Read the Introduction to Militant Anti-Fascism!
Militant Anti-Fascism is back from the printer! This is book is an important one, a veritable weapon against the far-right. It’s 25% off for the time being, so get yours now. In the meantime, here’s a look at the Introduction…
This history of militant anti-fascism has, in part, been excavated from the orthodox histories of fascism in order to produce a coherent anti-fascist narrative. We celebrate the activities and achievements of militants in Europe from the late-nineteenth century to the present day, and we make no apologies for advocating the use of physical force as part of a political strategy. Anti-fascism can be proactive as well as defensive, and we have, with considerable help from militants past and present, identified three of the successful elements in the century of struggle against fascism: physical resistance, political organization and propaganda. The use of physical activity to confront or pre-empt fascist activity, along with organization within the workplace, local communities, and links with other working-class organizations, can present a successful opposition. The maintenance of an anti-fascist media presence, particularly in the digital realm, to put forward the arguments for militancy, to publicise activities and successes, to expose fascists, and to encourage others to join the struggle, be it in print media, music, or social networking sites on the net, all are important. We do not advocate one form of action above another; people must use whatever tactics they see as appropriate. Militant anti-fascism also argues for a non-partisan approach wherever possible whilst recognising that popular fronts have met with mixed success and that liberal anti-fascists cannot be relied on most of the time. Neither can the law.
There are several identifiable kinds of ‘anti-fascism’: militant, state legislative, and liberal. Militants cannot rely on state legislation against fascism, as it will inevitably be used against anti-fascists; urging the state to ban far-right groups and activities merely supplies a pretext for banning radical left ones. The state, in its bid for self-preservation, legislates against extremism of any kind. Anti-fascists need to organise themselves to defend against fascist incursions into their communities, not ring the cops.
Liberal anti-fascism is useful at times, for political connections, denigration of fascist activity in the mainstream press and mobilising numbers. Liberal anti-fascism is ‘respectable’ and has the backing of MPs, and political, religious, and community groups, as well as the ear of the mainstream media. The liberal hope of trying to ‘understand fascists’ or ‘convince them that they are wrong’ is appeasement that has had a less than successful history—as Neville Chamberlain found out. Fraser quotes the ironic slogan of German liberals before the Nazis took over: ‘We are so liberal that we even grant the freedom to destroy liberty’, and Goebbels made his intentions perfectly clear: ‘We have come to the Reichstag in order to destroy it. If democracy is stupid enough to reward us for doing this, this is the problem of democracy.’ Unfortunately, many anti-fascists can testify to occasions when liberals have identified militants to the police, which have resulted in time-consuming court cases. In times of difficulty, liberal anti-fascists tend to gravitate towards police protection, which militants cannot do.
It is possible for different kinds of anti-fascists to work together successfully, be they community groups, liberals, or militants, and anyway, the far right views opposition as all the same and does not differentiate between the array of political opponents. The massed and mainly peaceful blocking of fascist march routes by anti-fascists proved to be a very successful tactic against the English Defence League in Brighton, Bristol, and Walthamstow in 2012. This frustrates the fascists, hinders the progress of their marches, and sends a clear signal that they are not welcome in our communities—which seriously demoralises them. Birchall writes, in Beating The Fascists, that ‘I had no problem with the use of political violence, it was the fighting I didn’t like’. 
Fascism is imbued with violence and secures itself politically through the use or threat of it, so it is inevitable that anti-fascists have to countenance some involvement in violence themselves during the struggle. This is not to say that anti-fascists should like violence or seek it out in the manner of political hooligans. Far from it, but it is true to say that for many militant anti-fascists violence is an unpleasant method to achieve a greater political goal. It is not fetishized the way that fascism fetishizes violence, and it would be much more preferable to rely on passive resistance, but we cannot guarantee that what Trotsky referred to as ‘flabby pacifism’ will effectively inhibit fascist encroachment. Fascism views passivity as weakness, not as a political strategy; it will crush peaceful protests and the will to resist, and their violence must be met head on. In Italy, socialists, communists, and anarchists organized against the increasing violence of Mussolini’s squadristi and met force with force in order to protect their institutions. In Germany, fascism was met with equal violence by communist militants who at first responded defensively to intimidation but eventually used violence as a preventative strategy in a bid for self-preservation. In Spain, the militias of anarchists and socialists who fought back against Franco’s coup attempt would view non-violence with immense skepticism. What else could they do? Resort to sarcasm?
This is not to say that violence is the only option for anti-fascists. Physical resistance is not simply hitting someone with a plank. Physical resistance means blocking routes, picketing meetings, and turning up to oppose fascism on the streets. It means being there. This is only one element of anti-fascist strategy. Anti-fascists need to respond politically to the socio-economic conditions that birth fascism, and maintain a strong presence on the streets in demonstrations, in counter-demonstrations, and wherever else fascist groups attempt to organise.
The physical force tactics that Anti-Fascist Action used so well in the 1980s and ’90s are difficult to employ against the Euro-fascist entryism of the BNP and other ‘respectable’ fascist outfits. However, with the recent rise and fall of the English Defence Leagues and their splinter groupuscules, a physical counter-presence has played an effective part in demoralising them. The large amount of police from many different forces, the CCTV, the DNA samples, the FIT squads, and the harsh legislation mean that violent opposition remains mostly opportunistic, but a mass physical presence preventing fascist marches can be just as effective.
This book is for and about militant anti-fascists, so we are not overtly concerned with an analysis of the various ideological and practical differences between the European fascist, national socialist, and ultra-nationalist organizations. There have been a wide variety of ‘fascisms’ over the years that have embraced all, or most of, the following ideas.
The Fuhrer Principle is an absolute subservience to, and belief in, a leader, like Hitler and Mussolini, whose mediocrity was shrouded in mystique as the figurehead of a nation. Fascism excludes minority groups, whether Jews, Muslims, or Roma, whilst claiming that these ‘others’ receive preferential treatment regarding access to money, housing, or work.
Members of political, ethnic, or religious groups are blamed for the greater problems of capitalism and are removed from positions of power or influence—for example, doctors or teachers. Other points of view apart from the leader’s are excised.
This kind of exclusionism is used to further belief in the purity of race and genetic superiority whilst traditional gender roles are enforced: women are seen as mothers of workers rather than workers themselves (although this is not exclusive); non-reproductive sex is seen as decadent; and the family unit is sacred. Fear of the sexual prowess of the other is propagated along with unsubstantiated myths like ‘they’re taking our women’ and the indigenous culture being ‘outbred.’ Heterosexuality is normalised and the preservation of the gene pool is a priority.
This kind of nationalism desires a new ‘Golden Era’ and the destruction of diversity, degeneracy, and decadence. Cultural work is state-sanctioned, and although there were often fascist intellectuals (Gentile, Marinetti, Speer), anti-intellectualism is stressed: the material over the abstract, action over ideas, and belief over knowledge. Mass media are controlled and the state determines cultural discourse: cabarets are closed, newspapers are silenced, music is state sanctioned, jokes and certain writers are banned. Fascism emphasizes the glorification of violence as a method of achievement and empowerment, and this idea is represented in both militarism and para-militarism. National security is prioritised with a build-up of armed forces to protect territories, take over new ones (the Nazi Lebensraum), or encroach on ‘lost’ ones (Mussolini’s Abyssinia). The military is used to secure power whilst the paramilitaries maintain their threatening presence on the streets through ‘extra-legal’ endeavours, or gangsterism. A hard line on crime and punishment is pursued but only for select criminals. Industry is focussed on building military strength, the corporate state benefits big business, and the state adopts capitalism when it is suitable. Working-class organizations are suppressed, unions are banned or controlled by the state, and workers are forced to collaborate. Whether they call themselves fascists, national socialists, nationalists, or patriots, fascist organizations embrace some or all of these principles, and anti-fascists must recognise and respond to them.
This book is divided into two parts and examines how anti-fascists have organised against fascist aggression in the hope of drawing lessons for the future.
Pre-Fascist Parties and Fascism in Europe
The first section of this book looks at the growth of ultra-nationalism and fascism across Europe from the late-nineteenth century to the 1940s. Italy, Austria, Germany, and Spain became fascist states whilst Hungary, Romania, Poland and France experienced an upsurge of fascist violence, and militants were forced to organise and counter this, with varying success. In all these countries, anti-fascists fought and died to protect their communities and institutions. The situation for anti-fascists in 1930s England was less drastic, and certainly less murderous, but still saw anti-fascists meeting violence with violence. It is surprising how few fatalities there have been in the battles pre-1939 and post-1945 in the UK.
Post-War British Anti-Fascism
The second part of the book specifically looks at anti-fascism in Britain and Ireland following 1945 when, despite the defeat of the fascist bloc (excluding Spain, of course), fascists still maintained a presence on the streets. Several waves of post-war fascism in Britain have been successfully countered by one of the strongest and most successful anti-fascist movements in Europe. The confrontations with Mosley, the NF, the BNP’s street campaign and the EDL are all testimony to a tradition of anti-fascism that is too little acknowledged, let alone documented, by political historians. But, as ever, even though the fascists may be defeated, they never really go away, and as we have seen so many times they merely reinvent themselves whilst their poisonous ideology remains relatively unchanged.
1 Nicholas Fraser, The Voice Of Modern Hatred: Encounters with Europe’s New Right (London: Picador, 2000), 75.
2 Birchall, Beating the Fascists, 314.
3 Many thanks to Rachael Horwitz who wrote most of the section on fascism.