Building to Confront Fascism - Part 3: Leninism as Antifascist Method; Leadership of the Movement

The positions - outlined in depth in the preceding essays - of those engaged in anti-fascist work can be summarised as follows: theoretical unity with oppressed people, but in practice, liquidation of the anti-fascist grouping as irrelevant next to the everyday struggles of the oppressed; the loose network based on affinity with the AFN, which rejects any idea of a formal alliance with the established left, but will permit engagement from them in their actions; the established left forming alliances with all and sundry, building a loose liberal coalition which is limited to non-confrontational action and speeches from trade unionists, Labour Party MPs and ‘community leaders’; a deep community strategy which has some success, but is stymied by parochialism, hostility to the left, and willingness to pander to the more reactionary sentiments of parts of the class.

Each of these strategies, though having been developed to meet the conditions of the UK broadly between the mid-00s and today, have historical precedent. It is thus necessary to examine such precedents to bring forward new answers to the questions posed by the fascist resurgence of today.

In this essay, we will mainly be focusing on the theory and practice of the Third International, also known as the Comintern, during the interwar years, before moving on to discuss a potential strategy for today. The Comintern was the international grouping of communist parties allied with the Soviet Union, active until its dissolution in 1943. The reason for doing this is that although there is a great deal of literature produced from anarchist, Trotskyite, and left communist viewpoint, the history of the Comintern in these years provides us as Marxist-Leninists with a look at the questions of organising multinational, international, and internationalist class struggle, illustrated through several theoretical turns which reflect the actual positions referenced above.

We will thus be analysing three distinct positions taken by the Comintern in this period. The ‘Social-Fascism’ analysis of the ‘Third Period’ (from 1928-35), the ‘Popular Front (from 1935-38) and the ‘United Front’ ‘(1923-28).

Social-Fascism, United Front, or Popular Front?*

Why is it important to study these strategies? First of all, they dominate the discussions in left circles. Anyone who has been subjected to a tedious debate on the Spanish Civil War is aware of the various Trotskyite, anarchist, and ‘Stalinist’ positions on the Popular Front vs the United Front. As such, they provide a language in which strategy is articulated, for example, in the recent piece by Trotskyite group ‘Counterfire’ on resurrecting Trotsky’s version of the United Front.

Secondly, as stated above, many positions today exhibit the same logic as was applied at various points in this period of the Comintern’s history. By following the history of the development and implementation of these policies by the Comintern parties, we seek to better understand the positions taken today.

Thirdly, we live in times charged with the spirit of the past. Old debates are reignited as the first part of a process of rediscovering the correct path into the future. These old debates quickly become stale as the movement of events leads us to perceive the gulf between the answers our stories present us with and the historical tasks which lay ahead. This gives rise to the necessity of challenging these histories, re-excavating the past, and bringing the past to bear on the events of today, so that we may overcome them both - fulfilling the promise of liberation both to previous generations and those that struggle today.

Rather than seeing these policies as in direct opposition to each other, merely the result of the capricious hand of a totalitarian wantonly playing with the lives of millions, we should make an effort to pull at the treads that unite these policy positions, and attempt to understand that they were efforts by the communist movement as a whole to understand and act in one of the most fraught periods of class struggle to have ever existed.


The ‘Social-Fascism’ thesis was the idea that social democracy was the main support for capital in the inter-war period, and that social democracy was a variant of fascism due to this and its ‘corporatist’ state ideology. Though long associated with Stalin by Trotskyites and bourgeois historians alike, the thesis was first fully articulated at the 6th congress of Comintern in 1928. It was intimately tied up with the idea of a coming ‘Third Period’ of struggle since 1917. The development of these ideas were linked to the ideas of Zinoviev - who was the General Secretary of the Executive Committee of the Communist International for the 5th Congress, and Bukharin, who was General Secretary for the 6th. Bukharin’s analysis. It would therefore behoove us to consider what, broadly speaking, this analysis was.

According to Bukharin, the stabilisation of the economy in the twenties after the revolutionary upheaval of the 1917-21 accentuated the internal contradictions of capital, that the ensuing crisis, technological advances, the growing concentration of production, and a general increase in national incomes in economies were undermined by high levels of unemployment, an intensified exploitation of labour, the growing unity of state and economic power, and increasingly uneven levels of development among nations. Bukharin argued that as these economic advances were met by ever greater contradictions undermining them, that the upcoming crisis in capital would not be cyclical, but fundamental, and that the world was entering the ‘Third Period’ of revolutionary struggle since 1917.

It is worth noting that this is not this position was not just based on the theories of comintern leaders cut off from struggle and engaged in mere ultra-left sectarianism. Comintern policy at this time was to a great extent based on the situation in Germany - the country with the largest communist party outside the USSR, a developed capitalist economy, and a recent abortive attempt at revolution happening in 1919. Fresh in the memories of communists internationally was the Social Democratic collaboration with the proto-fascist Friekorps in smashing the Spartacus Leagues uprising, and the murders of Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht.

As such, all work with reformist social democratic parties and trade unions who sought to make a reformist pact with capital was working against the interest of the revolutionary masses, and a united front should only come from ‘below’ - through mass actions with social democratic workers, not through alliances made with social democratic parties and workers.

This was a subtle but important change in the policy and analysis of the Comintern, which had been committed to the United Front policy since the resolution drawn up by Leon Trotsky and Eugen Varga at the third congress in 1921, which stated that the revolutionary upheavals of 1917-21 were over, and that capital was on the offensive. Clara Zetkin’s presentation (which we will deal with in detail later) on the rise of Italian Fascism in 1923 reiterated calls for a united front. Trotsky and Varga argued that capitalism was on the offensive, they believed that such an offensive would be fleeting, and there would be no return to cyclical crisis. As such, a united front with social democracy was necessary to defend workers gains against capitalist onslaught until such time as conditions once again allowed for revolutionary action. The meaning of the ‘United Front’ in this phase was fairly broad. It could include anything from a formal coalition between communist and social democratic parties, to a united front ‘from below’, which meant mass mobilisations of workers in opposition to the leaders of social democratic unions and reformist trade unions. It wasn’t until the 5th congress of Comintern in 1924, headed by Soviet leader Zinoviev, that elements echoing the ‘Social-Fascism’ analysis emerged. The congress affirmed that the united front strategy was a strategy for when the world was not in the process of revolutionary upheaval, and Zinoviev called for social democrats to still be recognised as ‘our deadly enemies’. The resolutions of the 6th congress, headed by Bukharin stated that social democracy had moved from being the right wing of the workers movement, to the left wing of the bourgeoisie, and in some cases, the left wing of fascism.

What relevance does the question of whether social democratic parties like the Labour Party play a ‘Social-Fascist’ role or not have today? Whilst the term ‘Social-Fascist’ is not in use, the idea that the Labour Party plays an identical role, with no qualifications, to the other irredeemably bourgeois, imperialist parties is common, though not dominant, on the British far left. Notably for our purposes, it is particularly common among those elements most involved in militant anti-fascist work. Whilst this analysis of the function of social democracy as a trend in western European history is broadly correct, it is important to emphasise, as we have long done, that a class struggle is taking place within the Labour Party. This class struggle is that between neoliberal and social democrat elements - which broadly have their class basis in the small group of metropolitan professionals who have been dominant in the party for some time, and a new, mass insurgency by youth, and disaffected working class and petty bourgeois. This struggle has the capability to move the Labour Party from being the left wing of the bourgeoisie to the right wing of labour once more. It was at the 6th Congress in 1928, when the language of ‘social-fascism’ to describe this move was adopted.

The ‘Social-Fascism’ analysis and the strategy of the ‘Third Period’ ended in failure, perhaps unsurprising to outsiders given their messianic flavour. This failure must be understood in material terms, not in terms of our ‘faith’ in reformism: the material goal was to isolate social democracy and prevent the drift of workers towards fascism, both of which failed to take place. Many communist parties were gripped by a fanatical sectarianism. So much so that in 1930, Comintern leader Manuilsky had to rebuke sections of the Comintern that the analysis of Social-Fascism did not rule out a ‘United Front from below’. Everywhere communist parties saw their influence fall… excluding Germany, the largest and most influential communist party outside of the USSR, which grew. To even begin to defend a “Social-Fascist” thesis to the Labour Party in the UK, the claim would therefore have to be made that the UK today resembles not only the conditions of the 1930s in Europe, but in Germany specifically. This is a difficult position to defend, not only from the objective conditions, but in terms of political subjectivity, as there is no revolutionary communist party in Britain, and there is a resurgent social democratic leadership of the labour party representing an ongoing class struggle in that political milieu.

Returning to the 1930s, the objective conditions may have existed across Europe at the time for a revolutionary situation (broadly defined by Lenin as “when it is impossible for the ruling classes to maintain their rule without any change”), it is our analysis that the subjective conditions for revolution - the ability for the organisations of the working class to lead the masses in a revolutionary struggle - were lacking. This is the key issue with the Social-Fascism thesis. In 1929, conditions were rapidly deteriorating, and it was assumed that oncoming was a revolutionary upswing that would inevitably lead to the workers rising under the communist banner. This lead to many strategic mistakes and missed opportunities in the face of rising fascism - particularly in germany. The idea that fascism, even if it did rise, would fall quickly under the weight of its own contradictions lead to the aforementioned Communist Party of Germany putting forward the slogan of ‘After Hitler, Our Turn!’ and joining forces with the Nazis to topple a social democratic regional government in Prussia in 1931, a mistake repeated by Iranian communists in the late 1970s. The fact that the policy seemed to show some initial success for communists in Germany is important to understanding why these mistakes would be made. Revolution in Germany was seen as key by many Soviet leaders for the long term survival of the USSR. As such, the Third Period politics were applied regardless of national conditions, and efforts to pursue a more conciliatory strategy towards social democracy often meant leaders of national communist parties were disciplined or expelled.

What binds the analysis of ‘Social-Fascism’ with the ultra-left tendencies which reject all work with social democrats (or so-called “democratic socialists”) today is that they believe that the working class will simply rise and reject both social democracy and fascism when the conditions are right. The common answer put forward today is that because all current social democratic leadership is bourgeois and corrupt and must be opposed resolutely whilst building an ‘independent’ alternative. Both positions fail to take into account the reality of the situation we find ourselves in. Even those groups which reject the terminology of Social-Fascism”, preferring more a more defensible strategy which approximates a ‘United Front from below’ to excuse their ultra-leftism, are unable to effect such a strategy in practice precisely because they share the messianic and sectarian ‘logic’ of the Social-Fascism thesis.

The idea of a left outside the Labour Party developing a strategy (beyond sitting and waiting for the class to realise they were right all along) to isolate the Labour Party and form a ‘United Front from below’ with social democratic workers finally rejecting their party is comforting to many, but unlikely to happen at this present moment when the politically conscious workers (in England at least) are struggling within the Labour Party. It is a classic case of putting your faith in the inevitability of revolutions due to inexorable objective conditions and ignoring the importance of the subjective factors of revolution. The spectre of fascism is the cruel revenge for all revolutionaries who make the error.

The Popular Front

The history of the Popular Front begins just after the Nazis came to power in January of 1933. Two weeks later, Comintern decided to reverse their policy towards social democracy, and issued a communique offering a United Front to the Socialist International, the international body representing social democratic parties. After some deliberations between the two groups, this strategy failed, and the Comintern leadership moved back to its former position, advocating again for a united front from below. The fate of anti-fascist policy was still very much dependent on the situation in Germany - where social democracy were indeed playing a Social-Fascist role, attempting to appease Nazism at a time when the Nazis were enacting brutal repression of the German Communist Party.

After these springtime deliberations in 1933, a great deal of confusion was felt in the national communist parties affiliated to Comintern. At the thirteenth plenum of the executive committee of Comintern in early December, it was reaffirmed that social democracy was still the main support of capital, and had to be confronted, discipline was exerted from the centre which saved the movement from dissolution. A policy which could provide the movement with new vitality and unity in the fight against fascism was desperately needed.

At this time, Bulgarian Communist and Comintern apparatchik working in Germany, Georgi Dimitrov, had drawn widespread acclaim for defending himself brilliantly in court after being arrested and accused of starting the Reichstag fire.

Two events in 1934 - the brief collaboration of French communists and social democrats in opposing an attempted fascist coup, and the failed social-democratic armed rising against the Clerical-Fascist Dollfuss regime in Austria - signaled the beginnings of a change in policy of Comintern. In April, Dimitrov, now residing in Moscow, was asked to present his views on a possible United Front to the politburo in Moscow. Though some (including Stalin) were sceptical, Dimitrov’s arguments impressed them enough for him to be asked to take control of Comintern.

Initially, the plan put forward by Dimitrov was for a united front of communists and social democrats. The Popular Front - an expanded form of the United Front which would include anti-fascist Liberal and bourgeois democratic parties - was not yet official Comintern policy, and would not become so until the Seventh Congress of The Comintern in 1935. However, moving with the change in tone of the Comintern leadership, the French Communist Party under the leadership of Thorenz formed a pact with The Radical Party, a party representing the French bourgeoisie after being snubbed by the social democrats. This experiment was ultimately accepted by Comintern - and had the added benefit of allowing Comintern policy to dovetail with Soviet policy in the wake of the Franco-Soviet assistance pact, signed in May 1935. It became official policy in 1935, with Dimitrov delivering his report ‘The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism’ to rapturous applause and renditions of the internationale at the seventh congress of the Comintern in August 1935.

Currently, ‘Popular Front’ style politics in fighting fascism do not appear on the horizon in Britain. There may come a time where the danger of fascism is so great that sections of the bourgeoisie are prepared to work with communists and social democrats in opposing it. Now is not such a time - as we stated in our first article in this series, where we emphasise that the bourgeoisie’s struggle over the Brexit regime is a question of the deals between different imperialist powers.

However, the historical success of such a policy should not be denied - particularly in Yugoslavia, Albania, and China. In Yugoslavia, the Popular Front policy allowed the (still illegal) party to recover from the disastrous policies of the Third Period, which left many activists in jail, and to grow into a strong, well organised party strongly associated with the fight against fascism. Even in Spain, the electoral victory of the Popular Front government not only provided the initial resistance to the Falangist uprising, but unity through anti-fascism sustained the spirit of sacrifice necessary to continue the struggle against Franco from 1936 until 1939. The ability to create and sustain a loose coalition of liberal, republican, socialist, communist, anarchist and Catalan nationalist parties - despite the difficulties and ultimate failure of the project - should not be overlooked. Indeed, it may provide a better model in Scotland and Wales - where a national bourgeoisie along with liberal sections of the middle classed could ally with Scottish and Welsh socialists and communists in to form a Popular Front opposing a fascism firmly rooted in England and the unionism which benefits the English bourgeoisie. Such a strategy may even be said to be observable in practice in the fight against the Stormont regime by revolutionary socialists close to the revolutionary republican movement in the North of Ireland.

The Spanish example is also pertinent because it took place after multiple crises of state governance, where the fascist threat came from not only street gangs of fascists, but powerful sections of the establishment - such as the monarchy and part of the army. If ever such a crisis arises in Britain, then we must take every step necessary to form a broad, united, Popular Front to meet such a threat.

In the next section, we will argue that the politics of a United Front, when applied correctly, has the ability not only to to broaden and deepen the fight against fascism, but also enable the communist movement to regain its long-lost position as a significant political force.

Dimitrov and Zetkin - a possible theoretical basis for United Front of today?

... This is the whole point — we must not regard that which is obsolete for us, as obsolete for the class, as obsolete for the masses.
— V. I. Lenin, "Left-Wing" Communism, an Infantile Disorder

12 years separate Clara Zetkin’s analysis of fascism, presented to the 4th congress of the Comintern in 1923, and that of Georgi Dimitrov. What joins the analysis of Dimitrov and Zetkin is focus on the subjective element of class struggle the ability for the organisations of the working class to lead the masses in a revolutionary struggle, and the theory and practice of leading the masses.  It was Clara Zetkin’s fierce analysis of the rise and victory of Italian fascism which first properly articulated a stringent political analysis calling for an alliance between communism and social democracy in the form of a united front. Clara Zetkin was German communist, a founding member of the Sparticus League, and friend and comrade of Rosa Luxemburg. She was a executive committee member of the Comintern from 1921 until her death in 1933. In her 1923 ‘Fighting Fascism’, she distinguishes fascism from the white terror under the Horthy regime in Hungary, not as 'the revenge of the bourgeoisie against the militant uprising of the proletariat', but rather that 'fascism arrives much more as punishment because the proletariat has not carried and driven forward the revolution that began in Russia. And the base of fascism lies not in a small caste but in broad social layers, broad masses, reaching even into the proletariat.'

In Dimitrov’s work, fascism is described ‘as the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital’. His work builds, in the aftermath of several fascist victories, provides us with insight into the development of fascist dictatorship, and the various intermediary forms it may t

The development of fascism, and the fascist dictatorship itself, assume different forms in different countries, according to historical, social and economic conditions and to the national peculiarities, and the international position of the given country. In certain countries, principally those in which fascism has no broad mass basis and in which the struggle of the various groups within the camp of the fascist bourgeoisie itself is rather acute, fascism does not immediately venture to abolish parliament, but allows the other bourgeois parties, as well as the Social-Democratic Parties, to retain a modicum of legality. In other countries, where the ruling bourgeoisie fears an early outbreak of revolution, fascism establishes its unrestricted political monopoly, either immediately or by intensifying its reign of terror against and persecution of all rival parties and groups. This does not prevent fascism, when its position becomes particularly acute, from trying to extend its basis and, without altering its class nature, trying to combine open terrorist dictatorship with a crude sham of parliamentarism
— Georgi Dimitrov, The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism

This passage serves as a timely reminder that fascism does not appear uniformly, in one guise or another, and often goes through several stages before becoming a full and open terrorist dictatorship. We must be astute to the elements within our bourgeois democracies who - for all their claim of acting in defence of freedom - are actually heralds of the rising tide of fascism. Our tactics and strategy must develop in their opposition to the development of the fascist trend. To allow ourselves to fall into the errors of the Comintern, pushing forwards with a policy which was incorrect due to an incorrect appraisal of events, would only assist fascism's rise.

The spectre of German fascism illuminates both Zetkin and Dimitrov’s work. Dimitrov describes German fascism after the victory of the Nazis as the spearhead of international counter-revolution, as the chief instigator of imperialist war’:

Whereas Zetkin states:

there is no country where conflicts are so great as in Germany between the objectively mature conditions for revolution and the subjective immaturity of the proletariat, as a result of the betrayals, the outlook, and the conduct of the reformist leaders. Nowhere did Social Democracy collapse so shamefully when the war broke out as in Germany.
— Clara Zetkin, The Struggle Against Fascism

Hindsight allows us to see that Germany, as a powerful imperialist state in which fascism did establish its “open terrorist dictatorship”, was the sort of country in which fascism could do the most damage. No reader needs reminding of the carnage which the German Nazis inflicted. Suffice it to say, that while we cannot be surprised that the imperialist powers initially rebuffed the Soviet offer of a popular front in 1939, we can be self-critical that a popular front strategy was not pursued in the years prior to this, constraining the spread of German fascism further, potentially even defeating it in Germany prior to the outbreak of war.

But we are not yet in this position, of a third World War headed by a triumphant fascist party in an imperialist country. We, in Britain, are merely observing and trying to head off fascist politics before they become more influential. Under these present conditions, even a ‘united uront from above’ which maintains the militant edge of anti-fascism is not possible, however desirable it may be. The fascist threat is not so obvious in the bourgeois media, and the communist movement is far too small and fragmented to have any sway amongst even the leftist leadership of the Labour Party. This is why the SWP, cloaked in its most liberal garb, has been able to maintain its position as the respectable liberal face of anti-fascism with fronts like SUtR and UAF, despite calls for Corbyn to disassociate himself with them. However, the movement of the party from the left wing of capital to somewhere approximating what has historically been called the right wing of labour presents new opportunities for alliances with some constituency parties, and a great deal of Momentum branches. If we are to succeed in rebuilding a genuine communist movement that is able to lead the working and oppressed people of the various nations of this island, we must seek to unite with social democratic workers and institutions which are rejecting the Blairite neoliberal hegemony within the Labour Party and labour movement.

The relationship of the organisation to the masses in Dimitrov and Zetkin

Sectarianism finds expression particularly in overestimating the revolutionization of the masses, in overestimating the speed at which they are abandoning the positions of reformism, and in attempting to leap over difficult stages and the complicated tasks of the movement. In practice, methods of leading the masses have frequently been replaced by the methods of leading a narrow party group. The strength of the traditional tie-up between the masses and their organizations and leaders was underestimated, and when the masses did not break off these connections, immediately the attitude taken toward them was just as harsh as that adopted toward their reactionary leaders....The necessity of stubborn struggle in the very midst of the masses themselves to win their confidence has been ignored...The policy of the united front has frequently been replaced by bare appeals and abstract propaganda.
— Georgi Dimitrov, The Fascist Offensive and the Tasks of the Communist International in the Struggle of the Working Class against Fascism

In this quote, Dimitrov lays bare the faults with the Comintern’s policy in the ‘Third Period’. The Comintern had substituted leadership of the masses for leadership of the ‘narrow party group’ which echo our predicament today. National peculiarities were ignored, and the parties forged forward, not with the masses, but far ahead of them - and expected the masses, as a party might expect cadres of a party, to rise automatically to the level of mature subjective consciousness required for revolutionary upheaval.

The political organisation - local group, communist party, United Front - must always seek to work for the needs as the present themselves in current conditions. These can only be determined by an organisation in constant dialectical relationship with the masses. We cannot place ourselves above the masses, producing arcane theory on why this or that position is reactionary or not. We must go to the masses and seek out their most advanced elements, work to build unity along class lines, and raise the level of consciousness of more backward elements. For example, on the question of nationalism, whilst we must never credence to fascist talking points and capitulate to the poison of bourgeois nationalism, most especially the nationalism of the bourgeoisie already in power (for reasons discussed in Part 2). However, we must recognise that open attacks on national consciousness can alienate workers, who feel denigrated for their national sympathies. Instead, we must unify them with us on class lines through the material and ideological means stated above. As Clara Zetkin states:

Fascism does not ask if the worker in the factory has a soul painted in the white and blue colors of Bavaria; or is inspired by the black, red, and gold colors of the bourgeois republic; or by the red banner with a hammer and sickle. It does not ask whether the worker wants to restore the Wittelsbach dynasty [of Bavaria], is an enthusiastic fan of Ebert, or would prefer to see our friend Brandler as president of the German Soviet Republic. All that matters to fascism is that they encounter a class-conscious proletarian, and then they club him to the ground. That is why workers must come together for struggle without distinctions of party or trade-union affiliation. Proletarian self-defense against fascism is one of the strongest forces driving to establish and strengthen the proletarian United Front. Without the United Front it is impossible for the proletariat to carry out self-defense successfully
— Clara Zetkin, The Struggle Against Fascism

In order to develop and lead the united front against fascism, it is necessary for the organisation to both stand at the head of the masses, and simultaneously lead all elements - even those who lack a developed class consciousness, are unorganised, or hold regressive or reactionary moves. Such a relationship, and such a strategy is the only way to accomplish a dialectical leap - to achieve not just the aim of confronting fascism, but to turn the proletariat from simply a class of itself, into a class for itself.

The Prospects for a United Front: Conditions and Materials

In order to build the ground for a United Front, we must construct an umbrella organisation which is able to unite communist and social democrat, bringing together militant and liberal anti-fascists. Through mass work, our aim will be, in Dimitrov’s words: ‘establishing unity of action of all sections of the working class in the struggle against fascism.’

The development of a United Front must be concomitant with the development of a new and revivified communist movement, headed by a strong and disciplined communist organisation. These organisations must not just be developed in parallel, but interact dialectically with each other, with a march forward in one promoting a march forward in the other. The most important element of this will be cadres engaging in anti-fascist mass work alongside their communist mass work. We must succeed in drawing the best and most advanced elements of the working class into our communist organisation, whilst drawing the best elements of workers currently organised in the Labour Party and reformist trade unions, and other class organisations into the United Front.

In building our organisation, we must be keenly aware of what Corbynism and the Labour Party are, and what the meaning is of the renaissance in ‘Democratic-Socialism’, which may have already passed its zenith. The further the world slides towards crisis and fascism, the further we see the impossibility of establishing the historic compact between labour and capital - facilitated by Social Democracy, but made possible in the 20th century by the ‘spectre’ of socialism and the Soviet Union. The deepening crisis erodes the boundary between international finance capital and national industrial capitalists, and profits continue to fall. The ultimate expression of this decay is in the fascist state. Inevitably, we are seeing the establishment of fascist governments in peripheral and semi peripheral nations whilst the veneer of parliamentary democracy is maintained. It is unsurprising that Brazil - the world's eighth largest economy, riven by political and economic crises - has become the next state to fall. Bolsonaro aims to pull out all the stops for capital and his masters in Washington, the destruction of environmental protections and the oppression of organised labour in all its forms look likely. The most reactionary elements of the comprador bourgeoisie are joined with the most reactionary elements of finance capital - in a post-coup environment where social democracy has been unable to move past the repression of its most principled or talented leaders.

The neoliberal era has weakened the integrity of the sovereign state in many key areas. Farming off key competencies like housing, utilities, healthcare and welfare to private companies, whilst strengthening the historic organs of fascist counter-revolution - the police and the military, and constructing ever more powerful surveillance systems and border regimes. The elements of the state most likely to play a part in a fascist takeover are already working side-by-side with corporate monopolies in whose interest they are likely to operate.

As we have seen in Ukraine post Euromaiden, fascist militias gain power exponentially when they are able to take parts of the state.The process unleashed by neoliberalism have weakened the democratic features of the state in many - including ‘western’ - countries immeasurably, with a number of their core competencies already under the control of private industry. This is particularly true in the areas of the state which deal with the people fascists focus their energy and rhetoric on - border security, immigration detention centres etc. In the US, we have witnessed the rise of not only vigilante fascist activity, but for even longer have seen the growth of armed militias who are hostile to migrants, leftists, and progressive values. In president Donald Trump, we see a figure able to unite the disparate elements of the fascist and far right with the already white supremacist US state.

Though neoliberal decay in objective terms is what distinguishes the current era, Zetkin and Dimitrov teach us that it is the subjective element which is decisive in the struggle against fascism. We have passed through an era of catastrophic defeats for the word communist movement. The ruling class has not ceased to be victorious. We must build a strong, communist organisation to be there if (or when) the new, revivified social democracy of Corbyn is strangled at birth, or lives to bring forth it's own collaborators, concessions, compromises, and betrayals. The task ahead of us is immense, which is why our strategy and tactics must be correct.

In the UK, this must mean beginning with a strong grassroots campaign focusing on community work, which can step outside the bourgeois state and act in opposition to it when necessary. The recent report by the UK special rapporteur on extreme poverty showed nearly 1.5 million people destitute, with fifth of the population, amounting to 14 million people, living in poverty. This must be coupled with militant working class self-defence, to defend ourselves from fascist incursion, or the possibility of fascist/state security co-operation.

We would be mistaken to believe that such destitution and poverty would lead people automatically to be for socialism and against fascism. To illustrate this point, we should investigate the recent debate between Steve Bannon, would-be leader of a new fascist international, and David Frum, speech writer for arch-genocidaire George W. Bush. The topic was 'The Rise of Populism'. The debate was disrupted by brave anti-fascist protesters, but still managed to continue.

During the debate, Bannon stated:

The millennials are nothing but 18th century Russian serfs right now. They’re better fed, they’re better clothed, they’re in better shape, and they have access to more information. They don’t own anything, and they’re not gonna own anything. Because of what Obama did, they are 20% behind today where their parents were. And they live in a gig economy - they can’t afford a house, there’s no pension plans, there’s no careers. That, by the way, is the biggest potential for our populist movement - is the millennials - because they are going to see the logic of what we are talking about

The real dividing line between Bannon and Frum is that Frum seeks to maintain elite driven neoliberal politics to maintain the dominance of US capital in the world imperialist system, whereas Bannon sees a radical rebirth of US imperialism as only being possible once all class contradictions are subsumed into the concept of the white nation. Bannon’s ideology may look more fanatical, but from the perspective of the ruling classes, it is in fact the realist position: the greatest threat to the US is not the rise of its imperialist rivals, but the crisis at home. If the multinational proletariat must be sacrificed to bring this crisis to a conclusion favourable to the ruling classes? So be it, say they. Why then the masses, who outnumber the ultimate beneficiaries of this order so greatly, not immediately bring down such regimes?

As Zetkin’s analysis of Italian Fascism, today's fascism is not simply the punishment of the proletariat, which we have seen through the decade of crisis and austerity following the 2007-8 financial crash. It is as an emergency means for capital to preserve itself in the depths of crisis, a punishment we will face because the class organisations of the proletariat have been unable to effectively fight on our behalf, to enable this class to fulfil its historic role. A punishment for ignoring the subjective elements of mass struggle.

Indeed, Zetkin describes the situation in the early twenties in a way that echos the situation today:

Masses in their thousands streamed to fascism. It became an asylum for all the politically homeless, the socially uprooted, the destitute and disillusioned…. The petty-bourgeois and intermediate social forces at first vacillate indecisively between the powerful historical camps of the proletariat and bourgeoisie. They are induced to sympathise with the proletariat by their life’s suffering and, in part, by their soul’s noble longings and high ideals, so long as it is revolutionary in its conduct and seems to have prospects for victory. Under the pressure of the masses and their needs, and influenced by this situation, even the fascist leaders are forced to at least flirt with the revolutionary proletariat, even though they may not have any sympathy with it
— Clara Zetkin, The Struggle Against Fascism

Those drawn to fascism ‘are longing for new and unshakable ideals and a world outlook that enables them to understand nature, society, and their own life; a world outlook that is not a sterile formula but operates creatively and constructively. Let us not forget that violent fascist gangs are not composed entirely of ruffians of war, mercenaries by choice, and venal lumpens who take pleasure in acts of terror. We also find among them the most energetic forces of these social layers, those most capable of development. We must go to them with conviction and understanding for their condition and their fiery longing, work among them, and show them a solution that does not lead backward but rather forward to communism.'

The historic task of our movement at the present moment was laid down nearly a century ago by one of our most perceptive theorists. Zetkin continues:

We must not limit ourselves to struggle with and for the masses with our political and economic program. True, the political and economic demands press their way to the fore. But how can we offer the masses more than just defense of their bread? We must at the same time bring them the entire noble inner substance of communism as a world outlook. If that is done, our movement will sink roots in all social layers, and especially among bourgeois intellectuals whom recent historical developments have rendered insecure in their thinking and their striving, who have lost their old world outlook without being able to find a new one in the turmoil of these times. Let us ensure that these seekers do not go astray.
— Clara Zetkin, The Struggle Against Fascism

A strategy for Today

When going to the masses, we must do what the fascists cannot do - offer them an explanation for the loss of their bread and lives, and a strategy to defend them. The fascists are accepted by the ruling classes because they can do what centrism cannot: they can save them from crisis by convincing the masses that their interests are the same as those of capital, even when they are frothing at a capitalist order which has stolen everything from them, even their futures.

Our higher cause, of solidarity, unity, and liberation for all poor and oppressed, must shine through in every defence of conditions, in every resistance against further attacks. In this way, we begin to alter subjective conditions, not simply by diverting the political energy of the dispossessed to achieve our goals (as the fascists wish to), but to develop the consciousness of the class as we develop the strength of our organisation, to the end of liberation for all.

Our United Front must lead newly politicised efforts to alleviate poverty - ones that are explicitly anti-fascist, anti-austerity, and pro socialist. We must build local organisations which are able to work amongst the people. Providing food to the hungry, action for housing for the homeless, working against gentrification, the encroachment of police, and for a communal resolution to crime and disorder. We must work with oppressed groups - with women and all gender oppressed against violent sexism and patriarchy, with black and ethnic minority peoples against white supremacy, with the oppressed nationalities against the imperialist order, including with refugees who struggle against the violent and oppressive border system, and with all of our international friends against the war machine of British imperialism which creates these refugees in the first place. We must raise the banner of socialism and liberation high to combat fascism ideologically.

To do this, we must build our United Front from organisations which already exist - pre-existing anti-fascist groups associated with the AFN, with local feminist and refugee organisations, with local Momentum, People’s Assembly, trade union branches, and where conditions prevail, local constituency electoral parties, including Labour in England. A time may come where it is necessary to seek the support of ‘nationwide’ trade union organisations, and the ‘national’ Labour Party apparatus. Our United Front, and our communist organisation, must be or significant strength to stand on something like an equal footing, and defend and increase the influence of our positions, not allow ourselves to be nurtured by reformist politics. This is the important difference between a United Front, and ‘Left Unity’. One is a specific strategy to combat rising fascism in our current era; the dialectical development of the front, the party, and the conscious working class. The other is the call to subsume all differences between groups under the banner of the most reformist position (regardless of the needs of the working class and the oppressed) without any further tactics or strategy beyond ‘wait’, advice which, even if it worked, we do not have the time remaining to heed.

We must have a strong United Front, and well-trained and disciplined cadres who are able to, when necessary, combat fascism physically - in the name of working class self-defence.

It is within the fighting reality of ‘proletarian self-defence’ that workers of oppressor background can see their commonality with the victims of national, gender, and other forms of oppression, and come to identify with them. This is not to put off the organisation of oppressed groups, which must take priority; but rather to speak in realist terms about how to unify the struggle of less advanced workers who share the hegemonic identity with their class sisters and brothers.

Militant action and community action, which have often been counterposed in our practice. This false dichotomy must be overcome, and they must be seen as part of one dialectical totality of social resistance. The examples cited in Part 1 show that on one hand, liquidation often follows the decision to leave militancy behind and focus on building community counter power. Unless we can change the lives of those people we seek to serve and defend, those people will see us as dead weight when they no longer need physical protection.

To conclude this section, it is necessary to take one more lesson from Clara Zetkin:

The more we go to the masses, the more necessary it is for the Communist Party to be organizationally and ideologically unified. We cannot pour ourselves out broadly like a puddle dissolving into the masses. That would lead to damaging opportunism, and our efforts among the masses would collapse in humiliating defeat. If we make concessions to the masses’ “lack of understanding”—and I mean both the old and the new masses—we then abandon our true vocation as a party. We lose what is most important for the seekers—that which binds them together: the flame of a new social life that warms and illuminates, bringing hope and strength in the struggle.
— Clara Zetkin, The Struggle Against Fascism

How do we prevent ourselves from ‘dissolving into the masses?’ How do we achieve such organisational and ideological unity? How do we tap into the potential of working class militancy? The next and final section ‘Leadership of the Organisation’ aims to answer that question.


The works informing the historical section of this work are as follows:

Phyllis Auty; Popular Front in the Balkans: 1. Yugoslavia; Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 5, No. 3, Popular Fronts (1970), pp. 51-67

Johnathan Haslam; The Comintern and the Origins of the Popular Front 1934-1935 The Historical Journal, Vol. 22, No. 3 (Sep., 1979), pp. 673-691

Gabriel Jackson; The Spanish Popular Front, 1934-7; Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 5, No. 3, Popular Fronts (1970), pp. 21-35

Nicholas N. Kozlov and Eric D. Weitz; Reflections on the Origins of the 'Third Period': Bukharin, the Comintern, and the Political Economy of Weimar Germany; Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 24, No. 3 (Jul., 1989), pp. 387-410

Lyman P. van Slyke; The United Front in China; Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 5, No. 3, Popular Fronts (1970), pp. 119-135