regime until 1947 when it was outlawed by the Radicals.

As the leftists always tell us Popular Fronts are also products of working class struggle, but of a struggle which remains within the framework of capitalism and pushes Capital to modernise itself. After 1970, the Unidad Popular gave itself as a goal the revitalising of Chilean national Capital (which the PDC had not known how to protect during the sixties), while integrating the workers. In the end the Chilean proletariat was defeated three times over. Firstly by dropping their economic struggles to array themselves under the banner of the forces of the Left, accepting the new state because it was supported by the “workers'” organisations. Allende responded in 1971 to this question:

“Do you think it possible to avoid the dictatorship of the proletariat?” “I think so: it is to this end that we are working.”(10)

Secondly, in suffering repression at the hands of the military after the coup d’état, contrary to what the leftist press said about “armed resistance.” The proletarians had been disarmed materially’ and ideolo gically by the government of Allende, The latter had forced the workers to surrender their arms on numerous occasions. It had itself initiated the transition towards a military government by appointing a general as Minister of the Interior. In placing themselves under the protection of the democratic State, which was congenitally incapable of avoiding totalitarianism (because the State is above all For the State democratic or dictatorial – before it is for either democracy or dictatorship), the proletarians condemned themselves in advance to paralysis in the face of a coup from the Right. An important accord between the UP and the PDC affirmed:

“We desire that the police and the armed forces continue to guarantee our democratic order, which implies the respect of the organised and hierarchical structure of the army and the police.”

However the most ignoble defeat of all was the third. Here one must bestow on the international extreme Left the medal which it deserves. After having supported the capitalist State in order to push it further, the Left and the extreme Left posed as prophets: “We warned you: the State is the repressive force of Capital.” The same ones who six months earlier had stressed the entry of radical elements into the army or the infiltration of revolutionaries into the whole of political and social life, now repeated that the army had remained “the army of the bourgeoisie” and that they had known it all along…

Evidently searching first to justify their inextricable failure, they made use of the emotion and shock caused by the coup d’etat in order to stifle the attempt by some proletarians (in Chile and elsewhere) to draw lessons from these events. Instead of showing what the UP did and what it could not do, these leftists revived the same old politics, giving it a left wing tinge. The photo of Allende grasping an automatic weapon during the coup became the symbol of left wing democracy, finally resolved to fight effectively against fascism. The ballot is OK, but it’s not enough: guns are also necessary- that’s the lesson the Left draws from Chile, The death of Allende himself, sufficient “physical” proof of the failure of democracy, is disguised as proof of his will to struggle.

“Now, if in the performance their interests prove to be uninteresting and their potency impotence, then either the fault lies with pernicious sophists, who split the indivisible people into different hostile camps, or the army was too brutalised and blinded to comprehend that the pure aims of democracy are the best thing for it itself. … In any case, the democrat comes out of the most disgraceful defeat just as immaculate as he was innocent when he went into it.” (Marx)(11)

As for inquiring into the nature of the UP, into the content of this famous struggle (by ballots one day, by bullets the next), in short, into the nature of capitalism, communism, and the State, well that is another matter, a luxury one cannot afford when “Fascism attacks”. One could also ask why the industrial “cordons” scarcely budged. But now is a time for pulling together: defeat brings the antifascists together even more surely than victory. Conversely, regarding the Portuguese situation, one must avoid all criticism under the pretext of not doing anything to hinder the “movement”. In fact one of the first declarations of the Portuguese Trotskyists after April 25, 1974, was to denounce the “ultra-leftists” who did not want to play the game of democracy.

In short, the international extreme Left was united in obstructing the decipherment of the Chilean events, in order to detach the proletarians still further from the communist perspective. In this way the Left is preparing the return of Chilean democracy on the day when Capital has need of it again.

Although it remains susceptible to new developments, the Portuguese case presents an insoluble riddle only to those (the most numerous) who don’t know what a revolution is. Even sincere but confused revolutionaries remain perplexed before the collapse of a movement which appeared to them so substantial a few months earlier. This incomprehension rests on a confusion. Portugal illustrates what the proletariat is capable of doing, demonstrating once again that Capital must take account of it. Proletarian action may not be the motor of history, but on the political and social plane it constitutes the keystone of the evolution of any modern capitalist country. However, this irruption on the historical scene is not automatically synonymous with revolutionary progress. To mix the two theoretically is to confuse the revolution with its opposite. To speak of the Portuguese revolution is to confuse revolution with a re-organisation of Capital. As long as the proletariat remains within the economic and political limits of capitalism, not only does the basis of society remain unchanged, but even the reforms obtained (political liberties and economic demands) are doomed to an ephemeral existence. Whatever Capital concedes under pressure from the working class con be taken back; in whole or in part, as soon as that pressure is relaxed: any movement condemns itself if it is limited to a pressure on capitalism. So long as proletarians act in this way, they are just banging their heads against the wall.

The Portuguese dictatorship had ceased to be the form adequate for the development of a national Capital, as evidenced by its incapacity to settle the colonial question. Far from enriching the metropolis, the colonies destabilised it. Fortunately, ready to fight “fascism”, there was… the army. The sole organised force in the country, only the army could initiate change; as for carrying it through successfully, that’s another matter. Acting according to habit, blinded by their role and their claims to power within the framework of Capital, the Left and the extreme Left detected a profound subversion of the army. Whereas previously they had seen the officers only as colonial torturers, now they discovered a People’s Army. With the aid of sociology, they demonstrated the popular origins and aspirations of the military leaders which allegedly inclined them towards socialism. It remained to cultivate the good intentions of these officers, who, we were told, asked only to be enlightened by the “Marxists”. From the PS to the most extreme leftists, the whole world conspired to conceal the simple fact that the capitalist State had not disappeared, and that the army remained its essential instrument.

Because some slots in the State apparatus were made available to working class militants, we were told the State had changed its function. Because it expressed itself in populist language, the army was considered to be on the side of the workers. Because relative freedom of speech prevailed, “workers’ democracy” (foundation of socialism, as everyone knows) was judged to be well established. Certainly there were a series of warning signals and renewals of authority where the State exhibited its old self. There again, the Left and the extreme Left drew the conclusion that it was necessary to exert still more pressure on the State, but without attacking it, out of fear of playing into the hands of the “Right”. However, they fulfilled precisely the program of the Right and in doing so added something of which the Right is generally incapable: the integration of the masses. The opening up of the State to influences “from the Left” does not signify its withering away, but rather its strengthening. The Left placed a popular ideology and the enthusiasm of the workers in the service of the construction of Portuguese national capitalism.

The alliance between the Left and the army was a precarious one. The Left brought the masses, the army the stability guaranteed by the threat of its weapons. It was necessary for the PCP and PS to control the masses carefully. In order to do so, they had to grant material advantages which were dangerous for a weak capitalism. Hence the contradictions and successive political rearrangements. The “workers'” organisations are capable of dominating the workers, not of delivering to Capital the profits it requires. Thus it was necessary to resolve the contradiction and re-establish discipline. The alleged revolution had served to exhaust the most resolute, to discourage the others, and to isolate, indeed, repress, the revolutionaries. Next the State intervened brutally, demonstrating convincingly that it had never disappeared. Those who attempted to conquer the State from within succeeded only in sustaining it at a critical moment. A revolutionary movement is not possible in Portugal, but is dependent on a wider context, and in any case will be possible only on other bases than the capitalist-democratic movement of April 1974.

The workers’ struggle, even for reformist goals, creates difficulties for Capital and moreover constitutes the necessary experience for the proletariat to prepare itself for revolution. The struggle prepares the future: but this preparation can lead in two directions-nothing is automatic – it can just as easily stifle as strengthen the communist movement. Under these conditions it’s not sufficient to insist on the “autonomy” of the workers’ actions. Autonomy is no more a revolutionary principle than “planning” by a minority. The revolution no more insists on democracy than on dictatorship.

Only by carrying out certain measures can the proletarians retain control of the struggle. If they limit themselves to reformist action, sooner or later the struggle will escape from their control and be taken over by a specialised organ of the syndical type, which may call itself a union or a “committee of the base”. Autonomy is not a revolutionary virtue in itself. Any form of organisation depends on the content of the goal for which it was created. The emphasis cannot be put on the self-activity of the workers, but on the communist perspective, the realisation of which alone effectively allows working class action to avoid falling under the leadership of traditional parties and unions. The content of the action is the determining criterion: the revolution is not just a matter of what the “majority” wants. To give priority to workers’ autonomy leads to a dead end.

Workerism is sometimes a healthy response, but is inevitably catastrophic when it becomes an end in itself. Workerism tends to conjure away the decisive tasks of the revolution. In the name of workers’ “democracy” it confines the proletarians to the capitalist enterprise with its problems of production (not visualising the revolution as the destruction of the enterprise as such). And workerism mystifies the problem of the State. At best, it re-invents “revolutionary syndicalism.”

Spain: war or revolution?
Everywhere democracy was capitulating before dictatorship. More correctly, it was welcoming dictatorship with open arms. And Spain? Far from constituting the happy exception, Spain represented the extreme case of armed confrontation between democracy and fascism without changing the nature of the struggle: it is always two forms of capitalist development which are in opposition, two political forms of the capitalist State, two statist systems quarrelling over the legitimacy of the legal and normal capitalist State in a country. Moreover the confrontation was violent only because the workers had arrayed themselves against fascism. The complexity of the war in Spain comes from this double aspect; a civil war (proletariat vs. capital) transforming itself into a capitalist war (the proletarians supporting rival capitalist State structures in both camps).

After having given every facility to the “rebels” to prepare themselves, the Republic was going to negotiate and/or submit, when the proletarians rose up against the fascist coup d’etat, preventing its success in half of the country. The Spanish War would not have been unleashed without this authentic proletarian insurrection (it was more than a spontaneous outbreak). But this alone does not suffice to characterise the whole Spanish War and subsequent events. It defines only the first moment of the struggle, which was effectively a proletarian uprising. After having defeated the fascists in a large number of cities, the workers held power. Such was the situation immediately after their insurrection. But what did they proceed to do with this power? Did they hand it back to the Republican State, or did they use it to go further in the direction of communism? They put their trust in the legal government, i.e. in the existing, capitalist State. All their subsequent actions were carried out under the direction of this State. This is the central point. It followed that in its armed struggle against Franco and in its socio-economic transformations, the whole movement of the Spanish proletarians was placing itself squarely within the framework of the capitalist State and could only be capitalist in nature. It’s true attempts to go further took place in the social sphere (we shall speak further of this); but these attempts remained hypothetical so long as the capitalist State was maintained. The destruction of the State is the necessary (but not sufficient) condition for communist revolution. In Spain, real power was exercised by the State and not by organisations, unions, collectives, committees, etc. The proof of this is that the mighty CNT had to submit to the PCE (very weak prior to July 1936). One can verify this by the simple fact that the State was able to use its power brutally when required (May 1937). There is no revolution without the destruction of the State. This “obvious” Marxist truth, forgotten by 99% of the “Marxists” emerges once more from the Spanish tragedy.

“It is one of the peculiarities of revolutions that just as the people seem about to take a great start and to open a new era, they suffer themselves to be ruled by the delusions of the past and surrender all the power and influence they have so dearly won into the hands of men who represent, or are supposed to represent, the popular movement of a by-gone epoch.” (Marx)(12)

We cannot compare the armed workers “columns” of the second half of 1936 with their subsequent militarisation and reduction to the level of organs of the bourgeois army. A considerable difference separated these two phases, but not in the sense that a non-revolutionary phase followed a revolutionary phase: first there was a phase of stifling the revolutionary awakening, during which the workers’ movement presented a certain autonomy, a certain enthusiasm, indeed, a communist demeanour well described by Orwell(13). Then this phase, superficially revolutionary but in fact creating the conditions for a classic anti-proletarian war, gave way naturally to what it had prepared.

The columns left Barcelona to fight fascism in other cities, principally Saragossa. Supposing they were attempting to spread the revolution beyond the Republican zones, it would have been necessary to revo lutionise those Republican zones, either previously or simultaneously.(14) Durruti knew the State had not been destroyed, but he ignored this fact. On the march his column, composed of 70% anarchists, pushed for collectivisation. The militia helped the peasants and taught them revolutionary ideas. But “we have only one purpose: to destroy the fascists”. Durruti put it well: “our militia will never defend the bourgeoisie, they just do not attack it”. A fortnight before his death (November 21, 1936), Durruti stated:

“A single thought, a single objective… destroy fascism…. At the present time no one is concerned about increasing wages or reducing hours of work… to sacrifice oneself, to work as much as required… we must form a solid block of granite. The moment has arrived for the unions and political organisations to finish with the enemy once and for all. Behind the front, administrative skills are necessary…. After this war is over, let’s not provoke, through our incompetence, another civil war among ourselves…. To oppose fascist tyranny, we must present a single force: there must exist only a single organisation, with a single discipline.”

The will to struggle can never serve as a substitute for a revolutionary struggle. Furthermore, political violence is easily adapted to capitalist purposes (as recent terrorism proves). The fascination of “armed struggle” quickly backfires on the proletarians as soon as they direct their blows exclusively against a particular form of the state rather than the State itself.

Under different conditions the military evolution of the antifascist camp (insurrection, followed by militias, finally a regular army) recalls the anti-Napoleonic guerrilla war described by Marx:

“By comparing the three periods of guerrilla warfare with the political history of Spain, it is found that they represent the respective degrees into which the counter-revolutionary spirit of the Government had succeeded in cooling the spirit of the people. Beginning with the rise of whole populations, the partisan war was next carried on by guerrilla bands, of which whole districts formed the reserve and terminated in corps francs continually on the point of dwindling into banditti, or sinking down to the level of standing regiments”.(15)

The conditions cannot be juxtaposed, but in 1936 as in 1808, the military evolution cannot be explained solely by “technical” considerations related to military art: one must also consider the relation of the political and social forces and its modification in an anti-revolutionary sense. Let us note that the “columns” of 1936 did not even succeed in waging a war of franc-tireurs [irregulars] and stalled before Saragossa. The compromise evoked by Durruti above – the necessity of unity at any price – could only give victory to the Republican State first (over the proletariat) and to Franco next (over the Republican State).

There was certainly the start of a revolution in Spain, but it failed as soon as the proletarians put their faith in the existing State. It scarcely matters what their intentions were. Even though the great majority of proletarians who were ready to struggle against Franco under the leadership of the State might have preferred to hang on to real power in spite of everything, and supported the State only as a matter of convenience, the determining factor is their act and not their intention. After organising themselves to defeat the coup d’etat, after giving themselves the rudiments of an autonomous military structure (the militias), the workers agreed to place themselves under the direction of a coalition of “workers’ organisations” (for the most part openly counter-revolutionary) which accepted the authority of the legal State. It is certain that at least some of the proletarians hoped to retain real power (which they had effectively conquered, though only for a short time), while leaving to the official State only the semblance of power. This was truly an error, for which they paid dearly.

Some critics of the preceding analysis agree with our account of the Spanish war but insist that the situation remained “open” and could have evolved. It was therefore necessary to support the autonomous movement of the Spanish proletarians (at least until May 1937) even if this movement had given itself forms quite inadequate to the true situation. A movement was evolving, and it was necessary to contribute to its ripening. To which the reply is that, on the contrary, the autonomous movement of the proletariat quickly vanished as it was absorbed into the structure of the State, which was not slow to stifle any radical tendency. This was apparent to all by mid-1937, but the “bloody days of Barcelona” served only to unmask the reality which had existed since the end of July, 1936: effective power had passed out of the hands of the workers to the capitalist State. Let us add for those who equate fascism and bourgeois dictatorship that the Republican government made use of “fascist methods” against the workers. Certainly the number of victims was much less in comparison to the repression of Franco, but this is connected with the different function of the two repressions, democratic and fascist. An elementary division of labour: the target group of the Republican government was much smaller (uncontrollable elements, POUM, left of the CNT).

October 1917 & July 1936
It’s obvious that a revolution doesn’t develop in a day. There is always a confused and multiform movement. The whole problem is the ability of the revolutionary movement to act in an increasingly clear way and to go forward irreversibly. The comparison, often badly made, between Russia and Spain shows this well. Between February and October 1917, the soviets constituted a power parallel to that of the State. For quite some time they supported the legal State and thus did not act at all in a revolutionary manner. One could even say the soviets were counter-revolutionary. But this does not imply that they were fixed in their ways – in fact they were the site of a long and bitter struggle between the revolutionary current (represented especially, but not solely, by the Bolsheviks), and the various conciliators. It was only at the conclusion of this struggle that the soviets took up a position in opposition to the State.(16) It would have been absurd for a communist to say in February, 1917: these soviets are not acting in a revolutionary manner, I shall denounce them and fight them. Because the soviets were not stabilised then. The conflict which animated the soviets over a period of months was not a struggle of ideas, but the reflection of an antagonism of genuine interests.

“It will be the interests – and not the principles – which will set the revolution in motion. In fact it is precisely from the interests, and from them alone, that the principles develop; which is to say that the revolution will not be merely political, but social as well.” (Marx)(17)

The Russian workers and peasants wanted peace, land, and democratic reforms which the government would not grant. This antagonism explains the growing hostility, leading to confrontation, which divided the government from the masses. Moreover, earlier class struggles had led to the formation of a revolutionary minority knowing more or less (cf. the vacillations of the Bolshevik leadership after February) what it wanted, and which organised itself for these ends, taking up the demands of the mosses to use them against the government. In April 1917, Lenin said:

“To speak of civil war before people have come to realise the need for it is undoubtedly to lapse into Blanquism. … It is the soldiers and not the capitalists who now have the guns and rifles; the capitalists are getting what they want now not by force but by deception, and to shout about violence now is senseless…. For the time being we withdraw that slogan, but only for the time being.”(18)

As soon as the majority in the soviets shifted (in September), Lenin called for the armed seizure of power….

No such events happened in Spain. In spite of their frequency and violence, the series of confrontations which took place after World War I did not serve to unify the proletarians as a class. Restricted to violent struggle because of the repression of the reformist movement, they fought incessantly, but did not succeed in concentrating their blows against the enemy. In this sense there was no revolutionary “party” in Spain. Not because a revolutionary minority did not succeed in organising itself: this would be looking at the problem the wrong way around. Rather because the struggles, virulent though they were, did not result in a clear class opposition between proletariat and Capital. To speak of a “party” makes sense only if we understand it as the organisation of the communist movement. But this movement was always too weak, too dispersed (not geographically, but in the degree to which it scattered its blows); it did not attack the heart of the enemy; it did not free itself from the guardianship of the CNT, an organisation basically reformist as all syndical organisations are condemned to become, despite the pressure of radical militants; in brief, this movement did not organise itself in a communist fashion because it did not act in a communist fashion. The Spanish example demonstrates that the intensity of the class struggle – indisputable in Spain – does not automatically induce communist action, and thus the revolutionary party to keep the action going. The Spanish proletarians were never reluctant to sacrifice their lives (sometimes to no purpose), but never surmounted the barrier which separated them from an attack against Capital (the State, the commercial economic system). They took up arms, they took spontaneous initiatives (libertarian communes before 1936, collectivisations after), but did not go further. Very quickly they yielded control over the militias to the Central Committee of the Militias. Neither this organ, nor any other organ which emerged in this fashion in Spain, can be compared to the Russian soviets. The “ambiguous position of the CC of the Militias”, simultaneously an “important appendage of the Generalidad” (Catalan government) and “a sort of coordinating committee for the various antifascist military organisations”, implied its integration into the State, because it was vulnerable to those organisations which were disputing over (capitalist) State power.(19)

In Russia there was a struggle between a radical minority which was organised and capable of formulating the revolutionary perspective, and the majority in the soviets. In Spain, the radical elements, whatever they may have believed, accepted the position of the majority: Durruti sallied forth to struggle against Franco, leaving the State intact behind him. When the radicals did oppose the State, they did not seek to destroy the “workers'” organisations which were “betraying” them (including the CNT and the POUM). The essential difference, the reason why there was no “Spanish October” was the absence in Spain of a true contradiction of interests between the proletarians and the State. “Objectively”, proletariat and Capital are in opposition, but this opposition exists at the level of principles, which doesn’t coincide here with reality. In its effective social movement, the Spanish proletariat was not compelled to confront, as a block, Capital and the State. In Spain there were no burning demands, demands felt to be absolutely necessary, which could force the workers to attack the State in order to obtain them (as in Russia where one had peace, land, etc.). This non-antagonistic situation was connected with the absence of a “party”, an absence which weighed heavily on events, preventing the antagonism from ripening and bursting later. Compared to the instability in Russia between February and October, Spain presented itself as a situation on the road to normalisation from the beginning of August 1936. If the army of the Russian State disintegrated after February 1917, that of the Spanish State recomposed itself after July 1936, although in a new, “popular” form.

The Paris Commune
One comparison (among others) demands attention and compels us to criticise the usual Marxist view, which happens to be that of Marx himself. After the Paris Commune, Marx drew his famous lesson: “the working class cannot simply lay hold of the ready-made State machinery, and wield it for its own purposes.”(20) But Marx failed to establish clearly the distinction between the insurrectional movement dating from March 18, 1871, and its later transformation, finalised by the election of the “Commune” on March 26. The formula “Paris Commune” includes both and conceals the evolution. The initial movement was certainly revolutionary, in spite of its confusion, and extended the social struggles of the Empire. But this movement was willing next to give itself a political structure and a capitalist social content. In effect the elected Commune changed only the exterior forms of bourgeois democracy. If the bureaucracy and the permanent army had become characteristic features of the capitalist State, they still did not constitute its essence. Marx observed that:

“The Commune made that catchword of bourgeois revolutions, cheap government, a reality, destroying the two greatest sources of expenditure: the permanent army and the State bureaucracy.”(21)

As is well known, the elected Commune was largely dominated by bourgeois republicans. The communists, cautious and few in number, had formerly been obliged to express themselves in the republican press, so weak was their own organisation, and did not carry much weight in the life of the elected Commune, As for the program of the Commune – this is the decisive criterion – we know it prefigured uniquely that of the Third Republic. Even without any Machiavellianism on the part of the bourgeoisie, the war of Paris against Versailles (very badly executed, and not by chance) served to drain the revolutionary content and direct the initial movement towards purely military activity. It is curious to note that Marx defined the governmental form of the Commune above all by its mode of operation, rather than what it effectively did. It was indeed “the true representation of all the healthy elements of French society, and therefore the true national government” – but a capitalist government, and not at all a “workers’ government”.(22) We shall not be able to study here why Marx adopted such a contradictory position (at least in public, for the First International, because he showed himself more critical in private).(23) In any case, the mechanism for stifling the revolutionary movement resembled that of 1936. As in 1871, the Spanish Republic used as cannon fodder the Spanish and foreign radical elements (naturally those most inclined to destroy fascism) without fighting seriously itself, without using all the resources at its disposal. In the absence of a class analysis of this power (as in the example of 1871), these facts appear as “errors”, indeed “treasons”, but never in their own logic.

Another parallel is possible. During the Mexican bourgeois revolution, the major portion of the organised working class was for a time associated with the democratic and progressive State in order to push the bourgeoisie forward and assure its own interests as wage earners within Capital. The “red battalions” of 1915-1916 represented the military alliance between the union movement and the State, headed at the time by Carranza. Founded in 1912, the Casa del Obrero Mundial decided to “suspend the professional union organisation” and struggle alongside the Republican State against “the bourgeoisie and its immediate allies, the military professionals and the clergy”. A section of the workers’ movement refused and violently opposed the COM and its ally, the State. The COM “tried to unionise all types of workers in the constitutionalist zones with the backing of the army.” The red battalions fought simultaneously against the other political forces aspiring to control the capitalist State (“reactionaries”) and against the rebel peasants and radical workers.(24)

It is curious to note that these battalions organised themselves according to occupation or trade (typographers, railway workers, etc.). In the Spanish war, some of the militias also carried the names of trades. Similarly, in 1832, the Lyon insurrection saw the textile workers organised into groups according to the hierarchy of labour: the workers were mustered into workshop groups commanded by foremen. By such means the wage-earners rose up in arms as wage earners to defend the existing system of labour against the “encroachments” (Marx) of Capital. A difference in kind separates the revolt of 1832, directed against the State, from the Mexican and Spanish examples where the organised workers supported the State. But the point is to understand the persistence of working class struggle on the basis of the organisation of labour as such. Whether it integrates itself or not into the State, such a struggle is doomed to failure, either by absorption into the State or by repression under it. The communist movement can conquer only if the proletarians go beyond the elementary uprising (even armed) which does not attack wage labour itself. The wage earners can only lead the armed struggle by destroying themselves as wage earners.

Imperialist war
In order to have a revolution, it is necessary that there be at least the beginning of an attack against the roots of society; the State and the economic organisation, This is what happened in Russia starting from February 1917 and accelerating little by little … One cannot speak of such a beginning in Spain, where the proletarians submitted to the State. From the beginning, everything. they did (military struggle against Franco, social transformations) was carried out under the aegis of Capital. The best proof of this is the rapid development of those activities which the antifascists of the Left are incapable of explaining. The military struggle quickly turned to statist bourgeois methods which were accepted by the extreme Left on the grounds of efficiency (and which were almost always proven to be inefficient). The democratic State can no more carry on armed struggle against fascism than it can prevent it from coming to power peacefully. It is perfectly normal for a bourgeois Republican State to reject the use of methods of social struggle required to demoralise the enemy and reconcile itself instead to a traditional war of fronts, where it stands no chance faced with a modern army, better equipped and trained for this type of combat. As for the socialisations and collectivisations, they likewise lacked the driving force of communism, in particular because the non-destruction of the State prevented them from organising an anti-mercantile economy at the level of the whole of society, and isolated them into a series of precariously juxtaposed communities lacking common action, The State soon re-established its authority. Consequently there was no revolution or even the beginnings of one in Spain after August 1936. On the contrary the movement towards revolution was increasingly obstructed and its renewal increasingly improbable. It is striking to note that in May, 1937, the proletarians again pulled themselves together to oppose the State (this time the democratic State) by armed insurrection, but did not succeed in prolonging the battle to the point of rupture with the State, After having submitted to the legal State in 1936, the proletarians were able to shake the foundations of this State in May, 1937, only to yield before the “representative” organisations which urged them to lay down their arms. The proletarians confronted the State, but did not destroy it. They accepted the counsels of moderation from the POUM and the CNT: even the radical group “Friends of Durruti” did not call for the destruction of these counter-revolutionary organisations.

We may speak of war in Spain, but not of revolution. The primary function of this war was to solve a capitalist problem: the construction of a legitimate State in Spain which would develop its national Capital in the most efficient manner possible while integrating the proletariat. Viewed from this angle, the analyses of the sociological composition of the two opposing armies is largely irrelevant, like those analyses which measure the “proletarian” character of a party by the percentage of workers among its members. Such facts are real enough and must be taken into account, but are secondary in comparison to the social function of what we are trying to understand. A party with a working class membership which supports capitalism is counter-revolutionary. The Spanish Republican army, which included certainly a great number of workers but fought for capitalist objectives, was no more revolutionary than Franco’s army.

The formula “imperialist war” as applied to this conflict will shock those who associate imperialism with the struggle for economic domination, pure and simple. But the underlying purpose of imperialist wars, from 1914-1918 to the present, is to resolve both the economic and social contradictions of Capital, eliminating the potential tendency towards the communist movement. It scarcely matters than in Spain the war was not directly concerned with fighting over markets. The war served to polarise the proletarians of the entire world, in both the fascist and democratic countries, around the opposition fascism/antifascism. Thus was the Holy Alliance of 1939-1945 prepared. The economic and strategic motives were not, however, lacking. It was necessary for the opposing camps, which were not yet well defined, to win themselves allies or create benevolent neutrals, and to probe the solidity of alliances. Also it was quite normal for Spain not to participate in World War II. Spain had no need to do so, having solved her own social problem by the double crushing (democratic and fascist) of the proletarians in her own war; her economic problem was decided by the victory of the conservative capitalist forces which proceeded to limit the development of the forces of production in order to avoid a social explosion. But again, contrary to all ideology, this anti-capitalist, “feudal” fascism began to develop the Spanish economy in the sixties, in spite of itself.

The 1936-1939 war fulfilled the same function for Spain as World War II for the rest of the world, but with the following important difference (which modified neither the character nor the function of the conflict): it started off from a revolutionary upsurge strong enough to repulse fascism and force democracy to take up arms against the fascist menace, but too weak to destroy them both. But by not defeating both, the revolution was doomed, because both fascism and democracy were potential forms of the legitimate capitalist State. Whichever one triumphed, the proletarians were sure to be crushed by the blows always reserved for them by the capitalist State….

1 Public opinion does not condemn Nazism so much for its horrors, because since then other States – in fact the capitalist organisation of the world economy – have proven to be just as destructive of human life, through wars and artificial famines, as the Nazis. Rather Nazism is condemned because it acted deliberately, because it was consciously willed, because it decided to exterminate the Jews. No one is responsible for famines which decimate whole peoples, but the Nazis – they wanted to exterminate. In order to eradicate this absurd moralism, one must have a materialist conception of the concentration camps. They were not the product of a world gone mad. On the contrary, they obeyed normal capitalist logic applied in special circumstances. Both in their origin and in their operation, the camps belonged to the capitalist world…

2 Daniel Guerin, Fascism and Big Business, New York (1973).

3 Bulletin communiste, Nov. 27, 1925. Boris Souvarine was born in Kiev in 1895 but emigrated to France at an early age. A self-educated worker, he was one of the founders of the Comintern and the PCF, but was expelled from both organisations in 1924 for leftist deviations.

4 Rassemblement du Peuple Francais (RPF), a Gaullist party (1947-1952). Poujadism, a right-wing petty bourgeois movement of the 4th Republic. Rassemblement pour la Republique (RPR), a contemporary Gaullist party.

5 100,000 Japanese were interned in camps in the USA during World War II, but there was no need to liquidate them.

6 Humanite, March 6, 1972.

7 The Kapp putsch of 1920 was defeated by n general strike, but the insurrection in the Ruhr which broke out immediately following and which aspired to go beyond the defence of democracy was repressed on behalf of the State… by the army which had just supported the putsch.

8 Simon Leys, The Chairman’s New Clothes: Mao and the Cultural Revolution, London (1977).

9 This support ranging from the extreme right to the left should not be surprising. It’s common enough for Latin American Communist parties to support military or dictatorial regimes on the grounds they are “prog- ressive” in the sense of supporting the Allies during World War II, developing national capitalism, or making concessions to the workers. Cf. Victor Alba, Politics & the Labor Movement in Latin America, Stanford (1968). Maoists and Trotskyists often behave the same way, e.g. in Bolivia.

10 Le Monde, Feb. 7-8 (1971).

11 Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, International, New York (1972), p. 54.

12 Marx & Engels, Collected Works 13, Lawrence & Wishart, London (1980), p. 340.

13 George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia, London (1938).

14 Abel Paz, Durruti: The People Armed, Black Rose Books, Montreal (1976).

15 Marx & Engels, Collected Works 13, London (1980), p. 422.

16 Oskar Anweiler, The Soviets: The Russian Workers, Peasants, and Soldiers Councils 1905-1921, New York (1974).

17 Marx & Engels, Ecrits militaires, L’Herne (1970), p. 143.

18 V. I. Lenin, Collected Works 24, Moscow (1964), p, 236.

19 C. Semprun-Maura, Revolution et contre-revolution en Catalogne, Mame (1974), pp, 53-60.

20 Marx & Engels, Writings on the Paris Commune, Monthly Review, New York (1971), p. 70.

21 Ibid., pp. 75-76,

22 Ibid., p. 80.

23 Saul K. Padover, ed., The Letters of Karl Marx, Prentice-Hall (1979), pp 333-335.

24 A. Nunes, Les revolutions du Mexique, Flammarion (1975), pp. 101-2.

Germany SPD Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands
KPD Kommunistische Partei Deutschlands

Italy PCI Partito Comunista Italiano
PSI Partito Socialista Italiano
PNF Partito Nazionale Fascista
CGL Confederazione Generale del Lavoro

France PCF Parti Communiste Francais
SFIO Section Francaise de l’Internationale Ouvriere

Chile UP Unidad Popular (electoral coalition of Socialist, Communist, and Radical parties with several smaller groups)
CGT Confederacion General de Trabajadores

Portugal PCP Partido Comunista Portugues
PSP Partido Socialista Portugues

Spain CNT Confederacion Nacional del Trabajo
PSOE Partido Socialista Obrero Espanol
POUM Partido Obrero de Unificacion Marxta
PCE Partido Comunista de Espana
UGT Union General de Trabajadores


1985-2001: A short history of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA)

1985-2001: A short history of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA)

A brief history of Anti-Fascist Action (AFA), which fought a secret war against the far right in Britain and drove them off the streets.

AFA was originally set up in 1985 as a broad front anti-fascist organisation. The main fascist organisation at this time, following the demise of the National Front after Thatcher took power in 1979, was the British National Party (BNP), a more extreme split from the NF. Militant physical force anti-fascism has a long tradition in Britain – going back to the 1930’s, the ‘Battle of Cable Street’ and the 43 Group in London’s East End, and it was in this tradition that AFA was formed.

The fascists
Wherever fascists were unopposed, they carried out campaigns of violence against ethnic minorities and working class organisations. Taking Liverpool as an example, the few attempts by the BNP or NF to hold public marches or meetings in the city centre during the 1980’s had been smashed into the ground by a large turn out from locals – notably from the Liverpool black community [1]. This failure of big events, however, didn’t stop the BNP selling papers openly in the town centre on a regular basis, unopposed. This also didn’t stop them starting a campaign of violence against left wing targets – in particular against the bookshop ‘News From Nowhere’, run by a feminist collective. After a few almost-successful attempts to burn the bookshop down, the windows being smashed in on Saturday daytime attacks – probably after a paper sale – and fascists generally strutting into the bookshop to intimidate staff and customers as and when they pleased, it was obvious something had to be done. Other fascist attacks at the time included smashing the windows of the Wirral Trades Council (over the water from Liverpool). BNP local activity like this, coupled with racist and homophobic attacks, was typical in any area in Britain where they were left unchallenged.

AFA was launched in Liverpool in 1986. At that time, Militant (now the Socialist Party) was still the strongest working class group on the left. Neither they nor the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were interested in being organisationally part of AFA, though both turned out in the event of fascist marches. From an early stage the main organisers of Liverpool AFA were associated with the local anarchist scene.

Liverpool AFA was mostly anarchist – but it was never an anarchist front or a recruiting tool, except by way of natural influence. Anyone who agreed with the ‘physical and ideological opposition to fascism’ could be involved, and many did. Links were made with trade unions, Jewish and other anti-racist groups, and meetings were held to attract wider participation. Anti-fascists at the two universities also set up AFA groups at this time – a process repeated several times as students came and went.

Within a year or so, the Liverpool BNP went from boasting about how the ‘reds’ were always beaten in Liverpool when they tried to force the BNP off the streets (according to confiscated copies of the ‘British Nationalist’), to the effective collapse of the group. Years later, the BNP admitted in the Liverpool Echo that “they were driven underground by left wing extremists in the mid-80s” [Oct 1993]. This kind of effective shut-down of BNP groups – by any means necessary – was also typical of AFA in this period.

Nationally, meanwhile, the original AFA had collapsed due to incompatible political differences. Local and Regional groups (like the Northern Network) however continued, and national call-outs still occurred using existing contacts. AFA was re- launched in London in 1989, and in 1992 a national meeting was held in London to sort out a new national structure. The re-launch of AFA was as a militant ‘united front’ – an alliance of different political tendencies – orientated towards the working class, to reclaim working class areas then claimed by fascists as their own. The class perspective was agreed because, first, fascists don’t just play the race card – they address genuine fears of the white working class (unemployment, bad housing etc.) and their success was often based on disillusionment with so-called ‘socialist’ councils. This propaganda needed a class-based answer. Second, it wasn’t enough to ‘defend democracy’ – if AFA didn’t say the system needed to be smashed, that would leave fascism as the ‘radical’ alternative. Third, the aim of fascism is the utter destruction of working class power, and so only the working class have a stake in opposing it. AFA, it was agreed, wasn’t interested in ‘allies’ that were part of the problem such as corrupt councillors. Links, it was agreed, would continue to be made with black and asian communities under attack, but AFA propaganda should be mainly aimed at the communities where fascists themselves aimed to recruit [2].

Organisationally, it was agreed that AFA would be a decentralised federation based on a regional structure – building from the existing regions of London AFA and the Northern Network. The only national structure was to be a national coordinating committee of two delegates per region, to meet as and when needed, with no powers to make policy (or certainly to impose policy – some minor national decisions did have to be made over these years, but these were non-controversial).

London AFA at that time was mostly run by the Marxist Red Action – in alliance with elements of the anarcho-syndicalist Direct Action Movement (DAM)[3], and the Trotskyist Workers Power. There were also non-aligned independents – anarchists and other socialists – involved.

The Northern Network (originally the Northern Anti-Fascist Network) was a looser federation of Northern AFA groups – Bolton, Liverpool, Manchester , Leeds, South Yorks, Tyne and Wear, Preston , and others. Tyne and Wear were actually a Council-funded body set up before AFA. Of the rest, Manchester were run mainly by Red Action (probably the strongest Red Action branch outside of London); a few groups – like York – would probably be best described as “non-aligned” independents. The rest were mainly organised by anarchists – sometimes in the DAM, sometimes not. The DAM didn’t officially prioritise anti-fascism – many or most of the DAM were trade union activists or shop stewards – though some anarchist groups definitely prioritised the anti-fascist fight more than others.

AFA at its height consisted of far more than its activist core, and far more than just its street fighters. AFA activism involved public speaking, magazine and pamphlet production, organising fund-raisers (gigs, carnivals), etc. A lot of people put time and effort into AFA-related activities who agreed with the aims, but weren’t particularly involved organisationally or in going to meetings. At this time there was a working – and productive – relationship between the anti-fascist magazine ‘Searchlight’ and AFA, partly because AFA was the only game in town.

At a regional and national level, AFA actions were mainly based around countering known – or intelligence-indicated – fascist mobilisations. Remembrance Sunday in London was the first national focus point in 1986 – the National Front having made a point of marching to the Cenotaph on the day, then attacking left wing targets – notably the anti-Apartheid picket outside the South African Embassy. These militant AFA mobilisations had the desired effect – the fascists were stopped. In the North, meanwhile, the Northern Network mobilised against the BNP’s Remembrance Sunday meetings at Clifford’s Tower, York. The BNP chose Clifford’s Tower as it was the site where many of York’s Jewish community were burned to death in the middle ages. Some of these early AFA mobilisations to York were relatively open, and quite large. In 1988, for instance, Liverpool AFA took a full coach and minibus – over 80 people – to the event, though on that occasion they were stopped on the outskirts of York and escorted all the way back to Liverpool by the police (the same happened to a coach from Newcastle). Echoes of police tactics in the Miner’s Strike of 1984-85… Later mobilisations tended to use just mini-buses. Again, after a few years, AFA tactics were successful.

Remembrance Sunday was only one day – many other AFA mobilisations occurred, in many parts of the country, over these years. This was especially so as new AFA groups were formed and new AFA Regions were organised[4]. Tactics evolved and were constantly under review. A typical ‘event’ in the North would involve a call-out after intelligence indicated fascist activity – e.g. a BNP election leafleting would be taking place (mobilisations weren’t just about marches). AFA would meet, send out scouts, and act according to intelligence gathered on the day. Sometimes AFA leafleting of estates was not just to counter fascist propaganda, but also to provide a legal excuse for being there. As time went on, in the Northern Network (London AFA operated very differently), each local group elected a delegate during mobilisations. Delegates from each group got together on the day and coordinated events. Usually, but not always, the unofficial ‘chief steward’ was the one in whose backyard the nazi mobilisation had occurred. Coordination was more based on informal working relationships and trust rather than any official positions, and once the fascists were located, what happened next had more to do with personal initiative and ‘bottle’ than a ‘commander’.

AFA vs Blood and Honour in Hyde Park, 1989
AFA take on Blood and Honour in Hyde Park, 1989

The main national public AFA events over these years are worth outlining:
In London, Blood and Honour – the nazi record label and music front – was beaten off the streets in 1989 when they tried to organise publicly. In 1991 an AFA Unity Carnival in London – attended by 10,000 in September – was followed on Remembrance Sunday by a 4,000 strong confrontational ‘National Demonstration Against Racist Attacks’ through the East End. From reacting to the fascists, AFA was seizing the initiative. This was the biggest anti-fascist demo in years – AFA seemed on the verge of some kind of breakthrough.

Instead, seeing the way the wind was blowing, within months the SWP had re-launched the Anti-Nazi League (a very different animal to the original militant ANL of the 1970’s [5]), Militant launched Youth Against Racism in Europe, and Black Nationalists in the Labour Party launched the Anti-Racist Alliance 6]. The end result of this was that, while these new organisations brought in new faces, anti-fascist unity had suddenly become a competitive market place, with organisations which were better funded, and better-connected in terms of media publicity than AFA. AFA did continue to help organise and provide stewards for specific broader anti-racist marches – such as the 1992 ‘National Demonstration Against Racist Murders’ [7] – but there were no more AFA marches. By 1993, in big national anti-fascist marches, like the marches to the BNP headquarters in Welling, organised by all the ‘big names’ – the biggest being of 40,000 in September 1993 – AFA activists either organised separately to track down any BNP groups ( e.g. London) or joined the march (e.g. Liverpool). AFA carnivals did still continue. A rained-on Unity Carnival in London in September 1992 provided a useful recruiting ground for the ‘Battle of Waterloo’ a week later – when Blood and Honour were smashed off the streets again, by over 1,000 anti-fascists organised around AFA. The last big AFA carnival was in Newcastle in June 1993, with 10,000 taking part. In London, in January 1994, an AFA national mobilisation humiliated another attempt by neo-nazis to go public – this time by paramilitary group Combat 18[8].

Other areas AFA was involved in included Cable Street Beat – inspired by the Rock Against Racism of the original (1970’s) ANL, to promote anti-fascism through music. Freedom of Movement was set up later – based in Manchester – to further this idea in the clubbing scene. Other AFA campaigns were launched to promote anti-fascism at football grounds – starting with Leeds, and later Newcastle, Manchester, Glasgow , etc. A national AFA magazine – ‘Fighting Talk’ – was produced, and the AFA profile was also raised by a BBC ‘Open Space’ programme about the group.

Breakdown of the united front
The ‘united front’ where activists worked together started to break down as the 1990s progressed.The relationship with Searchlight started to turn sour. Anarchists had not trusted Searchlight since at least the early 1980’s – when articles in anarchist papers examined Searchlight’s then editor Gerry Gable’s links with Special Branch (alleging a ‘something for something’ relationship – i.e. Searchlight would give details to the State, and not just about fascists)[9]. In 1993 Searchlight ran a smear campaign against anarchists – in particular against specific DAM and Class War members – alleging they were really fascists. This probably wasn’t a coincidence now there were alternatives to AFA to back. From the mid-1990’s Red Action – who had previously had a very close relationship with Searchlight – began more and more to take the line that association with Searchlight was becoming a liability – with Searchlight increasingly providing misinformation and trying to manipulate AFA for its own agenda [10].

Relationships between Red Action and anarchists also began to break down. In London , state interest in Red Action at this time seemed more than just paranoia, and anarchists were obviously being kept out of the loop. Workers Power left for the ANL, many independents left, and, increasingly, London AFA was moving from an alliance run mainly by Red Action, to one consisting more or less exclusively of Red Action.

In Glasgow – around late 1992 – relationships between anarchists and Glasgow Red Action deteriorated to the extent that anarchists felt compelled to organise a separate meeting. At least two anarchists leaving the meeting were physically attacked by Red Action members. One of the organisers of the meeting – a committed anti-fascist of long standing – was later falsely smeared as a police grass in Red Action’s paper ‘Red Action’ [11].

The main contribution to the united front breaking down, however, became the pushing of a new Red Action strategy: creating a new political party – the Independent Working Class Association (IWCA) – around 1995. The IWCA didn’t come from nowhere. A turning point, as far as London Red Action goes, was the election of a BNP councillor – Derek Beacon – in the Isle of Dogs, London, in 1993. As was said at the time, London AFA felt they had nothing to offer people apart form ‘don’t vote BNP’, which in the circumstances, Red Action felt, could only have meant vote Labour or Liberal Democrat – the very people who’d helped create the housing problems in the Isle of Dogs in the first place. Red Action had always been a strong supporter of the Irish Republican movement – and the move of Republicans from the armed struggle towards community organising, and the electoral success of Sinn Fein, may well have also played a role in the re-thinking of Red Action’s strategy.

When Red Action started pushing forward the idea of the IWCA, articles were written, circulars sent out, and a meeting held in the North in late 1995 where London Red Action put forward their case. The argument was basically ‘if not us, who?’ was to fill the political vacuum created on the left by Labour abandoning the working class on the one hand, and AFA’s success in beating the fascists on the right. The BNP were moving from the ‘battle of the streets’ (which they’d lost) to a EuroNationalist/community activist [12] strategy. AFA, it was stated, would have to adapt. This wasn’t billed as a decision-making meeting. No vote was taken, but from then on Red Action argued that there was a ‘mandate’ – that there was a ‘consensus’ in AFA to officially back the IWCA – despite the Northern Network voting against official backing[13]. This position was backed by London’s control of ‘Fighting Talk’ [14].

AFA graphic
AFA graphic of the celtic cross – logo of Blood & Honour, being smashed

As was said at the time, many AFA activists already had wider political commitments and they argued that why should a united front organisation like AFA prioritise any particular working class party in an election? After all, AFA was open for SLP and other party supporters to join – and many AFA activists were against electoralism as a strategy anyway. The IWCA down-playing of the workplace as an area of struggle also came at the time when 500 Liverpool Dockers had been locked out and solidarity actions were occurring all over the world (most notably among USA longshoremen and in Australia) during a struggle lasting over 2 years.

The IWCA was being pushed as a way to stop AFA stagnating as the BNP abandoned the battle for the streets. In reality, the struggle for the party political line alienated much of the AFA core and periphery – in undermining the united front it became a factor in the decline it was stated to prevent.

After 1995, some anti-fascist mobilisations did still occur i e.g. against the NF in Dover in 1997 and 1998. Internally, a new AFA National Coordinating Committee was set up in 1997. From the way this was used it is clear that this Committee actually had powers – a far cry from the old national committee – an indication of how few anarchists were still involved organisationally, and how far the Northern Network had declined. In 1997 an AFA statement officially banned members from associating with Searchlight – and, in 1998, Leeds and Huddersfield AFA were expelled by the new Committee, officially for ignoring this policy. Expulsions didn’t stop the decline. There were some local re-launches – e.g. Liverpool in 2000. But by 2001 – though probably a long time before – AFA as a national organisation hardly existed.

Some argued that unless AFA adapted to the new BNP strategy, AFA would ‘atrophy’ and wither. AFA was geared for confrontation. Without confrontation AFA – as it then was – would have no reason to exist. Some believe its demise was hastened by the creation of the IWCA which diverted some AFA time and resources. But there were definitely other factors. Key ones included:

– the police cottoning on to AFA tactics
– ‘competition’ from more high-profile anti-fascist groups
– the lack of intelligence following the break with Searchlight
– street fight, arrests and injuries from the war of attrition and a ageing activists with increasing family commitments taking their toll as the income of new members slowed.

Some former elements from AFA regrouped to form militant anti-fascist group No Platform in 2002 and others later in Antifa in 2004. Antifa, largely dominated by anarchists, has imitated AFA’s stance of physical and ideological confrontation with fascists and has a policy of non-co-operation with Searchlight or any other state-linked agencies. The IWCA continues to run for election in certain areas and has a small number of councillors.
The bulk of this text was from an article, Anti-Fascist Action – an Anarchist perspective, by an ex-Liverpool and Northern Network AFA member written in February 2005 for Black Flag magazine. It mostly took a Northern angle and was run past other ex-AFA members – from Liverpool and elsewhere – to cross-check the facts and provide feedback. The text was heavily edited by libcom.org in 2006 to shorten it, remove the first-person writing style, remove some analysis and opinion and remove some footnotes. The Offshoots section was also added. The original article will soon be available in the libcom.org library.

1. Eg attempted fascist meetings in the Adelphi Hotel and St. George’s Hotel.
2. Information taken from the Liverpool AFA minutes of the national meeting – these were a lot more detailed than the official minutes.
3. DAM abolished itself and launched the Solidarity Federation in 1994 – the aim being to build a class organisation based on anarcho-syndicalist principles – based on industrial and community networks – rather than being just a political grouping of anarcho-syndicalists (see http://www.direct-action.org.uk/ ). Not all DAM members – including some of the most active anti- fascists – joined the new organisation.

For a brief overview of some of the events in London AFA during these years, from a DAM member’s perspective, see the pamphlet “Bash the Fash – Anti-Fascist Recollections 1984-93”, K.Bullstreet. Published by Kate Sharpley Library, BM Hurricane London, WC1N 3XX.
4. Scotland existed as a Region probably since 1993. In 1994 the Midlands Region was launched and moves were begun to launch a Southern Region. The AFA public contact list in 1996 (as shown in Fighting Talk) had 12 groups listed in the North, 12 in the South (including London), 4 in the Midlands, 3 in Scotland, and 1 in Wales. There were quite a number of groups not in the list – e.g. Doncaster, Chesterfield, and Mansfield. Groups also varied in terms of numbers and resources, and were often contacts for a much wider area (i.e. you really need to know the background) but this still gives a rough idea about where AFA’s strength lay at this time.
5. For a comparison of the old and new ANL, see “The Anti-Nazi League A Critical Examination 1977-81/2 and 1992-95”. Originally published by the Colin Roach Centre in 1996, it can be read at http://www.red-star-research.org.uk/rpm/anl.html .
6. ‘Black Nationalist’ meaning that, according to ARA, racism could only be fought under Black leadership. Where this left Asian or Chinese members for example wasn’t mentioned…
7. November 1992, Eltham, London. The march was held under the banner of the ‘Rohit Duggal Family Campaign’. 16 year old Rohit Duggal was murdered in July 1992 in a racist attack.
8. Some people called this ‘Waterloo 2’ – though it wasn’t anywhere near as public. Combat 18 (18 standing for AH i as in Adolf Hitler) was the short-lived organisation of nazi ‘hard men’ and would-be terrorists designed to take on AFA and others, and used to provide security for the BNP. C18 eventually disintegrated. The history of C18 is quite convoluted and bizarre, so will not be explained in detail here.
9. Various articles in anarchist papers and magazines. Also New Statesman, 15.02.1980.
10. See various articles on the Red Action web site www.redaction.org. Also various ‘Fighting Talk’s. Whatever the reasons, it’s clear there was a breakdown in the Searchlight-Red Action relationship.
11. Information re-confirmed recently [2004] by a then member of Glasgow DAM, and by a contact in Liverpool. Looking back, the Glasgow Red Action attack on anarchists wasn’t really dealt with properly – either within AFA or the wider anarchist movement. As it was, the incident caused a lot of bad blood nationally, but AFA held together.
12. “EuroNationalist” meaning a strategy similar to Le Pen’s National Front in France – rather than a ‘march and grow’ storm trooper traditional nazi approach. ‘March and grow’ in Britain had by now become a lot closer to ‘march and die’.
13. Liverpool AFA sent out a statement nationally – soon after London Red Action’s meeting, arguing against AFA becoming the physical wing or part of any political party or organisation. This statement was provisionally adopted at the next Northern Network meeting, pending further debate.
14. Fighting Talk (Nov 1995) stated that the Northern Network supported the IWCA, and printed an IWCA recruitment article. This was never updated. AFA groups were sent IWCA leaflets with ‘AFA’ on as sponsors. To keep things brief – the way things happened could, perhaps, have been due to a genuine misunderstanding of how the Northern Network operated. It came across as railroading – to put it mildly. It could certainly have been handled better.
15. There’s some background information on this in “The Labour Party, Marxism and Liverpool”: http://prome.snu.ac.kr/~skkim/data/article/files/liverpool.html

More information
No Retreat: The secret war between Britain’s Anti-Fascists and the Far Right. Dave Hann and Steve Tilzey.Milo Books.

Reposted from Libcom

Anti-fascism: Its problematic history and meaning


Anti-fascist conference 1922

Since the Nazi seizure of power eighty years ago anti-fascism has been integral to left-wing politics. The struggle against fascists and Nazis is morally self-evident, so that political anti-fascism seems to be similarly self-evident. Yet in past periods of history, the politics of anti-fascism was completely different, as was the understanding of what it contributed to leftist politics more generally. Still certain continuity can be discerned in anti-fascism’s retention of anti-capitalist claims. Where does this come from? What was anti-fascism and how has it changed? How do the category and concept of anti-fascism help us to understand both historical and contemporary political realities? What does anti-fascism mean today in the absence of fascism as a mass movement?

What follows is an edited transcript of an event organized by The Platypus Affiliated Society in Frankfurt on April 30, 2013. The discussion addressed the different historical and political implications of anti-fascist politics in order to throw into relief the underlying questions and problems of left-wing politics in the present.

Opening remarks

Wolf Wetzel:
This discussion is itself an historical event. The Left is at present so fractured, that it is impossible, even forbidden, to have discussions with each other.  We would normally never see a group like this on a platform together. Yet the problem of the Left is also one of anti-fascism.  Many people from the “Antifa” [anti-fascist movement] here in Frankfurt have refused to attend this discussion, since on the evening before an anti-Nazi march, they can only meet to discuss plans of action. They cannot allow themselves to discuss anti-fascism itself because for them to do so on the day before an action would be demobilizing.  This is remarkable given that formerly such discussions of political substance were commonplace.

The other issue is the intense mutual criticism of the different positions represented on this platform. Who can speak with whom? When is it a betrayal? When is it bourgeois, even counterrevolutionary? The assemblage here — representing anti-German, Trotskyist, German Communist Party (DKP), and Autonomist positions — could meet nowhere else in the Federal Republic. Even though I oppose many of the views represented here, these meetings are valuable because they show where these political differences come from and what lessons can be drawn from them.

I want to raise the question of the role Nazism plays today and how to understand the Nazis. This is a big question, one that is too often avoided by anti-fascists themselves. But one must ask: How threatening are they? Are they dangerous materially, politically, or ideologically? Also the historical question must be raised: Who in the ruling apparatus and state institutions of the 1930s when the Nazi Party was on the rise had an interest in their program? If the system itself is in crisis and the political elite hit rock bottom, what prevents the Left from coming to power (something much more likely in the 1930s than it is today)? At that time, it was an existential crisis for the political and business class: Would the conflict arising in the capitalist crisis be answered in a rightwing, fascistic way, or in a socialist way? Might not the crisis conclude with the bursting apart and transcendence of the capitalist system itself?

When we demonstrate against the Nazis we should ask what significance they have, not how many of them there are — 200 or 500. Such figures anyway sometimes get exaggerated in order to inflate the sense of the threat the Nazis pose.

We must discuss what role neo-fascist organizations, their parties, and their armed groups play. My view is that conditions today are massively different from the 1930s. The fascist movement then and today cannot be equated. The political class and the political system have become something quite different. It is absolutely necessary to ask where the true menace lies. I do not believe that the neo-Nazis are the driving protagonists of German racism and nationalism. Racism and nationalism are mainstream and have the support of the majority.  These arrived a long time ago at the center of society. They are represented by political power. The National Democratic Party (NPD) and the other, less organized neo-Nazi groups only express consistently what is already established as mainstream.

Swastika mass ornament, Nuremberg 1933

Henning Mächerle: What we are discussing here today depends on the fact that the German workers’ movement of the 1920s and 1930s failed. The Communist Party of Germany was defeated. At the time, it was the biggest Communist Party outside the Soviet Union and it failed without organizing any significant armed resistance or, indeed, interfering with the functioning of the Nazi Party on a large scale. The dilemma of the German Left is that we drag this historical burden along with us. That we are mortgaged to history in this way is the occasion for this debate on anti-fascism. To advance our discussion first we need to understand fascism. That is only possible when we describe society as a class society and understand that it is one in which the owners of the means of production — the ruling class — have a compelling interest in the maximization of profit for which a large number of people must sell their labor power. Because of this, the workers’ movement formed and, through its decisive battle with the capitalist class, shaped the last 150 years. For Eric Hobsbawm, the October Revolution was the decisive point of the “short 20th century” that first showed the possibility of establishing a non-capitalist, perhaps socialist society of free and equal people.  The Left was then — unlike today — a truly serious social movement. It was comprised of people who were not primarily ensconced in universities, but had normal wage work and social interests. The big problem of the Communist Party was it only represented a specific milieu within the workers’ movement.

The petty bourgeoisie and the middle classes, who had owned small means of production or were otherwise independent — lost their property in the economic crisis that reached its peak in 1929. The result was that the social anxiety they experienced grew creating the environment in which a romantic anti-capitalism could establish itself. This romantic anti-capitalism addressed the need for a change of circumstances and spoke out against the massive rationalization and concentration of capital. It registered discontent with a process that was undermining the position of these social classes. This is how they became susceptible to certain ideologies. A process of social destabilization was a necessary but insufficient condition for the rise of a mass fascist movement and its eventual seizure of power. While addressing these classes’ anxieties, it was also fundamentally beholden to the interests of the ruling class.

The difference in this respect between Germany and Italy is not so great. Both countries were late nation-states. Both combined massive large-scale production with landlordism. In both there was an unfinished bourgeois revolution that spawned a middle class that, in turn, habitually operated in cooperation with the feudal nobility and other elements of the ruling class. In the 19th century both conceived a desire to win “a place in the sun.” They wanted colonial possessions like the established imperial powers. This and the First World War that resulted from it combined to produce the conditions without which German fascism is unthinkable.

Often we encounter arguments that emphasize the uniqueness of German fascism. And, certainly, it was unique in its brutality, efficiency, anti-Semitism, and willingness to exterminate millions. On the other hand, one can ask, is it possible to understand Auschwitz without thinking of Monowitz, I.G. Farben’s camp at Auschwitz, where about 15% of the Reich’s production of methanol and fuels took place? When one considers this fact then the irrational no longer seems so irrational. One can observe capitalism in its crudest form in German fascism, if one thinks it through to the end. Man is a commodity that is only of interest as a factor of production.

In today’s debate, we must realize that we are dealing with a political dispute and not a moral question. Politics can only exist with clear positions and an overarching perspective. As the political left, we will only reach people if we can offer them a way out of their concrete life problems. Otherwise, elements of the ruling class will exploit these people in a crisis situation and mobilize them for a right-wing mass movement. This is the most important lesson from the history of anti-fascism, which was not always just pure dilettantism. After 1945, it stood in the tradition of the Oath of Buchenwald for the clear positions that it took: for example, the demilitarization of Germany; its de-Nazification; its de-monopolization; democratization; as well as support for the welfare state, international understanding, and anti-fascist unity. There was always in this concept the idea that another society is possible and necessary, one that must be struggled for against the ruling forces and the ruling class. That is the only way a mass movement is possible. Without the mobilization of people there will be no other society. If we do not ask the right questions and offer solutions, then others will do it for us.

Manuel Kellner: I will refer to the contributions of the outstanding Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky in the collection The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany. This does not itself make me a “Trotskyist.” My political mentor, the Belgian-Jewish Marxist and revolutionary Ernest Mandel, was the best-known member of the Fourth International, and he wrote a preface to this collection.[1] In it, writing as an admirer of the revolution proscribed by the official Communist movement, Mandel claims that Trotsky developed a coherent theory of fascism. I view the matter more critically. If I compare the discussions of the Communist International under Stalin with its earlier phase at the time of the fourth Congress in 1922, then I recognize no distinctive “Trotsky-ism” with respect to anti-fascist politics any more than with respect to the strategy of transitional demands. Trotsky was simply the main theorist to continue the analytical, political and programmatic tradition that began with the Communist International. Stalinism is the distortion of that tradition.

The difficulty is to draw lessons from the past without concocting blueprints for today. Despite all the structural similarities we think we can perceive the reality today is in fact quite different from that prevailing during the Weimar Republic. I will illustrate the change in the politics of anti-fascism with a quote from Georgi Dimitrov at the time ofthe seventh congress of the Communist International in 1935. Dimitrov’s view was the Communist International’s official line: Fascism is the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary chauvinist and most imperialist elements of finance capital. But this definition leaves out very important elements. Because the characteristic of the fascist movement, especially of Nazism, is that it represents a radical mass movement organized to serve as a battering ram against the labor movement so as to smash it completely — its mass parties, its ancillary organizations, and its unions. It emerged at the pinnacle of the structural crisis of capitalism. The example of Italian fascism demonstrates unmistakably that fascism’s aim was the defeat of the workers movement. There was a revolutionary upsurge, a mass strike movement, which fought for the demand of workers’ control. The union leadership, however, betrayed this demand and the left movement began to melt away. Shortly thereafter, the great upsurge of the reactionary mass movement began.

German poster of Trotsky, shortly after the foundation of the Fourth International (February 1937)

Trotsky describes this as follows:

Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.[2]

What was the 20th century debate on how to fight fascism and National Socialism? A key concept was the united front policy: that is, joint action by all organizations of the workers’ movement. At the time, these consisted chiefly in the Social Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and the All Germany Trade Union Federation. Social Democracy was often unwilling to participate because this put them on a par with the extremism of the left and right. They were more inclined to fight the Communists, or to unleash the police against striking workers, especially when they had influence within the state apparatus. The Communist leadership did not consistently support the united front policy either, such as when they depended on the so-called theory of “social fascism.” According to this, Social Democracy was worse than the Nazis, because they constituted a hidden and disguised form of fascism.

The best parallel with the situation in the 1930s can be found today perhaps in Greece, where the issue is very acute. The development of the Golden Dawn is awful! These are open Nazis and anti-Semites who use extreme brutality against all who do not fit into their racial image. This is something quite different from right-wing populist forces, no matter how much we must also combat the latter. As in the past, we here have the electoral success of open Nazis, an intensified economic crisis combined with the inability to find an adequate response to these developments by the bureaucracy in Brussels. Accompanying this has been a spectacular decline in the living standards of the broad masses and confusion on the left. This shows how acute this problem has remained.

If we wait for the whole spectrum of the left, with all their different traditions, currents, and political horizons to agree on a program and strategy then the Nazis will long since have won. This is not what is meant by anti-fascist unity, but rather, as was said in the 30s, “march separately, strike together.” It is the willingness to defend each other, to come out on the streets together on the first call, and thus to jointly build the mass movement to ensure that the legal and illegal gangs are unable to destroy the movement’s ability to exist.

Jan Gerber: Tomorrow, the first of May, the great dream of Georgi Dimitrov will come true here in Frankfurt: The Popular Front will prevent the takeover of fascism! If all goes well, “Single Unionists,” Trotskyists and Stalinists, anarchists as well as the Wolf Weltzel will, together with Mayor Feldmann, resolutely oppose the march of the NPD to Berlin.

The call of the “anti-fascist council Rhein-Main” alone is supported by more than a hundred groups and organizations. Yet, apart from the estimated 37 members of the NPD-District Association in Frankfurt this Nazi demonstration would seem to be of no significance to anyone. Frankfurt is an ordinary German city in 2013 and, indeed, apart from some of the mayors of eastern provinces there is hardly anyone in the Federal Republic who has any sympathy for pillaging and murderous Nazis. What was to be read in the nineties only in anti-fascist leaflets today is found in the conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. Anti-fascism has become statesmanlike. The New Germany has a craving for recognition of its anti-fascist sentiments. Indeed, the Federal Republic parades Germany’s pioneering role in overcoming the past. On this basis, it presents itself to the world as a great moral authority.

We must also address the question of whether the current anti-fascism might not be best understood as a psychological reaction formation, which was designated by a wise man many years ago as counter-phobic: In order to escape the attraction of fascism and a possible repetition compulsion, their attraction is displaced toward its apparent opposite. The trouble is that this opposition perpetuates what one seeks to avoid. Anyone who was in the Antifa knows what I mean. In these groups there is always someone obsessed by the “Landser” and the “Störkraft” [names of neo-Nazi bands]: He can sing along to any Nazi text, he reads little else other than Nazi pamphlets — of course, for “research reasons” — and he knows the uniforms of the different SS units better than Heinrich Himmler.

Hermannstrasse Ecke Warthestrasse. Aufgenommen Sommer 1945

Historic anti-fascism has in this respect served as a model. Because, tragically, the men and women who returned from the concentration camps and from exile, have often done more for the bad continuity of German history than have the NPD, the Mutual Aid Association of Former Waffen-SS Members (HIAG), and the German refugee associations put together. In the labor movement, from which emerged most of the anti-fascist resistance fighters, the proles were indoctrinated long before 1933 in thought patterns that the Nazis had to discover for themselves in order to be successful. Love of country, cleanliness, order, and diligence was taught years before by the KPD and the SPD to workers who later defected to the Nazis. They learned these virtues from the Left, not only from the Storm Troopers or the German Labor Front. After 1945, though the former resisters could take these thought patterns and sustain or rehabilitate them, as resisters they were not discredited due to any collaboration with the Nazis.

The smarter anti-fascists who will go out tomorrow against a march by a party that gets 1.5% of the vote know all that, of course. If, however, they enlist in “the great Germany stays clean campaign” it is not clear that this is because they fear a fascist takeover. But they do so in order to satisfy their need for the immediate and concrete. Of course, this need for immediacy and concreteness, for “direct action”, is not a specialty of the Left, but it nevertheless exposes what these social relations do to people.

These left actions and campaigns have in the world of our parents, our colleagues and fellow students a counterpart, that of the do-it-yourselfer. Against the background of the adjusted practice — because a political practice, worthy of the name, currently is not possible — the actions of the Left remind one of hobbyists who sullenly withdraw after work into basement workshops where they proceed to make things that are available at the hardware store, the only difference being that the store-bought article is both of better quality and cheaper. In the case of both of the contemporary Antifa activist and the do-it-yourselfer, the bastions of immediacy must be saved in the hardened and consistently mediated society. In both cases, individuals who have long lost their subjectivity and spontaneity try to pretend that everything depends on them. This form of practice is an instrument to fend off reality. Since leftists, like all people, are often less stupid than the pronouncements of their respective organizations might lead one to believe, they are aware that nothing depends on their actions.

In the eighties Antifa was only a sideshow, where the radical left was active; the Nazis were so curtly dismissed out of hand by “Anti-imps” [anti-imperialists], autonomists, etc. Back then one turned to what were believed to be more basic problems: nuclear power plants, the western runway [of the Frankfurt airport], hugging trees, etc. Since 1989, however, Antifa has become the main activity of the radical left. This development is not only due to the growth of the Nazi movement after reunification; Antifa groups arise not only in response to a threatening situation. (In Frankfurt, it is likely then that there will not be half-dozen neo-Nazi groups, maybe none.)

Antifa groups arise not least because from time to time we can still have in the anti-Nazi struggle a sense of achievement as Leftists. In this placeholder function that the current anti-fascism serves it resembles the older tradition. For even the historical anti-fascism always wanted to be more than a struggle against fascism and Nazism. Because of its understanding of fascism — the idea that behind the fascism was capital and in no case the proletariat — the anti-fascist could hold fast to the belief in a logical course of history and the historical mission of the working class.

By making fascism fit seamlessly into bourgeois rule, you could pretend to pull on the Red Thread of history, which had long since been ripped out by the Nazis. A weak sort of afterglow of these concepts, of the relation of Antifa to anti-capitalism, is found in the call of the Stürmische Zeiten [“Stormy Times”] alliance that issued the watchword for tomorrow in all seriousness: “Stop the Nazi march — fight for a liberated society.” The difference between this and historic anti-fascism, however, is that the old anti-fascists actually acted on their own account and had to defend themselves against the absolute majority of their countrymen. With their resistance they delivered an existential judgment on Nazism which despite all criticism, is worthy of the highest esteem. With today’s anti-fascists, however, everything which presents itself as rebellious has turned into conformity: The children of dentists play at Red Front Fighters till they have finished their studies, at which point they take over Dad’s practice or enter the advertising industry.

Rotfrontkämpferbundes poster, 1928

WW: Jan Gerber, you accuse the victims of the Nazis, the anti-fascists of the Communist Party, for fighting for a “national community” [Volksgemeinschaft] only under an opposite sign. This is too much! It is unspeakable with regards to the anti-fascism of the 1930s, the German Communist Party, and all the organizations that responded to the fascists to say that they have shown only a disguised form of the “national community.” Similarly outrageous is the claim that the Antifa today actually think and act according to the logic and structure of the “national community.” One can criticize the Antifa for a great deal, but you are reaching the point where the possibility of a genuine political discussion wanes. “National community” implies a fascist ideology and a racist logic and a characteristic dictatorial style. To refer in this way to the resistance of the 1930s — or, for that matter, of the 70s and 80s — is intolerable. The problem of Antifa are not their rituals, but the difficulty of the work, which can be illustrated with reference to Dresden: Since 2010–11, there has been a great effort by many anti-fascist and left-wing organizations against the annual Nazi rally marking the anniversary of the Dresden bombing. This produces large contradictions within the Alliance, everything from the “chains of light” (processions of people marching with candles) of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) to the SPD to militant blockages. Events have led to the political class responding and having to simulate protests. But their candlelight processions have nothing to do with the militant blockers. In order to get enough people on the street to prevent a march, of course you always have to make compromises. But these problems are far removed from your concerns. You do everything you can to make yourself ridiculous and cynical by pulling back into the guard tower of theory and pleading for “pure criticism” in order not to make yourself an accomplice.

HM: I agree with Jan Gerber on the point that the ruling class has since 1989 claimed for itself and rendered impossible many terms that have previously been part of the ideological resources of the Left. One of these is anti-fascism, which the ruling class — especially with Gerhard Schröder — tries to exploit precisely in order to generate momentum for imperialism! But just because one’s opponents do something, it does not mean one can just leave off oneself. Rather, we must act because the rulers always act. We cannot stop doing anti-fascist work just because there are people on the other side who exploit it for their own purposes.

The real issue is, in fact, what assessment one has of fascist groups. It is not about the NPD or the respective small groups, but what functional relation they have to the ruling class. The complex in which they are located and the political context in which they operate can be exploited. For example, the asylum debate has been prepared substantially by the fascist right-wing populist groups, so that the dominant politics could reach a compromise on the right to immigrate by way of claiming political asylum. So, the fascist and right-wing groups perform an important function.

JG: How do you estimate the potential risk and the effective power of fascist groups now? To me it seems obvious that they currently have no influence at all. Here in Frankfurt tomorrow they will put a maximum of 300 people on the street. You say if we do not act, then the rulers will act. Yes, the rulers will act tomorrow: The German Federation of Unions will make a great rally, the SPD mayor has jointly issued a ban with the other department heads of the CDU. The mayor will give a speech tomorrow and everybody will be there — from the Free Democratic Party to the Greens to the Antifa. Against this background, one must ask, what function does such an action serve? Tomorrow they march against 200-300 people who are completely marginalized, at least here in the west (because in the east there is a whole other discussion). Tomorrow the new Germany — the current ruling class, as you mentioned earlier — holds one of their identity-forming rituals. They will come together to position themselves as anti-fascists. They will come together again and play the old song: “We have learned the lessons of history,” etc. It is on this basis that Germany claims moral authority in the international arena. And you play along! This is true no matter what goals you have, even if you basically condemn it. If no one would take action against the Nazis, then that would be another thing: you would be compelled to do so. But here in Frankfurt this is not the case. Here you would have to jam this great community ritual or at the very least criticize it. Otherwise, you are allowing yourself to be used.

MK: I think the contribution made by the early anti-German ideology critique was very important. I have learned a lot from it and have confronted my reading of Mandel with it. Although he himself was persecuted as a Jew and a Marxist who survived a concentration camp, the feeling remains that he had a need to relativize and contextualize National Socialism.

To Jan Gerber I want to say: you have designated the mobilization against the Nazi rally as a “national community” assembly, but imagine what would happen if these people were not against the Nazis, but turned against us as we sit here and discuss. When you think of Greece, this is not far-fetched. If the German workers and unemployed are set against the poorest countries in Europe to compete and German exports fall away, because no one can pay for them, then the real and perceived crisis tendencies will be exacerbated. But you will not come around and risk getting your hands dirty. The requirements of an emancipatory practice are not so easily avoided.

John Heartfield’s The Meaning of the Hitler Salute: Little man asks for big gifts. Motto: Millions Stand Behind Me! (1932)


Q: What role does anti-Semitism play in German Fascism? Is there a difference between the struggle against anti-Semitism and racism and the struggle against fascism?

HM: In German fascism, the anti-Slav attitude is inseparable from anti-Semitism. The high civilian casualty figures in the Slavic countries, the concept of people without space [Volk ohne Raum] and anti-Semitism form a common complex with the development of ethnic nationalism in 19th-century Germany. The history of Jewish assimilation made a certain kind of resentment fruitful, on which the middle classes were able to draw very effectively.

One must think “people without space” together with exterminationist anti-Semitism. The concentration camp system can be reduced to neither extermination complex nor forced labor camp. Instead, German fascism must be regarded as a historic complex, which had its own development. At first, it was about a possible “empty” territory on which the annihilation by starvation of the Jewish and Slavic population was planned. When they could not succeed in the war because of the resistance of the Red Army, the fascists had a big problem. At the latest it was the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto that triggered a rethinking by the fascist elite. But the concentration camp system and the plan for the “Final solution the Jewish Question” only emerged during the war.

MK: Although capital, put simply, handed over its political power to the Nazis, it is still important to insist that Nazi rule was in the service of capital. The destruction of organized labor made the independent representation of working class interests impossible: The Nazi “national community” meant the forced community of workers and capitalists. And real wages fell during Nazi rule, while the profits of big capital exploded. One can prove empirically what a strong position large corporations held in the Nazi state, and for example, how much they benefited from the war industry. An aggressive, pseudo-biological anti-Semitism and racism were characteristic of National Socialism. Its monstrous willingness led to mass murder. Many people knew about it and were directly or indirectly involved. This willingness to exterminate based on anti-Semitism and racism does not go simply in to a Marxist class analysis. One can make it too simple.

JG: Historic anti-fascism continues to this day to be based on two pillars. The first is the reduction of Nazism to the dictatorship of a small clique of capitalists, hence the motto “behind fascism is capital.” The second is that the mass basis of National Socialism is completely obscured. Against this background, historical anti-fascism holds a central place in the Left worldview: It is the upholder of the faith in a logical and reasonable course of history, a belief that was refuted it would seem by the Nazis. Fascism was seen as the “last gasp” of capitalism and of imperialism, which were subsequently to be replaced by socialism. In this way, anti-fascism has sealed off the communist or materialist view of history from a complete confrontation with the historical experience of National Socialism. By using classical categories and dualisms such as “progress” and “reaction,” categories which are themselves trapped in the economism of the labor movement, anti-fascism itself distorts Auschwitz. It only has space for the category of the struggle, but not for that of extermination. This extermination for extermination’s sake is the key element of National Socialism, not the productivity of capital. This eliminationist anti-Semitism is devoid of all rationality.

MK: Hitler from the beginning publicly expressed his position on the “Jewish Question.” He clearly stated where he wanted to go. There is a connection between the anti-Semitism and the anti-capitalist demagogy of the Nazis in a particular context. The Jew was made the projection screen for the pent-up hatred of the angry masses. They were targeted, not capitalist social relations. In 1932 the Nazis had already shown themselves to be harmless toward capital. Their anti-capitalist demagogy was just propaganda. There was no reason for the capitalists to withhold their support. But I agree with Jan Gerber that you cannot just dissolve the ideology of National Socialism into a rationalistic or historically deterministic account that operates exclusively with class analysis.

Q: What are the qualitative shifts in political consciousness that took place to cause young activists who were beginning to be politically active to get involved in the Antifa and not in a leftist political party?

WW: I would like to address the question of the alliance, which was in the 1920s and 1930s not of the five or ten groups, but one of millions of people. Anti-fascism is an issue not of whether you are correct, but whether you possess the power to beat fascism, to prevent it from coming to power. It is wrong that the anti-fascists tried in the 1930s to recapitulate the “national community” [Volksgemeinschaft], because at the beginning the KPD had an ultra-left orientation. They were not seeking “national community” [Volk], nor did they just want to rally around those who were against the Nazis. The social fascism thesis had a real core: The SPD has contributed significantly to the fact that there is still capitalism and war. It was quite a politically conceivable idea to combat the SPD when you fought fascism and thus to aim at achieving a non-capitalist society. This was historically correct. In terms of the alliance issue the problem was that then you fought fascism with a lot less people. When the KPD made a turn in the late 1930s to a Popular Front alliance (i.e. cooperated with all those who are against the Nazis), it was already too late.

Front populaire, contre la misere, la guerre, le fascisme (1936)

The problem today is the exact same thing, only at a lower level. The question is whether one wants to be right with one’s anti-fascism, i.e. demonstrate with 50 people and experience reprisals, or — as the attempt was made in Dresden — if you try to create an alliance that brings possibly ten thousand people out. This anti-fascism is not only symbolic. It is actually effective in preventing a Nazi rally. This always implies that you compromise and political conflicts are kept small. To get as many people today in Germany out on the street, you have to let a lot of things go that would otherwise be assessed differently. To have plenty of people to win an important goal is more important than being right.

HM: Alliances are a practical necessity. But whenever there are such agreements there are of course also political discussions. It should always be a given for the Left that it not remain as it is. That is, new people come into the political conversations which do not remain static. Anti-fascist policy is always about the possibility of reaching people with whom one usually has nothing to do. In these situations, people listen to each other who would not normally listen to each other. The second factor is that Antifa is always also a driving element. I would disagree with Jan Gerber. It is not just symbolic politics, but many ordinary people would not do anything if there were no Antifa. The question of why young people organize themselves as “Antifa” in the first place is, I think, very logical. For the question of party organization, or even the ideological alignment of an organization, presupposes that one has an interest in ideological confrontation, or an ideological preference. After the defeat of 1989, we have the problem that ideological moments and theoretical issues on the Left no longer play a role for young people. There is of course in the anti-fascism of an Antifa group a larger space to form connections than there is in that of a communist party. However, one must also say that any Antifa group is in this sense a political practice, a way to develop a political consciousness among young people: because political awareness usually results not from books but from practical experience.

Q: What is the relevance of Rosa Luxemburg formula “socialism or barbarism” for you today?

MK: The Rosa Luxemburg quote is good because it shows that not all Marxists had a historical determinism which assumed that socialism is brought about by a law. For Luxemburg there were always two possibilities. Maybe there are also three or four. If we do not succeed in breaking the domination of capital in the relatively near future, if we fail to build a socialist democracy, build a democratically planned economy serving the criteria of needs, and generate environmental responsibility, then it makes me pessimistic for the future of the next generation.

JG: I fear that the formula “socialism or barbarism” plays no role anymore! It is very easy to forget that barbarism has already taken place and continues to exist. Because of the fact that barbarism has already taken place in Nazi Germany and Auschwitz, the question of socialism is very different. Especially if you look at the way that left movements, the Socialists and Communists, contributed to the victory of fascism. With my formulation that the Popular Front of the 1930s was also a form of “national community” [Volksgemeinschaft], I want to show what a share the labor movement, the SPD, and the KPD have in the rise of fascism. The Nazi movement could never have succeeded without them. Where did the workers, who one after another after 1930 went over to the Nazis, come from? Where did they learn to submit to authority? In the organizations of organized labor! There they were taught the love of the “the people” [Volk] and nation state. “National community” [Volksgemeinschaft] is not really the Right’s term. Kurt Schumacher and other Social Democrats charged in 1933 that the Nazis would not really stand up for a genuine “national community.”

You certainly know the program statement on “national socialism,” i.e. to achieve “national and social liberation of the German people.” The order [national before social] is significant. And, finally, there were the actual collaborations between Nazis and Communists. Recall the Berlin transport workers’ strike (1932) where, for example, posters have been found on which the red star and the swastika appear together. So, the Left — the Communists, the Socialists, and also a part of the Left Socialists (some of whom I would, however, exclude here because some were a little smarter) — they all contributed to this outcome in one way or another. This does not mean that they were Nazis, but that they ultimately had a role in creating the basis for the emergence of National Socialism. And this legacy lives on after 1945.

HM: It is always complicated to retrospectively analyze a historical situation and to do so as if the people who made pre-1933 policy could know what happened afterwards. If you analyze history, you have to be fair and analyze the decisions of the players in their situation at that moment. The communist movement was a backlash against social democracy. Throughout the European labor movement there were two earlier wings: In Germany it was the “Lasalle wing” and the “Bebel wing.” Lasalle was an exponent of the position that imperialism was actually quite alright so long as you can be part of it. There is in the labor movement that tradition, but the communist movement was intended precisely to counter that. We have here social movements with real people who have children and fear. In 1929-1930, they did not know what was coming in 1933. They could not have known, because their experience was the proscriptions of the Alliance of Red Front Fighters [Rotfrontkämpferbundes] and the KPD in the 1920s. Certainly, the KPD was stronger, but it had a strategic problem: It emerged from a milieu which, despite several attempts, was very difficult to get out of. They tried to snatch people from the Nazi party which was getting stronger — and in this context one would have to talk more precisely about the course of the Berlin transport workers’ strike. There was also the Farmers Emergency Program. Those were two of the desperate attempts to get out of the ghetto in which you can reach just certain people and not at all the greater part of the German population, where the KPD had no chance.

Nazi propaganda poster, Bolshevism unmasked (1930s)

MK: The criticisms of the transport workers’ strike, or “the Schlageter affair,” must not only relate to the forms of action, but must be understood politically. It was an attempt to take nationalism and the outrage over the treaty of Versailles, i.e. moods, and turn them to the Left.[3] I do not think it was well conceived, but you have to understand it in that context.

Q: Does the ideology of the “national community” [Volksgemeinschaft] articulate a utopian desire? Did a left anti-fascist politics address this utopian aspect or hide it?

WW: The times today are completely different from the 1960s/70s, when I grew up. Then the heaven of utopia was not exhausted. It was still unconsumed. Each utopia, whether anarchism, communism, or socialism, could never be charged with crime outright, let alone with disappointments of liberation movements or various forms of socialisms.

Today it is quite different: there is a scary rigid fear of even discussing utopia. But that would be a prerequisite, just as you reflect on the failure and error and must talk about it on both the communist as well as on the anarchist side. At the moment things are more or less at a standstill.

JG: I do not think that the “national community” expresses a utopian hope. The “national community” is not the utopian hope, but the destruction, the expulsion of utopian hope and of every fantasy. The essence of this so called “worldview” is somehow to have one’s way paid and to have one’s need for destruction acted on so that at least no one is better than oneself.

I doubt whether one should actually offer utopias in the present context. But I support trying to grapple with failed attempts [at utopia], but not to depict a concrete utopia. People will put their own tasks on the agenda; to assume anything else would be authoritarian.

MK: I am also of the opinion that there is a very deep credibility crisis of the socialist idea. Even for the political currents that had a criticism of the Soviet Union and East Germany, its decline has dealt a heavy blow. Accordingly, it is fruitful and correct that together we should grapple with it. But I was most interested in the next beginning: the socialism of the 21st century. The 20th century is over, and I will not live to see the 22nd.

HM: The question of utopia can only be dealt with by taking stock of experiences. These include the Soviet Union and the socialist states such as the GDR. Perhaps the GDR is particularly suitable because it was one of the most developed countries of this complex and the problems of the concrete organization of life — the way it was produced and planned — comes most clearly into view. These are experiences — of failure, if you like — that must be processed so that a planned economy can be put into effect at all. But we can clarify these questions not only theoretically, but by practicing solidarity and internationalism. Our problem in Germany is — and therefore there is the discussion in this form only in Germany — that such a strong left so miserably failed in a situation in which it found itself. We have to live and deal with this historic burden. |P

Transcribed by Frederik Heinz, Hannah Schröder, and Jerzy Sobotta. Translated by Richard Rubin.


[1] Kellner here is referring to the German edition of Trotsky’s writings entitled Schriften Uber Deutschland, but the English volume likewise contains Mandel’s introduction.
[2] Leon Trotsky, “What is National Socialism?” in The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany (New York: Pathfinder Press, 1971), 405.
[3] For the Schlageter Affair, see Karl Radek’s “Leo Schlageter: A Wanderer into the Void.” For a sympathetic discussion of the Schlageter line, see Uli von Hagen, “Rosa Luxemburg’s Legacy: A Reply to Jerzy Sobotta” in the Platypus Review #20 (February 2010).

Reposted from The Charnel House

1943-1945: Anarchist partisans in the Italian Resistance

Partisans in Venice, April 1945.

Historical notes on the activities of anarchist partisans in the anti-fascist Resistance in Italy during World War II.

Italy formally surrendered to the Allies on 8 September 1943, though areas of central and northern Italy remained in the hands of the Germans and of the fascist Salo Republic. Anarchists immediately threw themselves into armed struggle, establishing where possible (Carrera, Pistoia, Genoa and Milan) autonomous formations, or, as was the case in most instances, joining other formations such as the socialist ‘Matteotti’ brigades, the Communist ‘Garibaldi’ brigades, the ‘Giustizia e Liberta’ units of the Action Party.

Twenty years of fascist dictatorship which, perhaps deliberately, labelled any sort of opposi- tion as ‘Communist’, exile, imprisonment and not least the quite special treatment that the post-fascist Badoglio government reserved for anarchists certainly helped make any immediate rebuilding of the organisational ranks of the libertarian movement all the more difficult. It was in this special context, marked by confusion and disorientation, that there took place a far from negligible haemorrhaging of some libertarians in the direction of the Action Party, the Socialist Party and sometimes the Communist Party. While anarchist participation in the partisan struggle was conspicuous, especially in terms of bloodshed, it also exercised little influence. This was due to the complete hegemony of social-democratic ideas across an arc of political groupings from liberals through to the Communists.

Here are details of anarchists in the anti-fascist partisan struggle in different areas across Italy from the time of the surrender:

In Rome, anarchists were to be found in several resistance formations, especially the one commanded by the republican Vincenzo Baldazzi who was well known to comrades as an old friend of famous Italian anarchist Errico Malatesta. In many cases they gave their lives in the Roman resistance. Among such were Aldo Eluisi, who perished in the Andentine Caves; Rizieri Fantini, shot in Fonte Bravetta; Alberto Di Giacomo alias ‘Moro,’ and Giovanni Callintella, both of whom were deported to Germany, never to return; Dore, a Sardinian by birth, perished in a mission behind the lines.

The Marche
In the Marche anarchists served in several partisan formations in Ancona, Fermo, Sassoferato and Macera (where Alfonso Pettinari, ex-internee and political commissar of a ‘Garibaldi’ brigade, met his death).

Piombino, a steel town with a great libertarian tradition and a tradition above all of revolutionary syndicalism, was behind a popular uprising against the Nazis on 10 September 1943: among the anarchists who took part in the uprising, Adriano Vanni, who operated as a partisan in the Maremma and who was called upon to join the local CLN (National Liberation Committee, a body made up of a spectrum of anti-fascist parties) stands out.

In Livorno, anarchists were among the first to seize the arms stored in the barracks and in the Antignano Naval Academy – arms used later against the Germans and the fascists. Organised inside the GAP (Patriotic Action Groups), they took part in guerrilla operations in the area surrounding Pisa and Livorno and were represented in the city’s CLN. Virgilio Antonelli distinguished himself in the task of liberating hostages and prisoners.

In Apua, the libertarian contribution to the resistance was consistent as well as crucial. The anarchist partisan formations active in the Carrara area went by the names ‘G. Lucetti’ (60-80 persons), ‘Lucetti bis’ (58 strong – these two groups named after the anarchist Gino Lucetti who was executed for attempting to assassinate Mussolini), ‘M. Schirru’ (454 strong – named after another anarchist and would-be assassin of ‘Il Duce’, Michael Schirru), ‘Garibaldi Lunense’ and ‘Elio’ (30 strong). After 8 September, anarchists (including Romualdo Del Papa, Galeotti and Pelliccia) led the attack on the Dogali barracks, seizing the weaponry and urging the Alpine troops to desert and join the partisan campaign.

In the nearby Lorano Caves, Ugo Mazzuchelli used these weapons to set up the ‘G. Lucetti’ formation of which he became commander: in the context of the Appian Brigade, its task was to see to its own funding and to help the populace in obtaining provisions by means of properly accounted for expropriations (robberies from capitalists). Having gone through the bitter experience of the Spanish Civil War and Revolution of 1936-9, in which the Communists turned against the anarchists and the workers to seize power, the most ‘experienced’ comrades were rightly mistrustful of them. Some Communist units in any event featured in episodes which bordered on impropriety. But it should be emphasised that the presence of libertarians and anarchists was discernible in virtually every formation, wherever they did not have a unit specifically their own, under one set of initials or another.

Among the incidents of ‘discourtesy’ we might mention the one that had Mazzuchelli and his men coming within an ace of death under machine-gun fire after they had been ready to lead the way across the Casette bridge, as the Communist partisans had been curiously insistent that they should.

In November 1944, following a sweep that cost it the lives of six men, the ‘G. Lucetti’ unit moved into the province of Lucca, which had by then been liberated. Mazzuchelli, along with his sons Carlo and Alvaro then crossed the front lines again to set up the ‘Michele Schirru’ unit which helped liberate Carrara before the Allies showed up. Among the many who distinguished themselves and whose names make up a list that we do not have the room here to catalogue were commandant Elio Wochiacevich, Venturini Perissino and Renato Machiarini. The blood-price paid by the people of Carrara was a high one: the anarchists managed to stamp the seal of social struggle upon the armed struggle for freedom and this endured for years after the liberation, with the co-operatives like the ‘Del Partigiano’ (consumer co-op), the Lucetti (rebuilding co-op) and several undertakings of a social nature (e.g. profit-sharing farming, teams of volunteers to work on the river channels, etc.)

Lucca and Garfagnano
In Lucca and in Garfagnano, in whose mountains anarchists from Pistoia and Livorno also operated (like Peruzzi, Paoleschi, etc.) the anarchists were to be found in the autonomous unit commanded by Pippo (Manrico Ducceschi). The province’s CLN had been founded by libertarian Federico Peccianti in whose home it held its meetings. Pippo’s unit captured a good 8,000 Nazi prisoners and sustained 300 losses. Libero Mariotti from Pietrasanta and Nello Malacarne from Livomo spent a long time behind bars in the San Giorgio prison in Lucca. Among the best known anarchists down there were Luigi Velani, adjutant-major of the Pippo formation, Ferrucio Arrighi and Vitorio Giovanetti, the last two in charge of overseeing contacts between the anti-fascist forces in the city.

Pistoia was the theatre of operations of the “Silvano Fedi”; anarchist unit, made up of 53 partisans who especially distinguished themselves in rendering assistance to displaced persons. An initial resistance group had been formed thanks to the work of Egisto and Minos Gori, Tito and Mario Eschini, Tiziano Palandri, Silvano Fedi and others; it performed a variety of missions which included procurement of weapons for other resistance units and the release of prisoners. The figure of its young commander, Silvano Fedi, was legendary: he perished in an ambush, (the circumstances are obscure) laid by Italians, as Enzo Capecchi who was there at the time has testified. (Capecchi was then commander before being wounded). The Fedi unit, under Artese Benesperi was the first one to enter Pistoia at the liberation.

The last moments of some partisans, in front of a firing squad in Malga Zonta, 1944

In Florence, where Latini, Boccone and Puzzoli had earlier published a first, clandestine issue of ‘Umanita Nova’ the first armed band was formed on Monte Morello under the command of the anarchist Lanciotto Ballerini, who died in action. Official historians have rightly portrayed Lanciotto Ballerini as a hero but have ‘forgotten’ to mention he was an anarchist. Among others who perished in the fighting were, Gino Manetti and Oreste Ristori, both shot: Ristori, from Empoli, had earlier been active as an emigrant in Brazil and Argentina before fighting in Spain.

In the province of Arezzo the anarchists were especially active in the resistance in the Valdarno, in view of the rich anti-fascist tradition and tradition of social struggle in that area. The miner, Osvaldo Bianchi was part of the CLN in San Giovanni Valdarno, as a represen- tative of the anarchist groups: furthermore, Renato Sarri from Figline and Italo Grofoni, the latter in charge of explosive supply for the Tuscan CLN in Florence, distinguished themselves. Later a crucial contribution was made by Guiseppe Livi from Angliari who was active in the ‘Outlying Bands’ that operated in Vultiberina and who helped unmask a German spy who had infiltrated the partisans of Florence… and just in time.

In Ravenna, many anarchists fought in the 28th Garibaldi Brigade. Among the best known of them were Primo Bertolazi, (a member of the provincial CLN), Guglielmo Bartolini, Pasquale Orselli (who commanded the first partisan patrol to enter liberated Ravenna), Giovanni Melandri, (in charge of arms and food supply, and the victim, along with one of his daughters, of a German reprisal).

Bologna and Modena
In Bologna and Modena province the following were especially active… Primo Bassi from Imola, Vindice Rabitti, Ulisse Merli, Aladino Benetti and Atilio Diolaiti. Diolaiti, shot in 1944 in the Carthusian monastery in Bologna had had an active part in the foundation of the first partisan brigades in Imola, the ‘Bianconcini’ and in Bologna, the ‘Fratelli Bandiera’ and 7th GAP units. In liberated Modena, the very young Goliardo Fiaschi marched at the head of the 3rd ‘Costrignano’ Brigade of the ‘Modena’ Division, commanded by Araniano’ In Reggio Emilia, Enrico Zambonini, who had been active in the Appenines around Villa Minozzo, was shot after being captured along with the group of Don Paquino Borghi: he died shouting ‘Long live Anarchy!’ at the firing squad.

In Piacenza, prominent among others were the anarchists Savino Fornasari and Emilio Canzi who are linked, apart from anything else, by their all-too-curious deaths in road accidents. Emilio Canzi had earlier fought fascism back in 1920 in the ranks of the Arditi del Popolo and later in the Spanish Civil War: he had been captured by the Germans in France and then deported to Germany and then interned in Italy. After 8 September 1943, he organised the first partisan bands. Captured by the fascist Black Brigades, he was exchanged for other hostages. Resuming his post, he commanded 3 divisions and 22 brigades (a total of more than 10,000 men), with the rank of colonel and used the nom de guerre of Ezio Franchi. The La Spezia-Sarzana units operated in close conjunction with those of neighbouring Carrara. Two partisan groups were commanded by the libertarians Contri and Del Carpio. The La Spezia anarchists, Renato Olivieri (who had earlier been for 23 years a political prisoner), and Renato Perini died during gunfights with the Nazis while covering a withdrawal by their own comrades.

In Genoa, anarchist combat groups operated under the names of the ‘Pisacane’ Brigade, the ‘Malatesta’ formation, the SAP-FCL, the Sestri Ponente SAP-FCL and the Arenzano Anarchist Action Squads. The attempt to set up a ‘United Front’ with all anti-fascist forces failed due to the Communists’ attempts to impose their own hegemony. Furthermore, anarchists had their own representation only in the outlying CLN ‘s and this obliged them to engage in the armed struggle while relying on their own devices. Activities were promoted by the Libertarian Communist Federation (FCL) and by the underground anarcho-syndicalist union the USI which had just resurfaced in the factories. The Genoese anarchists’ blood sacrifice in the resistance was really substantial with several dozens killed in gun battles, shot or perished in concentration camps. Omitting many others, we recall among the most active of them: Grassini, Adelmo Sardini Pasticio and Antonio Pittaluga. Pittaluga died on the eve of liberation: before surrendering and being killed, and finding himself alone, he threw a hand grenade at the German patrol that captured him. Also, the anarchist partisan Isidoro Parodi died in neighbouring Savona.

In industrial Turin, especially at the FIAT plants, the anarchist unit that went by the name of the 33rd ‘Pietro Ferrero’ SAP Battalion operated. Among our fallen comrades was Dario Cagno, who was sentenced to death by firing squad for his involvement in the killing of a fascist; there was also Ilio Baroni, originally from Piombino. Comrade Ruju, a partisan with the ‘De Vitis’ Division, turned down the military medal of valour which the State later offered him to mark his capture of no less than 500 German soldiers.

Partisans parade in Milan following the Liberation, 1945
Partisans parade in Milan following the Liberation, 1945

Asti and Cuneo
In the Asti area and in the Cuneo area, anarchists had a presence in the Garibaldi Brigades: the best known of them was Giacomo Tartaglino who had previously been involved in the Spartakist movement in Bavaria in 1919. In the Vencelli district, among several anarchists who distinguished themselves with their courage and daring was Guiseppe Ruzza who served with the ‘Valsesia’ unit commanded by Moscatelli. In Milan the threads of the clandestine struggle were taken up initially by Pietro Bruzzi who died after five days of torture, but without disclosing anything to the Nazis.

After his death, anarchists founded the ‘Malatesta’ and ‘Bruzzi’ brigades, amounting to 1300 partisans: these operated under the aegis of the ‘Matteotti’ formation and played a primary role in the liberation of Milan. Commanded by Mario Mantovani during the 1945 uprising, the two brigades distinguished themselves by their various raids on fascist barracks and also by their aid to the general population. Among the very youngest comrades was Guiseppe Pinelli who served with the GAP.

In Pavia province operated the 2nd ‘Errico Malatesta’ Brigade led by Antonio Pietropaolo, who participated in the liberation of Milan. In Brescia, the anarchists were to be found in the mixed GL (Giustizia e Liberta’) — Garibaldi formation: among the most active of them were Borolo Ballarini and Ettore Bonometti.

In Verona, the anarchist Giovanni Domaschi was founder of the National Liberation Committee (CLN). Arrested by the SS, he was tortured, had an ear cut off but refused to talk and so was deported to Germany where he disappeared in the concentration camps. Finally, in the Venezia Giulia-Friuli region many anarchists worked with the Communist formations like, say, the Garibaldi-Friuli Division. In Trieste, liaison was maintained by Giovanni Bidolo who later perished in the German camps along with another Trieste anarchist, Carlo Benussi. Also active was Turcinovich who, following a sweep, fled to Genoa where he fought with the local resistance. In Alta Carnia, where Petris and Aso (who perished in the attack on the German barracks in Sappada) had prominent positions, anarchists helped set up a self-governing Liberated Zone.

In all probability the number of anarchist fighting partisans who perished in the whole of central and northern Italy was in excess of a hundred.

The amnesty which was granted to fascists, and the social injustices of republican, democratic Italy later let anarchists (and not just anarchists) know that the spirit of the National Liberation Committee had been abandoned and the Resistance betrayed.

Reposted from Libcom

Column Anti-Fa

With this blog we intend to publish information regarding ultra-nationalist, anti-nationalist movements their theories and histories We’ll be soon publishing a semi-regular journal covering these topics.

A blog covering the history, theory and aesthetics of fascist and anti-nationalist movements