The Growing Fascist Menace: What Is It And How Can We Fight It?

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On 10 April 1989 members of the fascist organisation, National Action, invaded a meeting of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force in Sydney. Twelve men stormed into the meeting wearing masks and balaclavas and dressed in black. They took photographs of task force members. They also seized documents including an invitation to the group’s 5th anniversary dinner. The fascists chanted anti-gay slogans and carried placards saying “AIDS is a solution not a disease,” They were forced out of the meeting after about two minutes by furious task force members.

Members of the Lesbian and Gay Immigration Task Force said that the raid was an intimidation exercise but that it had not worked. The group had been aware of the possibility of such an invasion as they recognise themselves as prime targets for the anti-homosexual and anti-Asian politics of fascist organisations. One of the co-convenors of the Task Force told the Sydney Star Observer  that security at task force meetings would be tightened up but that the raid would in no way deter the very successful work of the Task Force.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald of April 17 1989, the police arrested one man, 24 year old Wayne David Smith, for allegedly participating in the raid. Smith is a member of National Action and after he was arrested, National Action’s Chairman, Jim Saleam, visited the police station to give Smith support and to bail him out.

There is an alarming rise in fascist violence taking place in Sydney. The Anti-Discrimination Board, the Uniting Church and the Aboriginal Community are all targets along with lesbians and gay men. Cars with stickers supporting Aboriginal rights have been firebombed outside Tranby Aboriginal College.

Meanwhile in Melbourne fascist thugs from National Action attempted to attack a feminist march protesting ANZAC day. The only thing between us and National Action was a row of police and we certainly cannot rely on them to defend us! Left paper sellers have been attacked by National Action when selling their papers in the Bourke street mall and earlier this year Melbourne experienced the horror of a Vietnamese student being murdered on the steps of Flinders Street Station. This murder was committed by fascists. 

On the weekend of the 15th and 16th of April 1989 there was a spate of fascist graffiti directed at particular targets. The synagogue in St Kilda was daubed with swastikas. Racist slogans appeared on the walls of the Community Aid Abroad office accused the organisation of, among other things, “supporting black terrorists” because of their work in support of Namibian independence. The Communist Party of Australia got the words “kill red scum” sprayed across the front of their Collingwood headquarters along with symbols of the South African Afrikaner fascist organisation AWB. Two Nazi skinheads were caught after spraying up the Synagogue but there have been no reports in the newspapers about the incident since.

In 1988 British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher visited Australia for the so-called Bicentenary. In Melbourne we gave Thatcher the welcome she deserves: a mass demonstration protesting her policies both at home and abroad. Opposition to the anti-gay Clause 28 was one of the things that brought many people to the demo. However a small group of demonstrators had placards characterising Thatcher as a fascist. She is an ultra conservative right wing politician but she is not a fascist.

What is Fascism?

Fascist, as a term, is used very loosely often as a political swear word against right-wing figures or reactionaries. (The word was originally taken from the Italian word “fascio”, meaning “bundle” or “sheaf,” a reference to the symbol of power carried by the ancient Roman consuls). The current meaning of the word fascism did not apply before the rise of Mussolini’s fascist government in the early 1920s.

When leftists are asked to define fascism terms such as dictatorship, mass neurosis and anti-Semitism are bandied around but do not give us a clear or correct definition. 

But there is a Marxist analysis of fascism. It was made by Leon Trotsky during the rise of fascism and it was one of his greatest contribution to Marxism. Trotsky began by analysing what happened in Italy with Mussolini’s 1922 triumph. He then wrote extensively on the question throughout the 1920s and 30s. Trotsky made a point by point critique of those political parties which failed to realise ‘the mortal danger of fascism’. He worked hard to try to alert the Comintern (Communist International) and the German Communist Party about the danger of fascism and attempted to rally a united front to defeat Nazism.

In the pamphlet Fascism: What Is It and How To Fight It?  Trotsky describes a political cycle, of which fascism is the final link: 

“Both theoretical analysis as well as the rich historical experience of the last quarter of a century have demonstrated with equal force that fascism is each time the final link of a specific political cycle composed of the following: the grave crisis of capitalist society; the growth of radicalisation of the working class; the growth of sympathy toward the working class and a yearning for change on the part of the rural and urban petty bourgeoisie; its cowardly and treacherous manoeuvres aimed at avoiding revolutionary climax; the exhaustion of the proletariat; growing confusion and indifference; the aggravation of the social crisis; the despair of the petty bourgeoisie, its yearning for change; the collective neurosis of the petty bourgeoisie, it readiness to believe in miracles, its readiness for violent measures, the growth of hostility towards the proletariat which has deceived its expectations. These are the premises for a swift formation of a fascist party and its victory.”

The time when fascism can arise is when bourgeois democracy – with its police, army and parliament – can no longer keep society in a state of equilibrium. When society can no longer be held in a state of equilibrium the petty bourgeoisie really gets squeezed in the middle. Trotsky describes what can result when 

“through the fascist agency, capitalism sets in motion the masses of the crazed petty bourgeoisie and the bands of declassed and demoralised lumpenproletariat — all the countless human beings who finance capital itself has brought to desperation and frenzy.” 

So fascism finds its recruits in the middle class. When capitalism is in crisis the petty bourgeoisie are largely dissatisfied as a class, and through propaganda their indignation and despair is diverted away from blaming capitalist big business, to blaming the working class. The result is a desperate and frenzied petty bourgeoisie being used as a battering ram against the working class. 

Fascism is a measure to which the bourgeoisie resorts to save capitalism by smashing the organised working class when the system is in crisis. Through fascism the bourgeoisie can do a thorough job of reorganising capital. Trotsky wrote in 1934: “the historic function of fascism is to smash the working class, destroy its organisations, and stifle political liberties when the capitalists find themselves unable to govern and dominate with the help of democratic machinery.”

Fascist regimes never tame the ruling class, which remains autonomous to pursue its economic goals. Fascism exists with the support of the bourgeoisie, which sees fascism as necessary measure for the advancement of its own financial interests. Fascism and big business are linked. When big business withdraws its support it is the beginning of the end for fascism as no political regime can govern against the class which holds economic power.

While fascism is the product of failing capitalism it is also the result of failing to achieve socialism. In a time a social crisis and economic dislocation if the working class does not give a strong lead to the petty bourgeoisie then the ruling class will. And when hope is lost the petty bourgeoisie will go for “strong” measures such as fascism.

How to fight fascism

Trotsky calls for a united front as a way to fight against fascism.

In Socialist Feminism: the First Decade, Gloria Martin gives a good description of what is meant by the term. She says: “A united front is a conglomerate of workers’ organisations ‘marching separately and striking jointly’ in a combined thrust against capitalist reaction. No contingent is expected to change or sacrifice its basic principles and program and each sector of the front is free to raise proposals and debate strategy for the entire movement so long as everyone strikes together. The united front is closed to no one, but leadership must be retained by the working class organisations or the ‘liberal’ bourgeoisie will seize power and defuse the movement, rendering its development into a revolutionary brigade impossible and ensuring the defeat of the workers by the ruling class. We do not engage in ‘popular’ or ‘people’s’ fronts, a Stalinist form of criminally irresponsible revisionism which ‘unites’ all classes under the hegemony of the liberal governmental forces who always proceed to compromise with the ruling class.  So the key elements of a united front are both program and leadership in the interests of the working class.”

Liberals and reformists of every stripe will urge us to ignore the fascists and not give them any attention at all. They bleat that the fascists are just seeking attention and that to protest will just give them more opportunity to promote their ideas. They propose solutions such as monitoring the actions of the fascists or lobbying the police. Trotsky  answers this brilliantly when he says: 

“fascism finds unconscious helpers in all those who say that the ‘physical struggle’ is impermissible or hopeless, and demand of the Doumergue (Premier of France after Feb 6 1934) the disarmament of his fascist guard. Nothing is so dangerous for the proletariat, especially in the present situation, as the sugared poison of false hopes. Nothing increases the insolence of the fascists so much as “flabby pacifism” on the part of the workers’ organisations. Nothing so destroys the confidence of the middle classes in the working class as temporising, passivity and the absence of the will to struggle.” 

Beware the pacifists who argue for inaction. We must confront the fascists toe to toe when ever they dare to show their face. Fascism must never be allowed to go unchallenged. Pacifism will just allow the germ of fascism to grow unchecked. 

As well as forming united fronts to fight against fascism we also need to be prepared to form workers defence guards to defend working class newspapers, meetings and organisations from fascist attack. When a working class organisation is under the threat of fascist attack all class conscious organisations must be prepared to join the defence through a workers’ defence guard. A couple of examples spring instantly to mind.

In Melbourne National Action were harassing left wing paper sellers from both the Socialist Workers Party and the International Socialists (IS)  in the Bourke Street Mall. A broad section of the Melbourne left pledged to form workers’ defence guards to ensure that any working class organisation could sell their paper without fascist interference. National Action backed off (strongly encouraged by a little physical persuasion by the IS!) and the left in Melbourne continues to distribute literature safely. In 1985 a number of meetings were held in both Melbourne and Sydney to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the liberation of Saigon. Some of these meetings were attacked by Australian and Vietnamese fascists. A meeting at the Sydney Waterside Workers’ Federation offices was delayed but went ahead with a  fully equipped defence guard. Needless to say, the fascists didn’t show up.

US United Fronts to Fight Fascism

Late last year the United Front Against Fascism (UFAF) formed in the Pacific North West of the United States just days before a Nazi skinhead gathering planned for Whidbey Island. The Nazi skinheads were gathering to commemorate the death of a notorious fascist, Robert Mathews, who had been killed on Whidbey Island in a shoot out with the FBI.

The UFAF brought together socialists, feminists, unionists, gay men, lesbians and people of colour to protest. The call for the UFAF was initiated by the Freedom Socialist Party and many groups quickly responded to the call including Seattle Gay News, the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People, the Guardian Angels, the Stonewall Committee for Lesbian and Gay Rights, Radical Women and the Association of People Living with AIDS.

Despite shrieking calls by the media for the UFAF not to confront the fascists because confronting them “would cause violence,” in a breathless four days the UFAF mobilised 400 brave people to directly challenge the Nazis. Lesbians and gay men were out in force.

The UFAF was democratic to the core and elected three spokespersons and decision makers to give a lead to the demonstration. They were revolutionary socialist feminist, Guerry Hoddersen, George Bakan, crusading editor of the influential Seattle Gay News  and long time black leader and journalist for Seattle’s Facts  newspaper, Charlie James.

George Bakan delivered the strong opening statement at the rally to the effect that the people of the Northwest cannot turn their back on the fascist threat and hope it will go away. “We are here to fight the Nazis. There will be no Aryan Nation,” he proclaimed.

The rally was a huge success. As the four hundred demonstrators paraded, the small number of Nazi skinheads made themselves very scarce.

Then in early March the Nazis were at it again and once again they were trounced by anti-fascist demonstrators. 

The Bay Area branch of the Freedom Socialist Party put out a call to form the Ad Hoc Coalition to Stop the Nazi Skinheads when they heard of plans to hold an “Aryan Woodstock” at Napa, 45 miles north of San Francisco. The Ad Hoc Coalition mobilised 800 people from both the city and the rural communities surrounding Napa around the slogan “No to racist violence! Stop the anti-labour, sexist, anti-gay, anti-Semitic neo-fascists!”

Aryan Woodstock was organised by an outfit calling themselves WAR (White Aryan Resistance), founded by Tom Metzger, former Ku Klux Klan Grand Dragon. WAR had expected 2,000 to attended their fascist rock festival but in the end only about 50 Nazi skinheads turned out and because of the counter demonstration only those with personal invitations were allowed in.

There was a large contingent of lesbians and gay men involved in the counter-demonstration. Many were from ACT-UP San Francisco and wearing Silence = Death T Shirts, a slogan as appropriate for fighting fascists as it is for fighting AIDS. The lesbian and gay contingent chanted “No to Hatred, No to Fear, No to Nazis, Yes to Queers!”

“These people are about hatred, violence and murder”, said to Arawn Eiblhyn, one of the ACT-UP contingent. “They are a different threat to our own right to live and survive as lesbians and gay men, as Jews, as blacks…They do not have a right to organise against our right to live and survive.”

We need to learn from both of these successful examples of united fronts. We must remember that Hitler’s movement started small. We can stop the fascist menace because at present the anti-fascists are many and the Nazis are few. What we need is unity and the will to ensure that the fascists cannot organise and grow.

Whenever fascism appears we must mobilise. We must counter its organising with swift strong united front actions to drive them off the streets. We must defend all working class and progressive events from fascist attack through forming workers defence guards. 

But, as Trotsky pointed out, the germ of fascism is nurtured by capitalism and a capitalist crisis can raise fascism to epidemic proportions unless drastic countermeasures are quickly applied. The way to ultimately destroy fascism once and for all is to destroy the capitalist system in which it breeds. In the constant struggle between competing forces we must ensure that germ of fascism is extinguished permanently through the triumph of socialist feminism.

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