“Fighting Fascism - How to Struggle and How to Win,” by Clara Zetkin, 1923
This short book is an address to a Plenum of the 3rd International’s Executive Committee by Clara Zetkin. She was a long-time German Communist who was one of the prime movers behind International Women’s Day, a fact that is never mentioned in U.S. media coverage. Here Zetkin lays out a clear, precise and deep analysis of European fascism that conflicts with the views of thin-thinking liberals, social-democrats and later, Stalinists. This analysis, which was adopted by the Comintern, is now the standard Marxist explanation of fascism, echoed by Trotsky, Gramsci and others.
Zetkin concentrates on the development of fascism in Italy under Mussolini, which was in a period of deep economic crisis, a failed left-wing factory occupation wave and a disorganized general strike led by a reformist Socialist Party. Then she covers the situation in Weimar Germany at the time, which was also experiencing a capitalist crisis being managed by the reformist German Social Democrats and in the aftermath of the failed 1919-1920 German Revolution. You can see a basic pattern here.
Mussolini first used violent methods to crush rural peasants, workers and their organizations, then went on to do the same thing in the cities. Black Shirt ranks grew from a couple 1,000 to tens of thousands within a year, as he promised society many of the same things that the Socialist Party advocated. He did none of them after being in power. The capitalists in Italy all coalesced around Mussolini – finance, industrial and most of agricultural capital. His party in 1923 absorbed one Nationalist party and sections of others, but it could not absorb all the parties at the time. He formed ‘fascist unions’ that combined bosses, workers and white collars to try to liquidate class struggle in ‘national unity.’
Zetkin outlines how Mussolini deceived his supporters over at least 17 different key issues – running on a virtually socialist program while actually enabling big capital. In the end what happened in Italy was a dictatorship of big Italian capital dominated by the Black Shirts. This is one reason why Marxists understand that fascism in each country is capital’s last defense. Zetkin points out repeatedly in her report that you cannot just defeat fascists in the streets, you have to defeat them ideologically too. Interestingly, one of the patch-work of ideas Mussolini borrowed from was idealist Platonism. In spite of Zetkin’s understanding of the divisions within and against Italian fascism at the time - something not to be ignored - Mussolini’s power lasted from his King-enabled coup in 1922 to his execution by partisans in 1945 – 23 years.
In Germany Zetkin sees the same economic crisis and the same collaborationist and reformist Social Democracy. The victory of Mussolini was the biggest help to the German fascist movement because it said to them, “You Can Succeed.”
Zetkin understands the key issue is intervening with the angry, distressed and disappointed workers, peasants, small and middle bourgeois and intellectuals to turn them away from the Right towards socialism. She points out that the many contradictions within fascism and its popular base can be used.
|Clara Zetkin on left.|
Zetkin’s proposal to the Comintern on how to combat fascism:
1. Educate workers, peasants, small and middle bourgeois, military and intellectuals to keep them from falling into the clutches of the fascist movement. This means special literature for each group.
2. Workers self-defense, starting with factory defense guards.
3. A United Front of all anti-fascists, of whatever party or union or organization.
4. The fight is international. Block shipments to Italy; increase Red Aid to Italy; supply comrades in Italy.
LESSONS for the Present U.S.?
One, combating the fascists in the streets is essential, but not enough. Propagandizing their supporters is essential.
Two, in the present situation the whole U.S. capitalist class has not thought it necessary to come over to fascism, only a hard-right section behind Trump.
Three, the rolling but disorganized BLM struggles and the inept corporate Biden administration, if elected, can provide the same failed attempt at ‘change’ that echoes European reformism. The constant Democratic Party program of ignoring the working-class, the proletariat and poverty leads to strengthening the Right, as proved under Obama.
Four, without organizations with weight,
especially in the proletariat, no anti-fascist front will ultimately be successful. There is now already enough human material to create one.
Five, the present economic crisis is reminiscent of Zetkin’s analysis and is feeding into a social collapse that can go various ways.
Basically, time to form an anti-fascist front among all those affected. Alliances with capital, sectarianism and single-issuism have to end.
Other prior blog reviews on this subject, use blog search box, upper left: “It Can’t Happen Here” (Lewis); Hungary Continues on a Horthyite Path,” “The Ultra-Right,” “Impeachapalooza,” “Antifascism, Sports, Sobriety,” “Enemy at the Gates,” “Charlottesville, Virginia.”
And I bought it at May Day Books' anti-fascist section!
September 25, 2020